October was a dry and flat month. Quite easy for cycling. On our tour through Bolivia we ended up at the Salar de Uyuni, a vast desert of salt left behind from an evaporated sea. Biking across the salar was a unique experience to say the least. This photo is dedicated to Cycle Alaska, our local bike shop.
All the rumors we had heard about Bolivia being super cheap didn’t quite manifest in our first experiences there. After the nasty $135 “reciprocity fee” that United States citizens have to pay at the border, we made our way to the tourist town of Copacabana, where we struggled to find a meal with comparable prices to the Peru we had just left.
Disappointed pockets aside, Copacabana is a really beautiful town. With a west facing bay on Lake Titicaca, we arrived to an amazingly colorful sunset reflecting off the water. We met a quartet of Swiss bike tourers, two parents and their young children who ride in a trailer. There were all kinds of bikers in Copacabana, and in Bolivia in general. The unique environments and mostly flat, cool climate Altiplano are a big draw apparently.
A night camping by the lake with a chilly morning swim got us going the next morning, and we made our way up a long winding climb through the peninsula that pokes out into the lake. It was a nice mellow grade and had some gorgeous views of Titicaca. We were especially pleased by the cordillera of snow capped peaks that snuck up on us as we reached the pass.
At the bottom of the hill we rode right on to the ferry which does shuttles across the lake to the other shore. The ride took about twenty minutes and gave a nice perspective of the lake and its deep blue waters. Up and over the next round of hills put us on a southern bound course that eventually gave a good tailwind by the time we switched directions. We landed in Batallas for the night and scored a nice campsite with the church/police station.
The next day was a quick 40 km of flat to La Paz. When we arrived it was a dismal grey overcast with a dusty wind blowing. Market vendors filled the roadsides, which were built to be interestingly wide, a good 50 feet or so of space between the road and the rows of buildings. Trash floated by in gusts, and people bustled all around, taxis cutting us off and people yelling things we couldn’t understand. The trash and barren brick buildings weren’t impressing us as a capital city. Well, I guess this is La Paz…
Luckily we had a destination to look for, a Casa de Ciclistas. By asking around for the plaza that the Casa is near, we found out that we weren’t actually in La Paz, but El Alto. We were directed to a highway that instantly gave us an incredible view overlooking a deep bowl with a metropolis sitting in it. So that’s La Paz! A fast and bumpy descent down into the heart of the city put us on track to find the Casa, and after a few wrong turns and backtracks we found the place.
But the Casa de Ciclistas was full of ciclistas, eleven bikers all living in one apartment. So we got deported to the back-up Casa, the manager Christian sent us to his step-mother Mabel’s house. We were welcomed in by our new best friends, Sarah and James, two British cyclists who have been riding for over two years from Alaska. Working on healing some persistent illnesses, they were back for their second stay at Mabel’s house after trying to leave once but then returning to the comfortable house in the city. They were pretty awesome house mates to share the place with, we spent a lot of time chilling in the kitchen just laughing at each other and telling stories about familiar places.
We spent ten days in La Paz, but who knows where all that time went. Mostly to the awesome bakeries in town (Arco Iris is #1), doing bike maintenance, cruising around the network of public parks in the city, exploring the crazy environment of sand towers that run through the suburbs, wandering the local markets and learning how to speak British. We took advantage of the relatively cheap tours in Bolivia and went paragliding one morning. There’s nothing quite like jumping off of a mountain and flying around like a bird. Kanaan worked with a group called Agua Sustentable and got to do a field trip to Sajama National park to help install a drinking water system and film a native plants seeds fair. We also checked out a museum in the city with an “Agua y Vida” exposition. Water is quite a big deal in the high and dry plains of Bolivia. But perhaps the highlight of our stay in La Paz was making Pel’meni Russian dumplings to share with our housemates and hosts. Now that was delicious.
And then Lukas came. Señor Stutzer was actually the main reason why we hung around La Paz for so long, as we found out the day before we arrived that he would be coming to meet us there in a week. Well he came and just like that we were a group of four again. Luckily he brought salmon jerky and caribou sausage to make up for missing the first 16 months of the trip. He and Andrew celebrated their reunion as roommates again by biking the Death Road together.
After ten mellow days of relaxing in a wonderful home in La Paz, we made the move and got back on the road. We bid our British buddies and Bolivian family ado, thanking all for the good times, and climbed out of the bowl of the city back to El Alto. Unfortunately Kanaan’s busted old knee started bothering him, so we didn’t make it far. But we ended up landing in village/police check point that was celebrating their anniversary holiday. We were tempted to go dance to their blaring music like the festive gringos we are, but decided to eat deep fried chicken and French fries instead.
The following couple days of altiplano biking were largely uneventful. When in Peru it seemed like we had hit the newly paved roads with perfect timing, right towards the end of some major projects. However, in Bolivia we were just a bit early. The highway between La Paz and Oruro was getting a big quadruple lane makeover, but there was still much to be done. At times we were able to ride on freshly paved roads closed to traffic, which was pretty sweet. Other times it was flat firmly packed dirt, and there were a few sections of bumpy rough road with big trucks and buses ripping past kicking up dust. But it was all flat and breezy with not much excitement to see. We spent a night in the construction project of an uncompleted stadium one night, and the next morning made it to Oruro.
The riding wasn’t particularly interesting, so we opted to hop on the train from Oruro to Uyuni to go visit the salt flats. The train was pretty enjoyable, other than having to deal with the baggage handlers and our bikes. As we chugged past Lake Poopo (real name) we saw great flocks of pink flamingos flying with the train. The movies on the train progressively got better, from Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Texas sheriff to Richard Greer as a New York billionaire. We arrived in Uyuni under a full moon and snuck off to a vacant lot to set up camp.
The next morning we stocked up on provisions at the market in Uyuni and then rode out to the salar to go check out the desert left behind by an evaporated sea. After some last minute egg sandwiches in Colchani, we entered the world of salty white. The edges were surprisingly muddy, but once we had pushed through the short squishy section we were on firm ground. About an hour of riding toward the setting sun put us in the middle of a vast expanse of emptiness. As the last mirages faded into the horizon, we seasoned our dinners with the spice of the ground and watched the colors leave the world, leaving us in a black and white space somewhere between the monotonous surface we sat on and the sky above. The stars were incredibly clear as the full 180 degrees of peripheral were filled with universe. We laid out on the salt in all our layers, shivering, mesmerized, jamming out to Gorillaz.
Waking up was a bright affair. No clouds above and albedo intensive ground shot sunshine at us from all directions. Lukas got inspired to sail the salar, and spent the morning building his mast and main from his tent fly and poles. The rest of us hid from the sun, while a decent breeze picked up and kept the heat from piling up too much. After packing up camp we rode further west for about an hour, decided our patience for flat and white was being exhausted, turned around and let the wind blow us back to shore. Max, Andrew and Lukas had run out of food so turned in to Uyuni. Kanaan felt the urge to explore the coast more, and chose to spend another night with the salar. The transition zone from land to leftover sea turned out to have some pretty amazing levels and dimensions of salt features and mud mixtures that kept things entertaining. The few signs of life were also quite intriguing, an abandoned egg from a large bird, vicuna tracks, a dried up beetle, the failed attempts of grass seedlings. And among other things, a small shelter built out of salt bricks cut from the ground showed the stratification of the salt layers underfoot. The salar is quite a unique environment, definitely worth checking out if you get the chance.
We still weren’t too excited about biking the desolate flats of Bolivia so we hopped a second train to Tupiza, a town 90 km north of the border. We arrived in the dark and promptly found a campsite. With the light the following morning we were able to see that we had been transported to a new environment. No longer were we in the arid flatlands of the salar; we saw mountains, valley, canyons, and even some vibrant greenery among the many shades of red rock. The ride out of Tupiza was a visual treat from the previous weeks. With a decently steep and lengthy climb halfway through the ride and little in the way of towns we had to push it to the border town of Villazon and ended up riding a bit in the dark.
The next morning was a late start as we tried to prepare to enter Argentina; this was mostly trying to collect American dollars to trade on the Argentina black currency market. We reached the border in early afternoon and easily exited Bolivia. But as we proceeded down the line of windows to the Argentine immigrations we were promptly turned backed to Bolivia. Turns out our blissful (or just straight-up) ignorance had us overlook the online visa process – so back to an internet cafe in Bolivia. The border control didn’t seem to controlling as we simply biked back in without a glance from anyone. Reciprocity fee number two of the trip (this time $160 USD), a piece of paper, and a stamp and we had made it to Argentina.
Bolivia was short but sweet. From the massive lake of Titicaca, to the crumbling sand towers around La Paz, the impressive volcanoes of the Altiplano, the vast expanses of salt deserts, and the red stacked mountains of Tupiza, Bolivia was perhaps the most geologically unique country we’ve visited. We met a handful of amazing people that we hope to continue friendships with, and scored a fourth trip mate to share South America with. Our time in Bolivia was shorter than ideal, but we made it through with style and got a satisfyingly diverse experience of the place. And our first meal in Argentina was enough to convince us that we were in the right place. No white rice and five courses with that famous Argentinian beef as the main feature. We’ve made it to the promised land.
And since our website says from Alaska to Argentina we figured we were done so we turned around and are now headed north!
…stay tuned to see if we’re joking or not.
The September photo of the month is for Above and Beyond Alaska, an integral partner in helping us get off the beach in Juneau to start this trip. Chris is here bouldering in Huaraz, Peru, doing the pose that is on the ABAK logo while wearing the ABAK shirt. Thanks again for your support Sean and Becky!
Our first move in Peru after the river trip was to get out of the heat by hopping on a bus heading to Huanuco. And, since everyone knows it’s bad luck to just take one bus, we immediately got on another bus. We knew we wanted to go to Huaraz and check out the amazing mountains and outdoors of the area, but, after a bit of research we decided to leave our bikes with the local bomberos of Huanuco and take busses instead of bikes. Immediately when we got out of the city we knew our choice was right. The road was a rough, windy single lane with no shoulder and traffic going way too fast in both directions. In a motorized vehicle it was crazy, on a bike it would have been insane. But it was quite a scenic ride to the town, La Union, where we would spend the night before continuing on to Huaraz.
In La Union we ate at one of the many chifa (Chinese food) restaurants we would be eating at in Peru. We have no idea how restaurants in Peru make any money when they barely charge people, but we’re okay with the mystery of it all. From there we secured a place to set up tents for the night, the local yard of the police station, and spent the rest of the night doing not much of anything at all. Our South African buddy, Dave, wasn’t feeling the best and when we woke up the next morning we decided to send him to the hospital and we’d spend a day around La Union.
While our good friend, Dave, was on his death bed in a foreign hospital, after recently having his passport and computer stolen, the rest of us decided to go on a hike. An hour or two of walking put us above town and onto a large plateau with houses, crops and farm animals. Another hour of walking put us to the entrance of an old Incan ruins site, Huanucopampa. A small five sol entrance fee (less than $2.00) got us in the gate and gave us a guide. We spent the next hour walking the organized loop and learning what all of the structures were about, including the platform dedicated to the sacrifice of humans. The entire area was meticulously built with attention being paid to every detail. We were very impressed to say the least.
Even more impressive, when we got back to town at the bottom of the valley, Dave was still alive. After we saw that he was having way too much fun alone in his hospital bed, the other four of us paid 4 soles and hopped into a three wheeled, blinged-out moto-taxi made to hold two or three smaller sized Peruvians and putt-putted our way to the hot springs just outside of town. We thought we would have to get out and push the taxi up the 1% grade hill, but the mean machine pushed through the pain that comes with the weight of four American men and got us to the springs. It’s quite safe to say this was the most interesting hot springs any of us had ever been to. When paying we were told there were two options, one sol or two. Being the big spenders that we are we opted for the expensive option, spending what would equal about 70 cents if converted to the US dollar. At this point we didn’t know the setup of the place and we thought the extra money would put us into a hotter or larger pool. Wrong. The extra money got each of us our own private bathtub in our own private room with water from the hot spring hooked into the taps. During our trip we rarely find showers with hot water and I guess locals of La Union take advantage of the hot springs for their baths or showers in these private rooms when the time comes. We felt a bit strange going into our own rooms to be anti-social and take baths in scolding hot water, but we got over it quickly and spent the thirty minutes we were allowed relaxing and resting our unused, mushy muscles. After we learned it was only a thirty minute walk back to town we decided to use our feet and skip the moto-taxi that insulted our weights by grunting and struggling up the slightest hill on the way to the springs. That night brought a lot of rain into the police lot and the next morning we needed to hang our things up for a couple hours before packing up and getting on the bus to Huaraz.
The five hour bus ride had our eyes wide and jaws touching the floor. We were finally being introduced to the magnificence of the Andes. Mountains were jutting up anywhere and everywhere covered in snow and ice. It was an awesome bus ride and this stretch had nicely paved, wide roads that made us wish we had our bikes to ride some of the curvy down-hills.
Being in a popular tourist town without the credibility of a heavy bike loaded down with bags didn’t really give us much of a chance of finding a free place to stay. So when we arrived to Huaraz we ate and started looking for the cheapest hostel. We lucked out and found an awesome spot that gave us a deal for having five people and checked in to El Jacal. We settled into our two rooms and headed to the roof for a view of the epic surrounding mountains and an incredible sunset.
After having the best night of sleep any of us have had in a long time, sleeping in a bed, we were well rested and had enough energy to walk around Huaraz checking out the area and learning about all of the different hiking and camping options. It’s tough to choose between all of the amazing options Huaraz has to offer, but we finally chose Quilcayhuanca as our first trip and spent the rest of the day getting gear and food figured out so we could leave the next day.
Dave still wasn’t feeling 100% so he decided to sit this one out and take a bus ride to Lima to get passport stuff figured out. The rest of us began what would end up being a five day, four night camping trip at the ripe hour of 10AM by hopping into a collectivo and riding up a rough road for an hour and a half. After dropping off the locals and adding an extra 20 soles to our price, the driver kicked us out a few kilometers before he said he was going to. We were a little peeved at getting hosed but it didn’t really matter because we were pumped to be at the beginning of our big Quilcayhuanca trek. Five minutes later we had our park passes (big thanks to Nugget Alaska Outfitter) and had begun walking.
Within half an hour, two things we had previously heard were confirmed: that the trail in would be flat, and that it would be pissing down rain. The forecast called for rain for the next 4 days.
Out of breathe from the altitude, shivering from the freezing rain, and already sore from the heavy packs, we were all individually second guessing ourselves and this camping trip when we saw a plume of white smoke. Upon locating its source, underneath a large rock overhang, we found out someone had started a fire with the dried-up number-two from the plentiful stock left behind by the four stomached beasts of the area. We were stoked. Not only did we have a sheltered area with a fire and cow friends, with a little landscaping work we also had enough room for two tents. Using Kanaan’s two hiking sticks and some rocks we hung our things up to begin drying and absorbing the smell of cow dung smoke. It took about four hours to get to our new cave home and we only had a couple of hours left of light for the day. With two massive rock walls on either side of us, huge mountains, a glacier and a large field of grass in the middle of it all we decided to get our tents setup and walk around this new environment that felt so familiar.
Waking up to a mostly blue sky was a pleasant surprise and we were happy to have a relaxed breakfast before breaking down camp and starting back on the trail with our full packs. From our topographical map we knew we were pretty close to a lake and decided to detour there before continuing on. The wind, rain, and chilly air stopped us from jumping into the lake composed of melt water from the snow covered mountains surrounding it, but just looking at it was enough to satisfy us. A few pictures and it was back to the planned route.
The switchbacks were a nice grade but the more we climbed, the harder it got. The elevation was making us breathe harder than usual and a couple of us had minor altitude headaches. It was well worth it once we got high enough to touch snow for the first time in over 15 months. When we got to a plateau we decided it was time to munch some lunch and soak up some scenery.
The overall idea of this hike was to walk into a canyon, cross a mountain pass, and hike out a parallel canyon back to the “real” world. Taking into account the time of day we decided to camp at our gorgeous lunch spot and conquer the pass the next day. In the meantime, we had quite a bit of light to deal with. To settle the light dilemma we setup tents, dropped our heavy packs and hiked up to a moraine overlooking a light blue lake and jagged glacier. One mini snowman and several boulder trundles later we were ready to go back down to camp and fill our bellies again.
That night brought a chilly air and we were pumped to wake up to snow surrounding us and covering our tents. Lucking out again with the morning sun we dried out the rain flies of the tents and began the ascent. The climb itself wasn’t too tough, but again, the altitude made breathing significantly more difficult than usual. A couple hours of hiking on snow covered rocks and we reached the top and spent lunch looking at the amazing mountains, lakes and glaciers.
Reaching the valley floor of the second canyon we knew we wanted to stick around for one more day to play and explore the area. Having tents setup and being able to goof off without having to carry our backpacks around with us was a big plus. We used the next day to hike to a glacial lake and explore the surrounding ridges.
Our final day of the hike greeted us with some powerful sunshine and zero clouds in the sky. We spent the morning leisurely packing up our things and listening to a story Kanaan wrote, based on true events, about a farm cow bred for beef escaping to the freedom of the Peruvian Andes (sure to be a future New York Times Bestseller). Walking out towards the real world, we were quick to get distracted and soon were stripping down (settle down ladies) for a dip into an icy cold lake. Feeling refreshed, it was time to leave this paradise. Two or three hours later we were in a fair priced taxi on our way back to Huaraz.
Not long after returning to town we remembered the Inka Film Fest was going on. At five o’clock we entered the local arts building and enjoyed several films about mountain climbing, kayaking, sky diving, and more. We were super surprised to see that Blue Obsession, a badass Mendenhall Glacier ice climbing film made by our friend Alan Gordon in Juneau was featured in the festival, but unfortunately it had played the day before while we were up in the mountains. The following day was filled with reading and lounging around the city, then more of the Inka Fest. We were easily the number one Inka Fest fans.
Dave had originally planned on returning to Huaraz after getting his passport issues sorted out. However, dealing with the Peruvian authorities turned out to be a real doozy and with a temporary passport he wouldn’t be allowed into the remaining southern countries. Advice from Dave is to never let someone steal your passport in Peru. Anyways, a variety of building factors in Dave’s life convinced him that it was time to end his South American odyssey and return home to South Africa. We were sad that we couldn’t travel more with him, as he fit perfectly in our group and we had some truly awesome times together. But that’s just how she goes. We love you Davey! Looking forward to the next place and time.
One morning, after we found ourselves lounging around once again, we decided this was unacceptable and decide to do something about it, so we sent for the Bauslers. Karl and Katie (Kanaan’s parents) must have been excited to see us because they arrived on a bus before an hour had past. We were all excited to reunite with the Bausler’s, even before they showered us with gifts. Besides the smoked salmon, fudge, m&m’s, jerky, etc… that our awesome parents had sent with them, some of our sponsors back home sent Alaska pins to re-gift people we meet, hundreds of stickers, and some much needed t-shirts with their added local flair. Thank you to ABAK and Aurora Projekt!
After we settled down from the excitement of our late summer Christmas we headed out to get some grub. We were treated to our first ever cuy dinner. Some of you may know it better as guinea pig. Either way, it was good stuff. It was made even better by the local craft brew, Sierra Andina, and non-stop great conversation. It was fun telling some of our favorite and not-so-favorite stories about our favorite and not-so-favorite people from the trip and hearing the latest and greatest of everything and everyone in Juneau. We miss you, Juneau!
Being fully fueled up on the previous nights’ cuy and fajita dinners, Max, Chris and Andrew had intentions of waking up early to leave for an overnight camping trip. But, this is ‘A Trip South’ and that means there was no chance of that happening. The extra gear needed for this particular hike, Vallanaraju, meant Andrew and Max needed bigger backpacks. Since we found this out after attempting to pack the night before the hike, this meant waiting until nine for a gear rental shop to open, thus turning our ‘early start’ into an eleven o’clock departure. But at least we were prepared, or so we thought. Our taxi driver dropped us off way before the agreed upon park boundary, giving us multiple extra hours to walk with our 60 pound packs and think about how bad we are with taxi rides.
We finally arrived hot and sweaty to the park. You’re supposed to have a guide but Max assured the park employee that we were from Alaska and did this kind of stuff all the time. After a quick check in and question session we could finally start our planned hike. Unlike our first camping trip out of Huaraz, this trail was immediately uphill. With several breaks to compensate for the elevation, we slowly made our way to the face of the glacier we would hike the following day.
The sunset hit the rocky, snow covered mountains in a way that made it hard for us to stop taking pictures. But eventually we set up our tents within spitting distance of the glacier and began cooking our meals while wearing every piece of clothing we brought.
Waking up already wearing warm socks, three layers of pants, gloves, three shirts and our jackets was a big help, but the 1:30AM wake up still wasn’t easy. We quickly packed up the things we would be leaving behind and scarfed a quick breakfast before storing everything we wouldn’t need behind a rock to return to later. Donning our harnesses, crampons and fully powered headlamps we began making our way up the glacier. Slow steps and short breaks to catch our breath would take up the next few hours of our day.
We got to the saddle between the north and south peaks just after sunrise and had an awesome view of Huaraz and several other mountains below a multicolored pink, purple, and orange horizon. It was quite a sight. After enjoying the great view for a while we decided getting to the saddle was enough for us. The routes up to either of the peeks looked thin and not especially tempting to maneuver. Plus, we had altitude headaches that made going higher unappealing. 5,600 meters (almost 18,000 ft) was enough for us.
Resisting the urge to sit down in our snow pants and slide down was difficult but if we’re known for anything it’s definitely discipline (and charm). The morning had been freezing cold (freezing a pot of water overnight during our short slumber) but now that the sun was out in full force we found ourselves in need of shedding a few layers. Walking down to camp was much quicker than going up and required considerably less breaks. When we returned to our previous nights camp spot at the base of the glacier we were exhausted. Climbing, lack of sleep, and altitude really took a toll on our energy reserves and we immediately sprawled out on the glacier rocks and passed out. Sometime later we woke up and started making our way down toward the road. The lower we got the more energy we felt, altitude was loosening its grip. Reaching the bottom was bittersweet. Stoked to be on flatland, but we still had no way of getting back to Huaraz, other than walking. Luckily one of the tour groups we came across near the summit finished shortly after us and had room in their van heading back to town.
Once in town we returned our rented gear and reunited with our favorite hostel, El Jacal. They let us keep our things in a storage room while we took our side trip up the glacier and now it was time to grab everything and crawl into another taxi. The Bausler clan was anxiously awaiting us at another hostel, located outside of Huaraz at the base of the mountains.
Backing up a day, the Bauslers rolled up to the Hof just as the sun was going down, in time for dinner and meeting the crew. The hostel of choice for Katie and Karl’s stay quickly proved to be a good decision. Norma’s delicious cooking, the warm welcome of George Jenny and Jenny Jenny, Chris the manager’s stories of walking across the United States, and Cobmaster Whitey’s bottle of Johnny Walker made it easy to feel right at home in the cozy simple brick structures of the Hof.
The next day after a tasty breakfast from Anna, the Bauslers went for a hike up to Churup Lake, exploring the area and acclimatizing to the new altitude. After a cold swim and an epic sunset, Chris, Andrew, and Max arrived just in time for dinner. A long day on all sides put everyone to bed pretty quickly in their comfy beds sent down by the gods.
The first full day with the full crew at the Hof was spent bouldering the epic rocks on the property, building the foundation for a cob oven, and harvesting clay for the upcoming weekend’s project. Whitey taught us how to test the clay for building and Karl discovered the jackpot vein of the dank yellow stuff. A new game called Illuminati tested everyone’s patience but provided some candlelight fun for the evening. Katie failed the test.
Much tea drinking and rock climbing guided the following day. More excellent boulders were discovered and enjoyed. We also tinkered with the only wood work aspect of the cob project: the door. However the power tools were all lacking power so we only got so far. After another amazing dinner a secondary round of Illuminati kept the tea cups full.
The official cob oven workshop started with an early wake up from Karl letting us know that the Quechua folks were coming up the hill already. A quick scarf-down breakfast and some groggy greetings later, the course was in action. Before we knew it we were barefoot ankle deep in sand, clay, and straw, dancing with the local ladies to mix the cob. An active task and lots of laughs turns out to be a pretty good recipe for bridging cultural gaps and making new friends.
The two day course went quite smoothly, Whitey rocked it as a maestro and Julia slayed at translating. As we piled layer upon layer to produce a structure, everyone learned a lot about building with cob and the process of making an oven. The days were long but engaging. Fun was had by all and in the end we had an oven built.
Our last full day at the Hof was spent recording interviews with the crew, playing Frisbee, bouldering, and walking up the irrigation ditch to the river source. Katie and Jenny Jenny’s pumpkin pie completed the day along with some deep intellectual discussions with George Jenny.
Departure from the Hof took a full day after scoping the Hof’s adjacent partner lodge, The Way (Out) Inn, and puzzling taxi rides together. It was a hard place to leave after so many fun events and new relationships, but returning to Huaraz was nice in itself. We celebrated the week in the mountains with dinner at a local craft brewery pub, and were surprised when our cob teacher Whitey Flagg came in after escaping from the hills. We were all happy to see each other again and made plans for the following day to visit the archaeological ruins of Chavin together.
Empanadas and pan de leche from the sidewalk lady down on the corner put us in the zone for some bus riding. After meeting Whitey at the California Café for a little bonus breakfast, we made a break for the bus stop. Three hours later we were riding through a tunnel to the other side of the Cordillera Blanca. A giant Jesus greeted us when we emerged, with a welcoming open palm as if to say, “this ride is about to get bumpin’.” We rattled down into the town of Chavin and found a chill hostel. We then learned that both the ruins and the hot springs were about to close for the night (who closes hot springs at night?) so we had to postpone plans for tomorrow. However, before tucking into our dorm room for the night we happened to find a bottle of Ron Cartavio, which ended up convincing us to find out how many people could squeeze into the brick oven behind the hostel. Whitey said it was for research purposes. The final lesson of the class. The answer is four.
Whitey and the Bauslers went for an early morning hot springs session to kick off the next day while the others got an early start at the ruins. When the Bauslers arrived the boys were already on their second lap. Katie hired a tour guide and we got the full spiel as we wandered around the site. Chavin has quite a deep history, predating the Incan Empire by nearly 2000 years. Chavin means “center” and was used as a meeting place for groups from all directions, from the jungle, to the mountains, to the coast. It has a super intricate underground system, and we had fun exploring the tunnels, chambers, and drainage channels. We checked out our guide’s carvings collection and the museum and then got back on the bus to return to Huaraz.
Back in Huaraz, the Bauslers and Whitey hit the market to stock up for the final meal with the family: Katie’s chicken cacciatore. A legendary feast materialized and we even got Kanaan’s sister Kaitlyn, her boyfriend Chris and the Bausler’s patriarch, Jacques the dog, on the phone to complete the family meal.
Katie and Karl boarded a bus to Lima the next morning after a last minute mission to the artisan market for souvenirs. We then packed up all our stuff and made our way to the other bus terminal to go back to La Union. It was finally time to leave Huaraz.
But the bus was full until tomorrow so we went back to the hostel and rented Harry Potter 7 part 2 on iTunes. Chris was the happiest among us for the delay because he got to finish the book he had rented from the California Café library.
An early morning departure put us in La Union around mid day, and we asked to get dropped off at the baños thermales, where one of the employees invited us to camp the last time we were there. We dropped our gear there and went for a hike, which ended up turning into a long rock throwing competition resulting in some serious push-up debts. After a market meal and an intense internet research session (Miley Cyrus is Hannah Montana and Accio! is the summoning spell in Harry Potter), the push-up debts multiplied and so we made our way back to the baños thermales. Too much time in the pool and a heavily audienced card game later, we were sleeping on the top floor of the hot springs.
An early taxi got us out of town the next morning, and we certainly knew La Union would be missed. It was perhaps the town with the most curious citizens we’ve encountered, and although that much attention can be overwhelming at times, it was at least easy to make local friends. We arrived in Huánuco in the early afternoon and made our way to the bomberos where our bikes had been stashed for the past three weeks. We were a little surprised to find the room where they were being stored with three giant holes in the walls and the roof half stripped. Luckily they had moved the bikes before the demolition, and as we gathered our things we watched them knock the rest of the wall down. Unfortunately we didn’t notice it at the time, but over the next few days we realized random things like our multitools, bike lights, and tire patch kits were no longer in our possession. Probably stolen by the neighbor kids. Oh well.
Our next Peruvian destination was Cusco, some 1000 mountainous-kilometers away from Huánuco. Chris had decided to end his trip sooner than the rest of us and was to meet his parents in Santiago, Chile at the beginning of October. Since it was mid-September, and factoring in enough time for the four of us to visit Machu Picchu together, we had about 10 days. We were familiar with the legends of this section of road: continuous 30+ km climbs, hundreds of kilometers of dirt roads, bus rides of 200 km taking over 20 hours. All this translated to slooooowww – we realized that we were not going to be able to bike this distance with our time constraint; so why not stick out a thumb?
Our first full day of biking brought us to the self-proclaimed “highest city in the world”, Cerro de Pasco. And with a population of 80,000 at 4500 meters (~15,000 ft) we couldn’t dispute. Before arriving we had been recommended by another cyclist to stay a night in Cerro “to experience it”. This barren mining town in its barren environment with constant sulfur smell and halogen light haze made us think it would be the perfect place to film a post-apocalyptic movie. We stopped at the bomberos and were ushered in before we could even ask; they seemed to be accustomed to cyclists. Our hands were quickly filled with tea and bread as we joked with the commandante. Finishing the night with a spaghetti dinner while watching Monday Night Football before each getting into our own bed made this possibly the best we have been treated at a bomberos station!
Not too long after we started riding the next day we were in the grey wall of cloud that had been in front of us. And it was cold. And then it started raining. And then the rain turned to snow. And then the snow turned to hail. And then we decided to take shelter. The weather abated and we made another 10 km to a restaurant where we decided that this might be a good time to try hitchhiking. Twenty minutes later we found ourselves in the back of a box truck dry and playing cards as we hustled down the highway, catching two feet of air off our bums with every speed bump. Two hours later we arrived in another mining town, La Oroya. Biggest news that night was the discovery that our website had been hacked by some Turks! …I guess they were just going for those high profile webpages…. Big thanks to our boy Duncan for helping us (aka doing everything) to de-turk our site!
We decided to stretch our legs a bit and bike the following day to Huancayo. 124 km? No problem…well that is if the highway follows a river downstream. It was pleasant ride and Chris and Kanaan got a bridge-jump in while Max and Andrew lunched on Pachamanca de la Tierra. As we rolled into town we headed straight for the train station. The iron horse was one method of travel that we had yet to sample on our trip south and the 150km ride from Huancayo to Huancavelica looked like it would fill that void. Unfortunately our timing was off and the next train would not be leaving for another two days. But after a group consultation and consent of the bomberos to house us another night we decided to wait for the train.
Winding up a river valley the train dropped off passengers at many little towns, some which were penned-in by the valley and only had these tracks as access out. The train pulled into the Huancavelica station in early afternoon. We had little trouble finding the bomberos and quickly joined the volleyball game; making it Alaska vs. Peru. Though we were a foot taller than their team, we got spanked. Those guys can really ace it.
The next few days saw us riding on more truck beds, mixed in with some spectacular bike rides (mostly on the downhills). The mountains of Peru are incredible; huge landscapes with very few people. Sitting in the bed of a truck is an awesome way to travel through this country. Although traffic was minimal in most of these sections, we were always picked up by one of the first few trucks to pass. From Huancavelica we continued on to Ayacucho, Andahaylas, Abancay and a few smaller towns in between. One night we stayed just outside of Rumichaca, the next day we had déjà vu as we passed through Rumichaca 50 km later.
As far as road conditions were concerned, we came through this section at the right time. A massive road-works project is underway and hundreds of kilometers of roads have been or are being expanded, paved, and improved. We were able to have a few “pow days” – taking the (truck) lift up and riding (paved) freshies down perfect curving hills with no traffic.
Between Andahuaylas and Abancay we were kicking ourselves for the last ride we caught because soon the road switched inclines and started to descend. But then the pavement petered-out and we were bumping along a rocky road. At that point we were quite happy that we had caught the only truck we saw that day. Eventually the family turned off and we continued picking our way through the dust and rocks into the sunset. A solid hour or so after darkness fell, we reached a small mountainside village with a simple tienda where we could buy food. The shop owner pointed out a bulletin on the wall outside, posted by a Polish bike tourer who had camped in the forest nearby (where we probably would have slept) and got everything he owned stolen. They nice folks of the village directed us to the school yard, where we cooked our dinner and camped securely for the night.
Waking up surrounded by grazing horses, pigs, and sheep, the slow descent continued into the next morning and afternoon to the town of Abancay. We again stuck out the thumb to get the last leg into Cusco, but to no avail. There were many trucks, but no one willing to take some bikers. That evening the owners of a fast-chicken restaurant allowed us to sleep inside after closing. Again in the morning we tried for a bit to catch a ride but still had no luck. So we headed down to the bus terminal to get on into Cusco. As we cruised through the city we were surprised to see the army of police with fully donned riot gear. What was most striking to us was that there wasn’t any striking or rioting – it appeared to be a normal day, but I guess something was to come. It was fun having the teargas/riot shield laden police line part to let us bike through. An uneventful bus ride brought us into Cusco with the evening.
Cusco delivered a strong dose of culture shock when we arrived. After our accelerated push through the rural mountains of the Peruvian Andes, the tourist scene of Cusco was a little overwhelming. The capital of the Incan Empire was easily the biggest traveler’s hub we have seen on this trip. Following recommendations from a cyclist we met outside Abancay, we found La Estrellita, a cheap hostel near the centro that was housing at least ten other bike tourers. It was cool to meet so many other people doing similar trips to ours, and heard some stories that made us never want to bike through northern Alaska.
A long night of celebrating our final destination as a group of four got us kindly exported from La Estrellita, so the next day we made our way to the next cheapest hostel we could find, La Casa de las Cerezas. The young manager lined us up with transportation to go visit Machu Picchu the next day, so with an early morning we were in a van for the six hour ride.
There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu, but with Chris’ time constraints to meet his parents in Santiago in less than a week, we decided to settle for the mid-level price and adventure range. There are routes that you can do for multi-day hikes in to Aguascalientes, which would be on the cheaper and radical sides of the spectrum, but we opted to take a van to the hydro electric plant and then walk two hours along the train tracks to the town. It was a gorgeous introduction to the Machu Picchu area, following a clear-water river up the valley of gigantic granite walls overflowing with lush jungular vegetation. It actually felt pretty similar to Costa Rica in climate and environment, quite the contrast from the Peru we were used to.
In the town of Aguascalientes we bee-lined it to the ticket office to get our Machu Picchu passes for the next day. The price and all the accompanying restrictions of the tickets were not worth laughing at. Neither were the elevated prices of everything in tourist town. Aguascalientes is cute, especially with all the good looking travelers swarming, but it was far from our favorite town.
An early rise and a steep 45 minute hike landed us at the gates of Peru’s premier attraction, and it was already bustling with patrons. Machu Picchu is a seriously impressive operation. It was incredible to see how many people flowed through there each day. Our early start gave us a few hours before it was totally blown out with visitors, and we made the most of it.
Our first stop was the Intipunku, the “Sun Door” which is the eastern gate to the city and entrance from the famous Inca Trail which united the entire empire, including Huanucopampa, the site that we had visited over a month and 1000 kilometers ago outside of La Union. The long walk out to the guard station provided some gorgeous early morning views of the ruins site and the surrounding mountains.
We kept grooving on hiking mode and went to the opposite end of the site, the western exit called Incachaka, or Inca bridge. That was pretty impressive. They had built a bridge along a vertical rock wall a couple hundred feet tall that looked like it connected to a trail that traversed an even bigger wall. Our best guess was that it was the escape route if the city got sacked. But we didn’t have a tour guide so who knows.
The rest of the morning we explored the main bulk of the city, trying to get lost in the endless terraces but getting whistled at by all the security guards on patrol. The architecture was immense but admittedly not as intricate as Huanucopampa and Chavin, the other sites we had seen. Undoubtedly impressive nonetheless. By mid-day we were ready to go back to town to watch football. If there’s anything a tourist town is good for it’s the satellite television on game day.
After two rounds of beers that cost more than our next couple meals combined, we made it to the hot springs that Aguascalientes is named for. More warm than hot, but sufficiently therapeutic on our hiking muscles. We made our way out of town late in the night and walked the train tracks for about twenty minutes before a late night local locomotive operator pointed out an excellent campsite down by the river.
Waking up by the tranquil river at the foot of a huge granite wall with a view of Machu Picchu perched at the top was the perfect way to start Chris’ last day with us, and Kanaan’s last day of his 24thyear. We walked out the tracks after a swim in the river, and sat in the parking lot to wait for our pick-up. This was our greatest flaw in the Machu Picchu scheme. We shouldn’t have booked transportation both ways. We had figured that if we didn’t have a ride lined up we would be stuck out there, but there were ample taxi drivers waiting to take people back to Cusco. We sat for a few hours in the bugs watching people arrive from the train tracks and get whisked away almost instantly. Finally after much debate with drivers from the same but different (?) transport company that we had tickets for, our ride came and took us back along the bumpy, windy, for some reason un-paved but heavily travelled road to Cusco.
Chris decided to postpone his bus trip to Arequipe by 12 hours to spend one last night with the crew. Beers in the park inaugurated Kanaan’s 25th birthday, but tired eyes soon caught up with everyone, and we hit the sack hard. The final farewell went down in the alley outside the hostel as Chris mounted the saddle and rode his steed to the bus terminal. A slow mellow morning set the pace for the day of birth celebrations. Breakfast at the market and wandering around town without direction completed the morning. Eventually we ran into some Kiwi (New Zealander) friends that we had met the night before in the park. Georgia and Ruben were chilled out dirt bag travelers, our kind of people, so we spent the rest of the day exploring the city and drinking beers on the hill with the sunset. A rocking Peruvian cover band at the bar next to our hostel completed the night with some really well done Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Doors, and Rolling Stones tunes. It was safe to say that Kanaan was officially one quarter of a century deep after that.
The departure from Cusco went relatively smooth. All slightly downhill with a nice straight main street got us out of town quickly. With Chris’ leaving we were now down to only three people – our smallest group of the whole 16 months. But it wouldn’t be long before we met other cyclists. As we scouted the main plaza of Urcos for food vendors our first evening out of Cusco, we were approached by a French couple who are also on their bikes headed south. Over the next two days we kept crossing paths and had a good time sharing stories of the road. And they weren’t the only ones; we met ten other cyclists by the time we hit the Bolivian border. Like Coast Rica where we met many, many cyclists it seems as if the stretch from Cusco to La Paz, Bolivia is another choke point for cyclists.
Cusco seems to mark the beginning of the terrain transformation from mountains to altiplano (high plains). With the 30 km climbs behind us our perspective had shifted greatly and now we joked about the 10 km climbs maybe reaching 400 meters higher. With the flats in front of us and a few days of tailwind, we probably averaged the most miles kilometers of the trip racking-up multiple 120+ km days.
This was a very pleasant section to ride and putting in these long days we didn’t do too many non-bike activities, but we did have the noteworthy experience of having our cheapest dinner of the trip. The typical soup, plate, and drink ran us an economical 2.5 soles ($1 USD ≈2.8 soles). And everyone says that Bolivia is the cheapest country, so we’ll see what our savings are like there!
Four days after leaving Cusco we caught sight of the highest large lake in the world: Titicaca (or Titikaka or Titiquaqua depending on your inclination). And it is a vast body of water; from many vantages one cannot see the far shore. In some ways it was reminiscent of biking along the Sea of Cortez in Baja California or Big Sur in California. But a mouthful of salt-free water when swimming was a pleasant reminder that this ain’t no sea.
Two months of Peru and a few thousand kilometers brought us to the border with Bolivia; and a long visa form and $135 USD (a “reciprocity fee” since America likes to charge so much for entry into our beloved country) took us over the border into our 13th country.
Awesome Andes Amazon August is a month that we’d like to dedicate to Seaward Kayaks, a righteous company based out of Vancouver Island that got us going on the first three months of the trip with amazing boats for an unimaginable summer. September 1 marks a year since we crawled out of the kayaks and onto bike seats.
We often research travel blogs to help us decide where we want to go on our way south. It was tricky sifting through all the stories out there to gather information for our journey into the Amazon, so we figured we could publish some helpful tips from our experience. The first part of this blog entry will be the basic information, followed by the details of the sequence of events. Enjoy!
Coca, Ecuador to Iquitos, Peru : A Journey down the Rio Napo
Around the 20th of every month there is an express boat from Coca to Iquitos. It is a three day, two night trip with overnights in Pantoja, Peru and Santa Clotilde, Peru. The cost is $150 and includes all meals.
Coca to Nuevo Rocafuerte (Border of Ecuador and Peru)
Duration: Approx. 10 hours Cost: $15 (additional $10 for a bicycle)
Public boats leave Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday at approx. 7 A.M. Get there early to load your stuff on and claim a good seat. The boat is about 60 feet long and maybe 8 feet wide with benches lining both sides and plastic lawn chairs set up down the center. Boat stops around mid-day at a restaurant for lunch, cheap and good food.
Nuevo Rocafuerte to Mazan
Duration: 5 days Cost: $550
From Nuevo Rocafuerte to Santa Clotilde is the difficult stretch to travel. There is supposedly a cargo boat that comes around every few weeks, but does not seem too reliable. There are several guys that will rent a private boat for $50 or $60 to take you the short ride across the border to Pantoja, but it seems that you are in the same situation once you arrive there.
We opted to take a private boat from Nuevo Rocafuerte to Mazan with a guide and his motorist. We stopped often, hiked around the jungle, went fishing, stayed two nights at the homes of our guides with their families, tried a load of new foods, and had a really positive and seemingly authentic experience of the river. We had 5 in our group, with 5 bicycles and all of the associated gear. The cost was $110 per person, but do not count on getting an equal deal. This covered two meals per day, although we were prepared with snacks as well. The trip took 5 days and 4 nights. Ask around in Coca before you leave to try and see what guides are in the area, or if anyone knows of boats heading towards Iquitos. Our guides name was Pepe Lopez, everyone seemed to know him and we would recommend going with him if you have a chance.
Mazan to Iquitos
Duration: 3 hours Cost: S./20 with bike
Once in Mazan you can take a short moto taxi across the land, not sure of the cost but would guess around 5 soles ($2) per person. We rode our bikes, it took about 10 minutes. From there you are on the Amazon River. Speed boats seem to leave frequently throughout the day, and were rumored to cost 15-20 soles ($6 to $8) per person. We took a large private boat with our guide and his family; we paid 20 soles for each person with a bike.
Iquitos to Pucallpa
Duration: 4 days Cost: S./70
If you decide to continue on to Pucallpa, there are boats leaving Iquitos more or less every day. We took a Henry boat which leaves from a dock only a couple of kilometers from the downtown area. There is a huge sign for the terminal on the waterfront road, you can’t miss it. The vessel was a large bottom cargo deck with four passenger levels above it. Our boat was delayed by a full day to load more cargo, but they let us sleep on the boat anyway. It costs 70 soles ($28) per person and there doesn’t seem to be much of a limit to how much luggage you can bring. That price includes 3 meals per day; you need to bring your own bowl. Breakfast is a strange watery porridge type meal, we would recommend bringing snacks and fruit to supplement. Lunch and dinner are healthy portions of rice, chicken, plantains, yucca and sometimes lentils. Pretty good eating. People string hammocks up at intervals, on our boat we had an entire floor to ourselves where we set up tents and had a full picnic table to eat and play cards at.
And now back to Coca for the full story…
There are multiple options for boats leaving Coca. We decided to utilize the services of a local boat taking passengers and goods down Rio Napa to Nuevo Rocafuerte, the border town on the Ecuador side of the Peru/Ecuador border. The ride itself was a pretty interesting experience. Picture a 60ft. long, 8 foot wide wooden boat with a green canvas roof for sun protection. Perfect, now add 5 bicycles to the roof, 100 people sitting along both sides of the boat and in plastic chairs going down the middle aisle, and finally put their luggage in the back of the boat in a pile four feet high spanning from one side of the boat to the other and taking up several feet lengthwise until it reaches the man handling the motor. It was quite crowded.
After about four or five hours into the 9 hour ride the boat stopped in a small town for people to get out, stretch their legs, and eat lunch. It was quickly apparent that we weren’t the only ones with bladders close to the rupturing point.About 30 minutes later everyone was shuttled back into the boat and we were, once again, on our way. Several more pit stops at the small spaced out villages to drop people off and, collectively, hundreds of pages read in our books and we were there. Immediately after loading our bikes up with our things and leaving the dock we were greeted by Pepe Lopez.
Back when we were in Coca and trying to figure out the best boat options for our trip we were lead to Pepe and had spoken to him briefly on the phone before leaving. After meeting him in Rocafuerte it wasn’t long before we realized he was our guy for the next boat ride. We scoped out the two twenty-foot river canoas he had, one for our bikes and one for our bodies, with a nice shade tunnel and benches inside. It looked like it would do the job, and Pepe promised a tranquillo experience, so we said ‘let’s do it.’
We had a 9PM meeting to check out of Ecuador with immigration and then had a solid five hours of sleep before loading up the boat and leaving town as the sun rose. The two boats were strapped beside each other, with Pepe directing from the front and our other guide Celer driving the motor. Other than the impressive Amazonian, pink-tinted sunrise coming up above a jungle covering every spectrum of the color green and a river flowing light brown water, we were also riding between the two land masses that are Peru and Ecuador. It only took about an hour to reach the Peruvian border town, Pantoja, where we needed to stop to get our entry stamps.
Before going to the town immigration office we fully believed for almost twelve hours that we’d just done the trips easiest border crossing, exiting Ecuador from Rocafuerte. We were wrong. The groggy faced man that greeted us in his undershirt and squinty eyes made it clear we had just woken the lone employee of the office, which may or may not have doubled as his house. Less than five minutes later all 5 of us were out the door with fresh passport stamps welcoming us to Peru. This left us plenty of time for a jungle walk before our boat would leave.
That night we parked the boat in a tiny village that none of us remember the name of. When entering the river from the shore, the river almost immediately drops off, so we spent a while doing some synchronized diving followed by floating downstream before getting out and going again. Soon after we were all holding sticks with fishing line and a baited hook at the end. Ten minutes later Dave landed a 15 (mas o menos) inch catfish that we would be eating the next day. As we slept a decent rainstorm rolled in and kept pouring as we loaded the boat for another 5 AM start. This seemed to be the general pattern for our Napo tour, rain in the night through early morning and then partly cloudy afternoons.
The cruising was fairly comfortable for us; we generally each had our own bench and if not could still lay down whenever we needed to. Although as the trip progressed the guides decided to take the weight off of our second boat and fill up the main vessel more. It was awesome to see the river at that pace and from such a small, personal ship. Every bend we would come around would reveal new treasures, whether it be a half submerged tree full of egrets or kids playing on the front lawn of a simple bamboo home miles away from any other human settlements. There was quite a lot to look at and appreciate, and when the motor shut off, some awesome jungle sounds to be heard.
The second evening we stayed in a small isolated town called Diamante Azul, and had a blast playing with the kids in the village. There was a crazy amount of children in this little village; Pepe told us that they don’t have TV for entertainment so a lot of babies are made. After getting permission from the leader of the town to stay the night in the school/church/multipurpose building, we ran around chasing kids and trying our best to be the scary monsters that made them so interested in us.
The following morning we made the two hour trip to Santa Clotilde and had breakfast of wild pig at the sidewalk booths. We had a good walk around town and found it to be a lot bigger than it seemed from the riverfront. We met some travelers there going the opposite direction, who unfortunately had just missed their boat for Pantoja. When we first negotiated with Pepe, he had offered to just take us to Santa Clotilde, where we could find another boat for Mazan. After seeing the situation that these other travelers were in, we were sure grateful to not have to be unloading all our stuff and searching for another ride. We set them up talking with Celer and he put them on track with some of his local buddies to find a northbound boat.
After each buying two papayas for 50 sole-centimos (about USD$0.20) and receiving the gift of a head of bananitos, we pushed off again for a short, three hour ride to our next destination. Right before we pushed off Pepe tossed some sort of carcass into the canoa; as we made eyes at one another we realized it was a monkey. The motor went into gear and we looked back to see Pepe and Celer munching away. And what type of adventurers would we be if we didn’t try when they offered us a bite?
We arrived at Pepe’s home in the tiny village of five families called Puerto Erica. All the little kids were running around jumping in the mud when we pulled in; we knew we were in the right place. We met the family and helped park the boat, but it didn’t take long until we were all swimming in the river, covering ourselves with mud and stealing children to throw into the drink. The fun factor was going off, and I’m sure our guides were surprised at how silly and childish these bearded guys could be.
We cleaned all the mud off and then went for a jungle mission with some of the young boys of the village. They led us down a wide buffalo trail and every now and then they would point toward a path leading off into the depths and tell us about boa serpientes that we could find there. We kept going. After a long walk down the trail we ducked off into the jungle, with the kid carrying the machete in the lead. We bushwhacked for a good bit, checking out many different microenvironments and doing our best to submerge ourselves in the life of the forest. Spiky tree roots tried to grab us and small birds screeched out our location, giving us away to everyone around. We could hear a pack of howler monkeys way out there as we turned back for home. Walking back with the sunset brought fun times with the boys that had guided us. They made bamboo flutes and kazoos out of flowers and we had a little parade as we walked.
That night the stars were easily some of the best we’d ever seen, and it was pretty exciting to have a good look at the southern hemisphere sky. Staying by the river under the unobstructed universe was definitely a highlight of the boat trip. We spent some time with one of Pepe’s wives’ father, who filled the room with his smile and laughs and shared his culture with us. He played some songs on his flute and did chants in Quechua while we chilled out on the floor of the hut. After a good session hanging out with him we called it a night. We awoke briefly in the middle of the night to a herd of buffalo migrating through our campsite. It was a bit of a startle but also pretty cool once we realized what was going on.
We rose up the next morning for a fishing trip with Celer back in the jungle where we had walked the day before. We weren’t so sure what he was doing when he tossed his line into a puddle on the side of the trail, but in less than a minute he had the first fish. We quickly moved from puddle to puddle, doing our best to imitate his fishing style, but none of us could seem to catch one. After about an hour Celer had six fish for breakfast, and so it was time to go home. We also found a nest full of good size eggs from what looked to be an Amazonian jungle version of a grouse, and Celer convinced us to take them for breakfast as well.
Breakfast was served at the house, prepared by Pepe’s wife (one of many) and her sister and mother. We had a pleasant time sitting on the floor of the simple home and hearing about Pepe’s specialty meal of monkey that he likes to prepare. It was pretty cool to have the experience of eating with the family in their home. Definitely did not feel like a guided tour, more just like hanging out with some local dudes that are taking us down the river.
We loaded half the family, a bunch more gear, all our bikes, and a chicken into the main boat and left the second canoa behind. Apparently that was its destination all along. We then did a two hour trip to Celer’s house in Bellavista, where we unloaded and reorganized the boat. We met Celer’s family and had an awesome meal of piraña on the floor of his house. Then Celer and his brother Percy took us to the other side of the river for a harvest mission.
We pulled in to a secret little cove off the river that allowed us to take the boat off the main waterway and under the reaching canopy of trees. Percy took off with the machete and we followed closely. The trail was a bit of a maze, and we weren’t quite sure how they knew where they were going. We ended up in a forest of food, an open swath of the jungle covered in bananas, papayas, yucca, and sugar cane. Before filling the large baskets and bags with the goods we had come for, the brothers lured us over to a decomposing log in a pond, where they started hacking open the wood and pulling out big wood beetle grubs. Apparently it is some kind of a treat, because the Peruvians were munching away like they couldn’t get enough. It took some convincing but eventually we had to try it. The bugs were surprisingly tasty and it wasn’t hard to imagine how a big plate of fried rice with these things would be a nice dish. But they were super rich and so we didn’t want to overdo it on our first round.
We proceeded to fill up our sacks with as much fruit and root as we could carry, stocking up on the gifts of the land. We made the heavy haul sweating and swamping back to the boat, where we met a small kid in a little boat catching fish. He sold a few to Celer, and then we towed him up stream a bit before crossing. Unfortunately he swamped his boat as we dropped him off, and he lost his fishing net, but we were able to help him empty the water and get his boat floating upright again.
We returned to Celer’s home and then found a nice cliff on the edge of his property where we spent a good hour jumping into the river. Dave hadn’t gotten his taste of the grubs yet, so we had a little ceremony in front of the house with the whole family watching him trying to get it down without puking. It was pretty funny. We slept early that night and got going in another rain squall the next morning for our last day with Pepe, Celer, the wives and five kids who were now sharing the boat with us, along with all the produce we had acquired. And the chicken with Dave riding up front under an umbrella. Quite the scene.
After a few more hours of cruising the river, with a break half way for swimming and papaya, we landed at Mazan and unloaded all of our stuff. Twelve people and all the accompanying gear spilled out of the little boat onto the dock. Mazan didn’t seem to have much to offer, so we quickly loaded the bikes and got back on the open road.
The open road lasted for about ten minutes, and then we were on the other side of the oxbow peninsula, looking at the biggest river in the world. The Amazon in all its immensity stretched out before us, easily the widest chunk of directionally flowing water any of us had ever seen. Despite the not-so-sanitary conditions of the port, it didn’t take long before we were all swimming in the river. The boat traffic and grime was less important than the chance to be in such an epic body of water.
We joined Pepe, Celer, and family in a water taxi for Iquitos, about three hours up stream. It was our first boat going against the flow of the river, and was clearly much slower. When we arrived in Iquitos Pepe escorted us in a moto taxi to the house of his wife (2nd of Pepe’s women that we met) and daughters, and they graciously took us in and let us stay for the night. The next day we went searching for our next boat ride, and found it easily in the first place we looked. The Henry cargo ferry was going to Pucallpa that evening for a mere seventy soles with three meals a day for four days. We signed up and then went to work scurrying around town to get everything we needed for a few more days on the river.
After saying our goodbyes to Pepe’s family, we returned to the shipyard to load the boat. We then found out that since it had rained that day, the cargo loading had been delayed, and we wouldn’t actually be leaving until tomorrow. We were however slightly confused about how a 2-hour rain squall delayed the boat for 22 hours. Since we already had tickets, they let us sleep on the boat that night. We had the boat to ourselves for a night and were entertained by the long process of hand loading at least one hundred new motorcycles, many tons of lumber, and a huge pile of scrap metal onto the deck.
The next day we got our last minute groceries for the trip, and established our camp on the fourth floor of the boat. The ship had a bottom floor for cargo, followed by two large open floors for passengers, then a smaller passenger space followed by a top deck where the captain stood at the wheel. By being the first ones on the boat, we ended up managing to take over the small space on the fourth floor with our sprawled out hammocks and tents. Anyone who came up to the fourth floor immediately turned around and went back down, scared away by the hairy ones. We didn’t mean to be intimidating, perhaps we were just a little too different looking.
There’s not much to say about the four days from Iquitos to Pucallpa. We chilled in our hammocks, read books, wrote, played cards, ate when the meals were served. There were some awesome sunsets and beautiful jungle scenery on the river. Every now and then we saw a crew of pink river dolphins playing in our wake. We met a few interesting Peruvians, and got off the boat for a walk in a few of the towns. Another major source of entertainment was watching the huge ship crash into the river bank every now and then to let a passenger off in the middle of the jungle. We also got to see a failed rescue attempt when we came across another cargo ferry that had ran aground on a sand bar. After many attempts to push the boat free, we gave up and just took on the rest of the passengers. It was relaxing, much like riding the ferry in Southeast Alaska.
Unfortunately the trip ended badly, when we woke up on the last day to find that Max’s hammock, Chris’ sunglasses, our Boombotix music amplifier, and Dave’s computer and passport had been stolen stealthily while we were sleeping. We thought we were pretty secure in our set up, all camping in a circle around our belongings and so had gotten complacent and not put away our valuables before going to sleep. The thief was able to sneak through the barracks while the roaring engine of the boat drowned out the noise of his work. We alerted the captain and crew of the boat and they did as best as they could to help us find the missing stuff, searching private rooms and baggage, but we weren’t able to find anything.
We departed the ship and unloaded our stuff into the heat of Pucallpa. It sure made a difference without the constant breeze of the moving boat. We slowly moved toward fruit juice and some of the silliest sandwiches ever eaten. Just one ingredient between a sliced bun. We then went to the police station and got the investigation going so that Dave could have his proof of police report for his passport. Half of us stayed the night at the police station and the other half at the fire department.
The following day we met up with some friends from the boat and went to the Pucallpa Zoo. Although we had an awesome Amazonian jungle experience on the Rio Napo, we didn’t get to see a whole lot of wildlife beyond the birds and buffalos, so it was cool to get to hang out with all the local animals at the zoo, even though they were behind bars. We had fun feeding the monkeys and watching the tortoises and snakes move around slowly.
After slogging around in the heat for the morning, we decided that it wouldn’t be that awesome to ride our bikes in those conditions. We were a couple days ride from any real elevation, and the prospects of pedaling were not particularly appealing. Thus we opted to hop on a bus that evening, heading for the town of Huanuco at 1900 meters elevation. After two weeks on the river, it was time to get back to the mountains.
The July photo of the month was for all the friends and families that helped us make this trip happen. Because we got a ridiculously amazing amount of support and we will never be able to express the full gratitude that we have for our community of loving people. As the Quechua of Northern Ecuador say, “pashi.”
We entered Ecuador vibing off of the excitement of our South African compadres Dave and Mark. It was the first border crossing of their trip, an occasion that we had grown accustomed to with the small countries of Central America. We were reminded that no matter how often you do it, you’ll never know quite what to expect when you arrive at a new nation.
The most apparent change was in the curiosity of the people. Suddenly we were no longer celebrities. We still got the usual stares and point-and-laughs, but very few people came up and asked us what we were doing, or offered to buy us dinner. We got turned down by the bomberos and the iglesia for camping, but then we met Pablo and he offered to let us stay at the storage room by the fútbol field that he owns. Though perhaps not quite as forward as Colombians, Ecuadorians certainly do not lack the incredible hospitality that we have been spoiled by.
A fútbol game in the evening with the local kids and the gift of coffee and bread in the morning put us right at home, and we made our way through the hills of the border highlands. Towards the end of the day a last minute decision ended up dropping us deep into a low elevation river valley. We descended with speed into the guts of the Andes, surrounded by epic peaks and infinite hills and gullies.
We rolled in to a local league volleyball game next to the bomberos station to see if we could stay the night. Again we were surprised when nobody cared that we were there. Everyone was more interested in the game than the six bearded white kids that just appeared. After the sometimes overwhelming hospitality of Colombia, it was nice to just be ignored for a change; watching the (very impressive) Ecuadorian volleyball game without having to tell our story over and over and pose for pictures.
However we did get recognized that night. Anita, a German cyclist that we had met in Oregon turned out to be staying in the same town that night. We were dumbfounded to be seeing her again, and were perplexed at the fact that we hadn’t encountered one another at other stages of the trip, as she had been following almost the exact route through Central and South America. We shared a beer and traded stories, and planned to try to connect tomorrow. She left early to get a head start and unfortunately we never caught up to her.
After a long lunch break at the Ibarra market we stopped for the night in Otavalo. Otavalo claims to have the largest outdoor artisanal market in South America, and from what we saw it’s an easy rumor to believe. The normal shenanigans in the middle of the week are impressive enough, but we heard that on Saturday the streets are completely full through the entire downtown area. We saw an epic food market overflowing with local produce, meats, and treats, in addition to some excellent $1 plates that we kept coming back for.
Chris had been searching for a poncho to give an extra layer to his thin Central America style sleeping bag, so the first place we went when we got to town was the Plaza de Ponchos. It was quite the event to see the Plaza de Ponchos in action. Everyday it was completely full of artisan booths and vendors, and every night it got totally emptied out. Almost everyone got a souvenir there, and Chris got his poncho.
We ended up camping on the yard of a place called Leyton Tours, an adventure guiding company that graciously granted us the space. The owner, Carlos, told us that they were running a week-long kids camp starting the next day. He then showed us pictures of hiking up Imbabura, the volcano that had been towering over us all day. These were two great reasons to stay another day in Otavalo, so we prepared for a day in the hills.
The activity for the first day of the kids camp was a hike up to the “Lechero” a 500 year-old tree of spiritual importance to the people of Otavalo. We enjoyed a gorgeous walk through the forest and to the top of the hill that looks over town and Laguna de San Pablo (a large lake at the base of the volcano) on the other side. At the Lechero we listened to Carlos (with help from the kids) tell the Quechua legend of the Lechero and the lake, and the significance of the place where we were sitting. It was an awesome segment for the film project, and a ton of fun hanging with the kids.
As the group began to descend back down to finish the day, half of us decided to split and make our way up the mountain. We dropped down to the lake and then started walking toward “El Corazon”, the heart-shaped face that was the closest piece of Imbabura to us. Just as we were about to exit the village at the base, a laughing and smiling man and son named Luis and Andy came out of their home and asked if we were going up. Upon our confirmation, they asked us if they could join us, and then invited us in for lunch as they changed their shoes.
We could instantly tell that we were in a good place as we entered to the incredible smells of the meal we were about to eat and some groovy tunes filling the room. Luis’ wife Elena brought us heaping plates of delicious vegetables, fish and rice. It was easily the best meal we had eaten in a while, and good fuel for a day of hiking. It was also a great opportunity to meet the family that would end up totally changing our Ecuador experience for the better.
We took off for the mountain with full bellies and happy hearts. Luis led the way through backyards and across dry creek beds, while ten year-old Andy gave us the naturalist tour of the local flora. We were blown away by his knowledge of the local edible and medicinal plants, and excited to try all the different tastes and smells he offered us. When asked how he had learned so much about the area he told us that it was mostly through experimentation. This kid embodies something that we have been searching for on this journey: a deep connection to his local place. It was awesome to be able to spend some time on the mountain with the boy, and got us even more stoked to hang out with his father, who was giggling his way up the trail.
We soon found out that this was Andy’s first time climbing Imbabura, and we could see why. The trail was steep and very challenging, especially for legs half the length of ours. But Andy was tough and never complained once, despite taking many rest breaks. Soon we were high above the town, the lake, and the hill we had walked up earlier that morning. After so many days on the highway it was a real treat to get above it all again.
After struggling through thick grass that brought to memory the sensation of breaking trail through deep snow, we stopped for a snack just below the ridgeline. We decided that we probably had just enough light left in the day to descend the steep sections of the trail, so we celebrated our victory and started sliding. The slope was steep and the grass was fast, and Luis and Andy led the group in laughing and rolling and sliding down to the dirt part of the trail. We arrived at the base of El Corazon just in time for the perfect golden light of the sunset, and then turned in to the house for another great meal.
Luis was feeling generous after such a fun day, and after playing some songs on his flute (which he used to tour around Europe when he was our age), he decided to let Kanaan keep the instrument. It was an incredibly meaningful gift, well beyond the value of the walking stick that Kanaan gave in return, but Luis and Elena were not done. It turned out that Luis had recently inherited some land, which he had sold in order to buy a house in Quito. They invited us to stay at their house when we arrived in the city. We left the house buzzing with good vibes, and spent the trip back to Otavalo recounting the great moments from the day.
We were surprised when we reached the Plaza de Ponchos to see our long lost friend Seth, whom we had traveled with in Panama, sharing beers with Andrew and Dave. As if the day couldn’t get any better, we now had more stories and more friends to share them with. We had a group vote and decided that it was “a pretty good day”.
The next day we played games with the kids camp, cruised around town perusing the markets, and captured a bit more footage to fill out the segment on Ecuadorian place-based education. The following morning we prepared bamboo strips for the kids to make kites, had one final dance party with the group, and hit the road. After a solid climb out of the province of Imbabura, named after the beautiful mountain that we had befriended, we found ourselves at the top of the hill and in the province of Pichincha.
As is often the case, our timing was perfect, and we ran into two Australian bike tourers that were coming the opposite direction, “in search of good pie in Otavalo”. We swapped stories and beta for a bit, and we were pleased to find that these were some particularly cool people. They had bought their bikes a few hours before getting on the plane, and were riding to wherever sounded good at the time. They also wanted to end up in Argentina eventually; the fact that they were now going the wrong direction just made them that much cooler.
Eventually we split ways and found ourselves descending a series of hills that put us deep into a hot and dry river canyon. The wind was ripping hard and definitely felt a bit dangerous when it blew across us. But when it was at our backs it was pure adrenaline; probably the fastest speeds of the trip for most of us.
The goal of the day (and honestly, of the week) was to reach the equator, 0 degrees, the middle of the world. Unfortunately we had to call it a day when we arrived to Guayllabamba with the sun already behind the mountains. We went to the bomberos station for the night, where we were informed that we were actually already in the Southern Hemisphere! After all that excitement for such a significant checkpoint of our trip, we had blown right past it with the heavy wind and fast downhill! Why wasn’t there a sign?! Or a painted line or something?! Oh well, at least we were cruising fast and getting a good rush when we switched hemispheres. So much for balancing eggs and doing infinite handstands. The night ended with a good healthy fútbol match against the local kids. We let them win.
The next morning we began to cycle up the long gradual climb into Quito. Just as we crested the hill, we were met by familiar faces. Andy and Luis from Otavalo were waiting for us on the highway with wide grins. We followed them down into their neighborhood in the outlying town of Calderon, young Andy riding like a cowboy on the back of Max’s bike. They had a huge and mostly empty home, as they spend most of their time in Otavalo, and they were ecstatic to share the space with us and all of our stuff. We spent the night having a good meal, laughing, and talking about mountain climbing. It was good to see our friends again. They told us that they would be leaving early the following morning, and to make ourselves at home for as long as we wanted.
The gang decided to check out the city the next day, taking the jam packed buses and trolleys into the endless sprawl. It was a chance to get some things fixed, pick up new supplies and eat some good food. We had been scheming for a while about trying to find some waves to surf, and decided that an all night bus ride to the coast would be well worth it. We returned to the house, packed up small bags and made our way to the bus terminal bound for Mantanitas. Mark, one of our South African friends, elected to stay behind in Quito to check out the city, so the four bearded ones and Dave (the other South African) set off to find a bus. At 10 O’clock at night, the bus terminal showed little sign of slowing down, it was alive with the hustle and bustle of thousands of people headed off in all directions. It struck us as more of an airport than a bus terminal. Ecuador being such a small country and having extremely cheap gasoline (just over a dollar a gallon), buses are very affordable and an easy way to get around.
We jumped on board, and quickly fell asleep, dreaming of blue curling endless waves to ride. Typically, we travel between 1000 and 1500 km each month by bike, over night we traveled the equivalent without moving a muscle! It was nice to be taking a short vacation from our vacation. Finally, we arrived at the beach to find waves breaking steep and fast. It looked to be a challenging welcome back to surfing after taking a couple of months off. Our tents were erected at a nearby campground, we ditched our stuff and rented some boards.
Over the next couple of days we caught waves and enjoyed the nightlife. The waves were tough, and I think we were all a bit frustrated with the conditions, but never the less it was a good time. The little town knew how to party, each night the streets were full, live music resonating out from restaurants and dance clubs. It was good to get our dance groove on, bringing some Alaskan flavor to the Latin dance floor. After a couple of days, we decided it was time to head back North, after all, we had some Juneauites to meet up with!
Our good friends Donovan and Ellen had been traveling throughout Ecuador for the past month, and the plan was to rendezvous in Quito before their flight back home. After another long stretch in a bus, we arrived back in the Quito area and looked forward to their message. Communicating proved to be quite difficult, but after many messages back and forth and one missed meeting, we finally found each other in the city. It was great to see our buddies; we made a big meal and spent the evening swapping stories and talking about things back home in Juneau. The following day we explored the old town of Quito together, wandering through museums and among the incredible old Spanish architecture. After a fun afternoon, they found a taxi to the airport. So we hugged, wished each other good journeys and made our way back to our temporary home outside the city. Crazy to think that they would be back in Juneau in only two days, a stretch of traveling that has taken us well over a year to complete! Awesome to see you guys, tell everyone back home hi from us!
We awoke the next day with a mission. Many had told us about the “Teleferico” gondola running up the massive mountain that stands above Quito, and the trails above that allow you to climb up its peak. Think Mt. Roberts Tram with a walk to Gastineau peak, only magnified to the size of the Andes. So we did the routine melee of buses and trolleys, then found a cheap taxi to the base of the gondola. From there we purchased our tickets ($8), and boarded the whirring lift. A 10 minute ride or so brought us to the ridgeline with a spectacular view of the seemingly endless expanse of homes and building below. A well defined trail followed the gradual incline up to the peak. The further up the trail we went, the less people we saw, but the number of Germans travelers seemed to increase. We stopped and talked to one group and learned that many were using this short trail as an acclimation hike before embarking on trips up the much higher and more strenuous volcano climbs to the south. We had a chat and a snack, and then followed the path around the back side of the peak and began the steep ascent towards the rocky summit.
Towards the top, the trail disappeared into some rock features, so we scrambled and climbed the final stretch, laboring in the thinner and thinner air. Atop the peak, we were greeted with a brilliant clear view of the mountains, valleys, and city around us. The sign read 4,696 meters, and we could sure feel it. All of our warm clothes were dawned; we hadn’t felt this type of cold for a long while. We snapped a few pictures, and then clouds began to move quickly to us. It seemed that weren’t moving in, but actually forming right below us. Deciding it was time to move on, we made our way down, gaining strength as we went lower and lower. The gondola ride was grand, giving us a glimpse of the massive volcano Cotopaxi above the city in the setting sun. Most of the crew headed back to the house, while Max and Chris went to the airport to meet yet another visiting friend.
About one week prior Chris and Max’s friend Patrick found out he had a six-day break from work; so he came to Ecuador. The timing couldn’t have been better for a buddy to come bike for a few days. After a fender-bender on the bus to the airport where the driver and all the passengers fled leaving Chris and Max with a bus on the highway, Chris and Max met Patrick coming out of customs and welcomed him to the life of A Trip South.
The following day in Calderon was their annual Festival de Toros; having not seen a bullfight yet on this trip we knew we needed to postpone biking for another day. Crossing the plaza into town as we headed to the bullring we encountered a major parade reminiscent of the 4th of July. There were dance troupes, stilt-walkers, and dancing horses. Max got a horse ride for the second time in his life when one of the performers spotted the gringos and waved us over. The laughter of the crowd rocketed as the performer’s buddy decided to give the horse that was sitting there with a gringo on his back a hearty spank. Chris and Patrick can attest to the hilarity of the scene, Max on the other had was meanwhile busing himself with thoughts of being on a horse accelerating down a one-way street and how I don’t hit the oncoming cars (thankfully the horse wasn’t interested in hitting the cars either). Eventually some instinct or conditioning or western movies kicked in and Max pulled back on the reins slowing this mighty stallion. He also figured out that he could pull to the right and make the horse turn around, at which point the slightly nervous performer had caught the horse – and Max was very relieved to relinquish the reins.
Moving on to the next adventure of the day Chris, Patrick, and Max paid the $3 entry fee to the bullring. We entered an almost empty “stadium” and had the next hour to postulate about what was to come as people (including Kanaan) filled in. We couldn’t quite figure out what was going on; we saw no costumed matadors, a mound had to be shoveled to allow the bulls to exit the back of the truck, and there seemed to be a lot of people (AKA young males mostly with beers or bull-horn flasks) standing in the ring. As bull number one came barreling into the ring it immediately became apparent that this was a community bullfight and all were welcomed into the ring.
Falling in to the above definition of “people” and with the confusing cajoling/reserve of our new friends at the bullring, after about the fourth bull we realized it was our time to get in the ring (literally). For the next few bulls we jumped in and out running around with all the other trying to avoid the bull. The second to last bull of the night got Kanaan in his sights and ran him down to the fence. As Kanaan went down in a cloud of dust we all got a bad feeling, this included all the viewers and other participants whom all seemed to really not want the gringos to get hurt. Thankfully Kanaan was able to slide under the fences unscathed (except for a 4in bruise that we later found on the back of his thigh).
Max then got chased up one of the fences along with some others and was able to have a perfect view of what was to come next. As the bull circled the ring again he must have got another hankering for gringo, because there he came charging for Chris and Patrick. Those large animals move quite quick and instantly he was on the two. Chris who was running in back, slipped-out and fell to the ground. The bull immediately focused Patrick as his target and just ran over Chris – only giving Chris one hoof to the leg. As the bull came up behind, Patrick too went down. But then he was up again and somehow he grabbed the bull by its horns (no, no, no he literally grabbed a charging bulls by its horns), enough to drive the bull off.
As Patrick came running to the fence we couldn’t contain our shock about what just happened. We hopped out of the ring and it immediately became apparent that what Patrick did doesn’t usually (or ever) happen. The crowd was giving Patrick a standing ovation and not enough people could give him a handshake or pat on the back. That is when our reputation in Calderon soared.
After everyone’s close calls and memory of the previous bull that had put a horn through someone’s abdomen, we decided to retired from our bullfighting careers. We exited the event with more stares then entering in addition to some memories of a $3 bullfight. And Patrick hadn’t even been in Ecuador for 24 hours.
The rest of the night held its own sort of boisterousness; it wasn’t looking like an early departure the following day. Chris had managed to capture over 150 pictures at the bullfight, including many from in the ring. However, for this a camera sacrifice was required; hence another mission into the city for repairs. By the time we reached the city we realize that there would be no departure that day, so we spent the rest of the afternoon sightseeing with Patrick.
Bizarrely the next morning we did get an early departure. With a wake-up in time to see sunrise and some last minute house cleaning we were riding once again. We had six riders leaving Quito; gaining Patrick but losing Mark. Our good South African friend had decided to remain in Quito for an additional two weeks to attend a language school. It was a real bummer to be splitting with him, but we hope to find him somewhere down the line.
Into the city right at Monday morning rush hour – perfect. A local cyclist pulled up in his car to chat as we navigated through the city. He gave us directions and said he would follow us there. We got a kick out of this and it added some comfort to have a car behind us blocking traffic and waving us to the correct streets. About 3 hours later it seemed as if we had made it to the southern edge of Quito and south we continued. It was a hard day of riding with a strong headwind but for his first day of riding Patrick kept up amazingly well. The winds seemed to clear out the clouds and we were able to see Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s most well known volcano, up close.
A typical night camping out next to a small town police station and in the morning we were off to the town of Baños and its namesake hotsprings. Another long day of riding and saw us riding into the late afternoon not really sure how far we had yet to go. But then we hit a 20km downhill starting our descent out of the Andes and into the Amazon Basin. We arrived in Baños and from all that we had heard of it were unsurprised to find it thick in tourists. The manager of the fútbol stadium allowed us to camp in the locker rooms that night and after dropping our gear we headed directly over to the town baños to bathe.
The hotsprings in Baños are developed swimming pool style and when we reached there they had reached capacity, so we joined the line waiting for bathers to leave. Kanaan took a walk up to a large waterfall that overlooked the springs and came back chuckling about the “soup” he had seen. The pools were at capacity and it was tight packing in the murky water, but nonetheless very relaxing.
After a leisurely morning with an awesome breakfast at the Mercado we bid our adios´s to Patrick and pointed him to a bus that we think was headed to the airport. It was great seeing a good old friend in an exciting new place. Seems like Patrick came at the perfect time to get the full experience: capital city congestion to endless downhill and stadium sleeping to Mercado munching (and a little bullfighting thrown in there as well!) Maybe it was a good enough time to convince him to come down for another break!
As Patrick headed north back to Quito, we took a hard left and continued our descent out of the Andes and into the jungle. At first we probably wouldn´t have recommend a stop in Baños – just an average tourist town with some ¨soupy¨ hotsprings. But after our ride out of Baños we would absolutely recommend a visit. The 60km that day revealed to use the splendor of the Andes hitting the Amazon. We were warned that we would stop 30 times on our ride out and we made at least that many.
For those Juneau-area people it was like biking through Tracy Arm. Massive waterfalls cascading around every bend, huge mountains dwarfing the rapid-y river below and thick jungle taking over from every direction. Certainly one of the more spectacular rides of the trip, an awe-inspiring display of the power of water. This was the headwaters to the Amazon River. As we continued to lose elevation we rounded a turn and saw what almost appeared to be the ocean, but it was the sea of the Amazon jungle extending to the horizon before us.
As we reached Puyo that evening we decided to accelerate our transition from the mountains to the river. We had been told that boats departing on the Rio Napo from the town of Coca leave only twice a week, not wanting to miss the following day´s boat we hopped a 1am bus and took another night ride. As we stepped off the bus in the early morning it was evident that we were embarking on a very different phase of the trip.
Getting off the sailboat and stepping onto a new continent was quite the exciting moment. We hustled off the harbor taxi from our sailboat and went to work unwrapping the industrial “saran wrap” we had used to protect our bikes from the salt water. The city of Cartagena swarmed around us with a new nation of people as the entirety of South America lay before us.
We spent a few days in Cartagena hanging with our sailing crew and relaxing from our (not so) strenuous boat ride. The impressive old colonial architecture and fast paced energy of the city gave us an excellent introduction to Colombian culture. We spent much of our time exploring the narrow alleys, creative street art, and wide selection of new types of street food. Eventually we got tired of getting searched by the police every other hour and getting offered drugs every other minute so we packed up the bikes and got on the road to start the next big leg of the journey.
The hour that we decided to leave Cartagena turned out quite a bit more interesting than we had expected. Just as we left the grocery store with our supplies, a fierce wind blew in with huge heavy rain drops on its tail. The city unraveled to instant chaos. Suddenly the street was full of floating fruit and flaming pieces of cardboard were flying by. Citizens sprinted from building-doorway to traffic-jammed bus, and the streets filled with flood water. We wove our way through the cars toward the highway, and ended up riding knee deep in water through a few intersections. After capturing some novelty photos, we escaped the city and made our way over the hill to the next town.
The day we left Cartagena was exciting for more reasons than just the weather; it was also the day of a big world cup qualifier futbol game between Colombia and Peru. Colombia was the home team, and the game was in the city of Barranquilla, just up the coast from Cartagena. We decided to watch the game from a local restaurant TV rather than make the big investment to go to the live game, and it wasn’t a poor decision. We found a great little cafeteria stocked with fans and enjoyed watching Colombia take the match 2-0. We were just about to get back on the road to go find a place to sleep when a parade of motorcycles came ripping around the corner, Colombian flags flapping and horns held down. It took about ten minutes for the hundreds of people to drive by, cheering and laughing and driving way too fast. We were stoked to be able to celebrate such an exciting cultural event with the locals.
The next day we found another unique cultural event to celebrate. We arrived in San Onofre on El Dia de San Onofre, and the whole town was partying. We enjoyed dancing and playing music with the locals, and losing money at the carnival games in the plaza. The timing was ideal for our unique cultural experience; it’s not often that we find holidays specific to the place that we end up in.
The following days were what the locals would call “tranquillo”. We soaked up the green beauty of the Northern Colombia countryside, appreciating the smooth rolling hills and admiring the cows. We were surprised to see that there are much less fire stations in this country than we got used to in Central America. Without our go-to move for camp sites, we had to develop new techniques. We found that since Colombian people are so incredibly generous with hospitality, the best way to find a place to sleep was just to ride to the center of town in the evening and wait for someone to show us the way.
On Max’s birthday we awoke in the church at Planeta Rica and made the rounds at the plaza for our June 15 central park breakfast buffet. Our goal for the day was the town of Caucasia, an easy ride away with good potential for some good eats and drinks and maybe even a movie theater. We got two surprises for the birthday party. One was a Dutch bicycle tourist named Adriaan, who had spent the past couple days trying to catch up to us, found us at a roadside snack break, and told us that he would be joining our crew for the journey. The second surprise found us as we were searching for a place to stay in Caucasia, his name was Enrique, and he invited us to his house for a 23rd birthday celebration.
Enrique and his wife Helena welcomed us into their home for food, sleep, and a night full of good conversation and good laughs. They seemed pleased to have some young energy in their home and hear stories of our travels. We were equally entertained by their lives. As we were preparing to bike to the city of Medellin 300km away, 1500 meters higher; Enrique was preparing for a 10-day walk to that city (a few days later we truly understood the magnitude of this feat, certainly much more impressive than riding a bicycle). At the beginning of the night Enrique told us in his broken English that he had “a good sense of humor”. As the night deepened we learned his sense of humor and that his English wasn’t quite so broken. Somehow, the writing of books came up and Enrique brought out a few publications of his that recount the history and current state of the area. When we asked who was going to read these Enrique replied nobody, they were only to make a record. And then we picked up another work of his authorship, something in a little different vein: a compilation of racy love poems. The following hours filled the house with giggles and our vocabulary with some new, select words. This was surely a birthday that Max won’t be able to forget.
The following morning Enrique and Helena treated us to a massive breakfast that kept us well fueled for another day of riding. We landed in Taraza as the day was becoming evening and made our way to the town plaza. Again we encountered unfathomable hospitality; it was almost ridiculous how much our new friend Arielmira Romero wanted to help us. In the process of securing a beautiful campsite for us at the local arts and culture center overlooking the river, Arielmira sprinted from place to place asking the police, building managers, and council members if it was alright for us to stay there. He was so excited that he spoke about 15 words per second and we had a tough time understanding what exactly was going on. But by the time the sun was dropping behind the hills and reflecting orange and pink on the surface of the wide churning river, we were setting up our tents under a metal roof and getting ready for a good rest. Our hyper friend ran around collecting firewood and setting up a kitchen area for us complete with log benches and brick pot holders. The next morning he returned to ensure that we would get crushed ice in our water bottles and then escorted us to the panaderia and fruteria for our morning groceries. (As a side note this may be where Kanaan got the sickness you will later read about. Additionally we later learned that in Taraza a kilo of cocaine cost USD$1200. An explanation for our friend’s behavior?)
We continued on to begin the mountains of Colombia, a special day for us that we had been anxiously anticipating for a long time. Climbing out of the beautiful town of Puerto Valdivia, we soon found incredible vistas and a rapidly refreshing climate. It felt incredible to finally be up at elevation after so many months of coastal heat. A friendly family with a home on the ridgeline allowed us to camp in their back yard with the cows and we enjoyed our first cool night in the mountains after meeting some of the local kids. The stoke was high, elevated by the altitude.
The following day was the “muy duro” (very hard) day that we had been warned about for the past week when we explained our route to people. The climbing was steep and sustained as we worked our way higher and higher into the Andes. We reached the base of the clouds and kept going, catching peeks of incredible peaks every so often. We stopped for a lunch break after a friendly driver dropped off a giant guanabana and some mangos for us, and within minutes we were bombarded by a gang of mountain children. The excited kids crowded around us, each asking questions over the others and amazed at our answers no matter what we said. We had a lot of fun laughing with them and giving them rides on our bikes, with 4 or 5 kids per bicycle.
That night we found a unique campsite under a semi-truck trailer that protected us from the mountain rains. The next morning we landed in Yarumal and spent some time hanging out in the city. We continued on to Llanos for the night and found an excellent resting place at the police station. The police in Antioquia (a Colombian department, i.e. state) are much friendlier than those we encountered in the north. They followed suit with the great hospitality of Colombians and treated us like kings. One officer named Jorge printed and laminated maps for us, and in the morning Officer Luis and his kids treated us to a deluxe breakfast to get us on the road. As we were eating Adriaan announced that our laid back pace was not working with his style of cycling and decided to take off for a quicker solo mission south. We shed a few tears for his departure and bid him ado.
Llanos was in the plains at the top of the hills, and had a nice cool wind going that inspired us to wear our jackets and hats for the first time in a while. We were sorry to be leaving the fresh altitude, but also excited to convert the potential energy that we had been building over the past couple days. The descent toward Medellin was among the finest rides of the trip. Smooth and fast, we let gravity pull us into the valley for at least thirty minutes without stopping. We couldn’t help but associate long lost feelings of shredding a powder day after riding those roads. By the time we recuperated from the adrenaline we realized that we were still a bit too far out of town from Medellin, so we spent the night in the median of the highway with plans to ride into the city the next day.
We woke up to a hot solstice sun rising up over the valley and immediately missed the cool air of the mountains behind us. Our goal for the day was to reach a “Casa de Ciclistas”, on the other side of town that we had contacted a few days before. It wasn’t far away so we planned to arrive with plenty of daylight to spare. However, about ten minutes into the ride a pick-up truck pulled over and the driver, Jugo, invited us over to his “finca” to swim in the pool and eat lunch. With the heat of the day already wearing us down, we couldn’t turn down the offer. We arrived to an elaborately decorated mansion that looked like the setting for a rap music video and were immediately wondering how we got there. The place was a party pad for people to rent for weddings and birthdays and things like that. Deluxe with dance rooms and lounge areas, it was quite the contrast from our campsite by the highway of the night before. We spent a few hours swimming, eating chicken, drinking juice, relaxing, and having our laundry done for us – just another day of Colombian hospitality. Finally we pried ourselves away from the lounge chairs and back into the heat to find the Casa de Ciclistas.
The home of our host turned out to be much further than we expected, at the end of a nine kilometer uphill. Kanaan was complaining like a little girl about exhaustion with a pounding head and neck ache, slowing us down enough to delay arrival to the town of San Antonio de Prado beyond sunset. We were relieved to find our hosts Manuel and Marta still working at their bike shop when we arrived, and they directed us up the road to their house. A pleasant surprise awaited us at the house, two South Africans on a bike trip toward Argentina, and two Canadians headed home after nine years riding around the world. It was great to connect with like minded travelers and exchange stories.
The sickness that had been bothering Kanaan continued to progress, and after a day of rest he went to the clinic to learn that he had Dengue Fever. After a few hours of IV fluids he was set free, with advice to stay hydrated and get more rest. Apparently there is no real medication for Dengue; you just have to wait it out. So we ended up spending a week in total at the Casa de Ciclistas, regaining health and tuning our bicycles. We also spent some time working on a natural building construction project, adding an extra room to the Casa de Ciclistas using horse manure for the walls. It was a great opportunity to give back a bit to the graciousness of Manuel and Marta, who are constantly opening their home to random bicycle travelers. Work projects around the house, group dinners, and slideshows of travels with our new friends brought us all together, bonding us with a sense of temporary family.
The Canadians, Peter and Shala (Check out there BLOG), were commissioned by Manuel to build a two-person tricycle modeled after the one that they toured Africa with, and we were happy to help a bit with that project as well. We also joined Peter and Shala on the critical mass bike ride through Medellin, with thousands of people pedaling through the city. By the end of our week at the Casa de Ciclistas, our bodies were healthy, bikes were running smooth, and we had shared some awesome experiences with our new friends. Luckily the timing worked out and we were able to leave with a crew of six. The South Africans, Dave and Mark, joined our crew for the trip south.
We descended for the heights of San Antonio de Prado with our group of six well-rested cyclists. Happy to be back on the road, we greeted the citizens of Medellin con gusto. Stopping in Caldas to decide our next move, a kind fellow invited us over to the corner store for coca cola and cake. It was the first of many incredible displays of hospitality that we found in Caldas. Electing to stay in town for the night, we made our way to the fire station to ask for a place to camp. Daniel and Alex of the bomberos took us to the local community center where we were put up in the basement for the night, and then escorted us to a restaurant for dinner.
The following day was July 1st, Chris’ birthday. He decided that we should try to get up into the mountains for the celebration so we hit the road after getting breakfast and bread. But we didn’t make it far. About half of a kilometer out of town Chris’ pedal gave out and it was quickly apparent that we would have to go back into town to get it fixed. It was his special day so the rest of us couldn’t give him too much grief for sending us back in the opposite direction.
We spent the rest of the daylight hours searching for parts and tools to fix the problem. It turned out to be quite the task, as most of the town was shut down to celebrate the first day of July. It wasn’t a holiday, but July 20th is Independence Day, so might as well take a day off work for Chris’ birthday right? Finally we found a great bike repair shop run by a guy named Gustavo, who fashioned a new pedal system for Chris. In good Caldas fashion we were awarded food and drinks for our efforts. Colombian style.
We then made our way back to the community center to ask if we could stay another night. Part way through a game of cards, Alex, a local cyclist who had been helping us search for open bike shops, arrived with a bag full of cranks and tools. He wanted to see if he could fix Chris’ bike by replacing the whole crank system with an old one he had brought. And of course, since he wanted to help us with a favor, he brought food and drinks for us. Colombian style.
After about an hour of working on the bike it was determined that the repaired pedal was better than the replacement system, but we enjoyed our time with Alex nonetheless. We spent the remainder of the birthnight wandering around town sampling cervezas, and had a sufficiently wild time. One highlight was meeting a Canadian/Floridan/Colombian gringo with a beard of similar length to our 13-monthers and a poncho. He blessed our journey and we wished him luck with his new Colombian wife.
The next day started with belly aches and some bellyaching but we made the push up the mountain and melted away all our pains with incredible views and a seemingly endless downhill that inspired a few of us to claim the best day of biking ever. The stoke was flowing when we landed in La Pintada to stay in the gymnasium for the night.
The following day we rode along the beautiful Cauca River until we encountered a huge family having a fiesta at a tributary creek. They invited us to join them for sancocho stew and swim in the creek with them. We had a hilarious time taking nonstop photos with them and getting plenty of refills in our bowls. It was awesome to be part of such an intimate party that was just for the sake of fun. We finally pulled ourselves away to continue on, and our South African friend Dave presented the idea that we take the adventure route into the mountains rather than the more direct main highway route. A close 3-2-1 vote solidified the plan, and we took a right for the altitude.
The road up made us immediately congratulate ourselves on a good decision, as we were instantly rewarded with amazing views. The town of Supia was an excellent base camp before we started the big day of climbing, and we scored a perfect flat grassy campsite next to the river among the horses and cows. It was cool to be off the main highway and among the beautiful mountain folk. The next morning during breakfast we were asked by the local TV station (right across the street) if we would do an interview with them. It was July 4th, so the Americans in the group exercised their freedom of speech to have a fun session making jokes with the reporter. We were rewarded with locally made sugar candies as payment for their headline story.
The climb up into the mountains of Rio Sucio was breath-taking. Curving switchbacks led us on a gradual ride upwards into the small mountain pueblos. Around each major curve, another vista was exposed. Maybe the best view of the day was a “Devils Thumb”-esque feature, a grand face of rock leaning outwards like a hitchhiker longing for a ride. After taking a bunch of pictures, we began the awesome rolling ridgeline descent through several towns as the sun set over the green mountain tops. We eventually pulled into the small pueblo of Anserma for the night and met a new amigo, William. William immediately recognized that we were travelers looking for a camping area for the night, and wasted no time finding us a space. He spoke fluent English, and was excited to practice with us as he claims to have become rusty after moving back home to Colombia. He set us up in an indoor soccer stadium, where we were captivated by an intense flashing thunderstorm. As it was the 4th of July, we made our way to the “Americano” where we gorged ourselves with hot dogs and hamburgers like any true Americans would. Our vegetarian South African buddies could only laugh at us.
The following day, we continued to descend, all the way down to the floor of the valley and an endless sea of sugar cane plantations. A long flat ensued, and it was nice to pedal fast for a change from the past days of ascending. A short up-hill was followed by super fast downhill into the city of Cartago. We stayed with the Bomberos that night, a friendly and hospitable group, they entertained us and gave us a great space to set-up camp for the night. The following morning we did a short interview with a local film crew and were given the gift of light (pump battery flashlights) from the commandente as he wished us luck for the rest of our travels.
A day of long flat riding, drafting against the wind with our group of 6, we traversed along the valley towards the awaiting mountains. As the sun came down, we decided to look for a place to stay in a small pueblo just off of the main highway. We were greeted by a group in orange jump suits, the civil defense of Andalucia, and they turned out to be more than helpful. After guiding us to a great restaurant, Yolanda insisted that we come and stay at her home for the evening. We ended up staying for two nights, getting to know the whole family and enjoying ourselves immensely.
Victor, Yolanda’s husband, is an indigenous healer who grows, harvests, and creates medicinal products from local plants. He had a wealth of knowledge, and we enjoyed asking questions about the flora that is so different from what we find back home. Victor invited us to participate in a ceremony with a plant called ya-he, so we spent a morning drinking a brew that he had prepared and relaxing while he said prayers and played music. He gave us the option of an additional part of the ceremony, getting whacked all over the body with a thorny “hortiga” bush, a process that gives medicinal benefits of relieving joint tension and enhancing blood circulation. Kanaan, Andrew, and Dave tried it out, and although it was incredibly painful, it seemed to energize their bodies. They joined the youth sector of the civil defense corps, led by a lively woman named Nancy, to the local river where they had a blast swimming and playing games with the crew. Everyone then returned to the house for a feast of sancocho stew. As the food was cooking we all got new hairdos, with braided beards and some creative maneuvers up top. It was too much fun. The next morning we were treated to a big breakfast and then escorted out of town in a parade of orange. The civil defense corps took over the streets on motos and we pedaled our way to the highway, hooting and hollering our way through town. It was hard to say goodbye to our family of the past few days. We can’t say enough good things about Andalucia and our new friends there.
We didn’t even make it to our next destination before running into another huge gift of hospitality. Just outside of the city of Palmira Alexander Garcia and Junior pulled up to us and invited us to stay the night at his bike shop in the middle of town. Junior, one of the shop team riders, escorted us with his moto to Palmira Bike Central and they set us up with a great camping area and brought us food and drinks. Every fifteen minutes someone would come back and ask us what more they could give us. The team made us spaghetti dinner and we had a great time relaxing with them. The next morning we had a bike maintenance session and got everything running smooth. Everyone replaced their chains and Kanaan and Chris got new crank set ups. It was awesome to have access to all the tools and parts and especially the help from the mechanics. We definitely appreciated the support of Alex and his crew!
From Palmira Bike Central we went a few kilometers down the road to an eco-village called Nashira that we had heard about. Started and maintained by displaced impoverished women from the local region, the community is a success story of empowerment and sustainability. It now supports over 50 different families that live in the village. We got a full tour of the property and an invite to spend the night in the community center. Unfortunately they didn’t have any projects for us to help out with, so we decided to continue on the next day after dancing and playing with some of the local kids. Breakfast at a restaurant called Alaska put us on our feet for the day, and we quickly skirted around the large city of Cali.
The climb out of the Valle del Cauca started with steep rolling hills that lifted and dropped us into every river along the way as we traversed the Southern Colombia mountain range. Just as we were about to stop for the day we spotted two cyclists coming from the opposite direction. “Are those bike tourers? No, just some commuters carrying a bunch of crap. Wait, no they are touring!”
Dino and Diego rolled up with some of the most ghetto touring setups we’ve seen. A friend with a bike company sponsored them so they had solid looking machines. But their panniers were made of buckets and towers of old gear erupted from milk crates sitting upon their racks. It looked like a real adventure. Dino is on his way back to school in Michigan after an exchange program in Ecuador, and Diego joined him for the bike ride as part of his voyage around South America from his home in Argentina. All eight of us found a campsite behind a restaurant to spend the night together and swap info on what was behind us.
Our group of eight split ways the next morning as two went north and six went south. We landed in Popayan and called it a day to let some sicknesses heal. Finding a place to stay in the city proved to be pretty difficult; we ended up searching into the night. We retreated to the central plaza, where Alvarez found us and brought us to his brother Carlos’ house. The night was spent playing with Carlos’ baby pitbull, Patan, and making trips to the grocery store down the street.
The climbs continued and we started getting into real legitimate mountains. Spines of green ridgelines separated by vertical faces stacked up upon themselves as we wove through the contours. After a couple days of longs ups and downs we descended into a wide valley and entered a different climate. The flats were a nice break on the legs, but the heat was not the most welcome change. After a country full of water and greenery it was quite the surprise to be back in desert conditions. We happily stopped for a swimming break in the river and explored some awesome caves with a local named Daniel. His father Doño treated us to a block of homemade cheese and we went on our merry way refreshed and buzzing from the fun discoveries.
The combination of long hills and the dry heat was quite enduring as we began our ascent back up to elevation. However the surrounding environment gave some incredible views with the powerful churning brown rivers and vertically chiseled canyon walls. Interestingly the valley had an inverse tree line affect, with the lower elevations dry and brown and the higher parts lush and green and productive. On our ascent toward Pasto we spent a night at El Tablon, where we had a fun basketball game with the locals, got free showers at a hotel, and were given a room at the school to sleep in. The air felt particularly fresh and we were happy to be back in the mountains again.
From El Tablon we could see the road cutting up the mountain side, hanging over the valley below. What we couldn’t see was fifteen kilometers ahead. As we rounded the corner of what appeared to be the top we could help but yelp at the downhill we saw. We could see the road arcing around a huge intervening valley for nearly 10 km and then drop into a tunnel and back into the original valley – now just much lower. As the road bottomed-out we began to climb again surrounded by immense rock walls. Up and up we went finally plateauing at the town of Chacagui.
Not even ten minutes in town and we were approached by Angel who, after speaking with us, was set on finding us a place for the night. Him and his wife, Josefina, brought us to their friend Franco. Franco and his grandson Filipe welcomed us to stay for dinner and the night. Although over 70, Franco is still an avid biker and he was able to give us many tips for the road ahead, which sounded to be a bit of a climb.
The next morning we set out biking in sunshine; shirtless and hot. As we began ascending we entered the clouds, a breeze picked up and it started to rain. Suddenly it felt like a fall day in Juneau. As the rain continued, stops were made to put on shirts and jackets. The climb wasn’t as strenuous as we had heard and we made the top near 2500 meters. As we waited for everyone to catch-up it started to get cold, really cold and we couldn’t have been giddier. It had been many months since we felt cold like this and we loved it.
The descent into the city of Pasto was a cold one, Chris in fact blew by the group waiting at the bottom of the hill because his hands were too cold to use the brakes. But now we had dropped a few hundred meters into Pasto and were out of the wind so it felt comparatively balmy. As we set off to find our South African friend Mark, who had gotten a parasite and so hitchhiked ahead to a clinic, we passed a cinema and decided to see what was playing. As Kanaan turned up the entrance ramp his handlebars snapped! We all couldn’t help but laugh in disbelief and inspect his now two-part handlebars. The aluminum of his handlebars had corroded to such an extent that the metal turned to powder; we later concluded that Kanaan’s sweat had caused this corrosion and eaten through the metal. We all were just happy that the handlebars didn’t snap 10 minutes earlier when Kanaan was going 35mph downhill.
We eventually made it to the bomberos in Pasto where our friend Mark had been holed up for the past days recovering from his parasite. The bomberos graciously invited the rest of the gang to stay. Kanaan promptly went on a mission to find new handlebars while Max and Chris checked their own level of corrosion. Max had a little superficial corrosion while Chris’ handlebars had a considerable amount; nothing near what Kanaan had but enough to be concerning. By the end of Colombia Kanaan had almost rebuilt his entire bicycle.
After speaking with a few different bike mechanics and researching on the internet we found that although not common, handlebar corrosion from sweat isn’t unheard of. There didn’t seem to be any precise remedy so after cleaning up the corrosion (Chris ended up replacing his handlebars) we wrapped them in electrical tape to provide a moisture barrier before wrapping them in bar tape. Hopefully this will prevent corrosion. If anyone has had this problem before, drop us a line if you found any workable solutions!
The great thing about Pasto was the cold. We were now wearing pants, jackets, shoes, socks, and hats – it was great. And the cold lasted. After another huge downhill (that went from us being incredibly cold wearing two jackets at the top to sweating at the base) we started climbing again through another breathtaking river valley. Before entering the country, we didn’t know what to expect of Colombia but every day we rode the scenery and natural beauty was continuously spectacular. After another great ride into the evening we stopped in the little town of San Juan where Arturo immediately offered us a place to stay at the community center. We were up in the mountains and any heat from the day quickly dissipated and it got cold again that night. So cold in fact that Chris decided he needed to buy a poncho ASAP.
The next town was Ipiales, the last town in Colombia. For weeks we were warned that this was a steep 45 km sustained climb, but San Juan was only 17 km from Ipiales and we really hadn’t climbed much at all. So we figured that this next section was going to be steep. Well it wasn’t. And after preparing for an arduous day we arrived in Ipiales after less than two hours of pedaling at about 10 am. After 10 months we are accustomed to getting not-so-correct directions but in this case we had heard this information from other cyclists including two other touring cyclists who had just come down this hill not one week prior. But we weren’t too bummed at riding a mellower hill.
With only 7 km to Ecuador and nothing better to do we decided to enter a new country. But first we made one last stop in the town of Las Lajas at their renowned church. Quite the spectacle, this massive church spans a river gorge. It was built in such a precarious position to center an image of Mary that was seen in the rock of the valley wall. As we entered the chapel the original image of Mary in rock wasn’t so clear to us since they have since decided to touch up the image by painting in some details.
This church is a large tourist attraction but quickly after we entered the church the image of Mary lost its draw and we became the tourist attraction. By now we are very accustom to people requesting to pose with us for pictures, but this was something completely different that we walked into…and we couldn’t walk out. We probably posed with over 50 people and got hundreds of photos before we could make our way out of the building, where we were once again ambushed. Finally we walked far from the church and escaped.
There is no way we will ever know the exact number, but we would guess there are thousands if not tens of thousands of pictures of bearded Alaskans floating around Latin America. Maybe one day we can do a Facebook search and get an exact number.
The last few kilometers to the border were an easy cruising downhill. This was one of the more convenient border crossing and after few questions and no fees we were in country number eleven.
The first thing Max and Kanaan had to do in this new country was push-ups. They had bet Chris that he couldn’t bike everyday in Colombia in flip-flops – well he did. At least no one asked for our pictures while we were doing push-ups.
HELLO ECUADOR, MUCHAS GRACIAS COLOMBIA!!!!!!