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  #46  
Old 27 Dec 2012
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We got to spend Christmas in Ecuador and we had some unexpected events that made our Holidays very special (in a good way). But until we tell you that, I hope you will enjoy the story of our first days in Colombia.



First days in Colombia: 12-14 of December
I open my eyes and the walls are moving. The problem is that you don’t have a fixed point to hold on too. Everything shifts and rocks up and down and from side to side. It is morning, it must be as there is some light from above. But the engine noise is missing. That means we are still broken down and “dead in the water”. I get up and carefully climb up to the deck. There people are trying to find a “stable” place to sit and wait.
The engine has problems with some admision valves which broke into pieces. Luckily there is a welding machine on board. And, even more, one of the travelers, Paul, knows how to weld. So, the guys get to work. It takes a few hours to take the parts apart, weld them and put them back. I can only imagine that it was quite difficult to weld in an environment which is moving all the time. After the second try, the motor is ready to go. We start with reduced speed in order not to stress the parts, but we are advancing.
So, with a delay of one day, we have land in our sights! We are in Colombians waters.
The first contact with the city is a total surprise. When thinking at Cartagena I was imagining old colonial port-town, with a scent of pirates and exotic spices. First time, we see… skyscrapers reaching the clouds.
But the old Cartagena will reveal itself, a little bit later. For now we had to get ourselvs and the bikes onshore. The part with taking the people onshore is easy. Just use the dingy.
To get our Colombian stamps is again an easy task, albeit a little tedious as we have to wait a while in the immigration building. And that’s it for the day. The bikes will have to wait a fresh start, tomorrow, at 6 AM.
And it is not going to be that simple. First step is to get the bikes on firm land. And here Stahlratte cannot approach a doc and just lift the bikes. So, we load the bikes, one by one on the small dingy! Then the owner will sit on the bike, to kip it “upwards” and navigate like that to the shore.
I must admit, that must have been one of the most interesting ways to “ride” a bike.
Then you must take your motorcycle to the aduana building which is several streets away. The interesting thing is that officially you shouldn’t ride your bike in Colombia, as you don’t have the paper work for the temporary import. But, you just ride it and rely on the fact that nobody will stop you and ask anything.
The paperwork takes the hole day. I guess that having 12 bikes at once in the Aduana doesn’t help with the speed but the general impression was that the officials take their time. A lot of time. Anyway, by 16 o’clock we are out and drive to hour hostel which quickly fills with bikes. A beautiful sight for a motorcyclist.
With all the papers done and the bikes parked, it’s time to visit the old city. On the streets we find a lot of cars which are designed in Romania and sold here under Renault badge. So we feel a little like home.
But we are not at home. The old colonial city reveals itself in bright colors and a lot of movement.
People are dancing, selling all kind of stuff on the streets, listening to latin music and just having a good time.
We are walking throuch old neighborhoods with quiet parks and… Christmas trees.
Yes, Christmas is coming soon. For a second, just a second, I think that we are so far away from home and our Christmas traditions. It will be the first year being away from Romania in this season. And not only that we will be away from Romania but we don’t even know where we will be. Colombia? Ecuador? The second passes and I smile. It will all be good.
For now, we talk with 3 of Santa’s helpers, asking them to tell Santa that this year, he needs to bring our presents in South America!
We have dinner on the side of the street, from a stand, with the locals. We feel incredible good! We are surrounded by salsa, lights, people dancing in front of their houses or discussing the day’s matters over a . We are in Colombia and we start to feel it!
No map for this story.
Next time we find out in how many ways you can pass a slow moving truck on a Colombian road. Stay tuned!
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  #47  
Old 29 Dec 2012
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Great Blog

Hey nice blog. Look forward to more!!
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Sara

Those who say something is impossible should not hinder those who are achieving it!






www.worldwideride.ca

HU RR Finding Freedom...World Wide Ride
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  #48  
Old 31 Dec 2012
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Hi guys,

I just put together a movie from our crossing of Darien Gap with the Stahlratte. Hope you will enjoy.
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  #49  
Old 31 Dec 2012
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To Medellin: 14 – 17 December
I am looking at the map and I see Cartagena way up high on the North tip of South America. And our plan is to get way down South.
It´s therefore time to start the engine and make some progress. As we are trying to get out of the city we are introduced to another Cartagena very different from the old colonial part we´ve seen. Chaotic traffing, a lot of garbage and people living in pretty harsh conditions…


This brings us back to a dilemma we´ve had some time ago. It´s up to every traveler to decide what he wants to see and what to remember of his trip. The way you travel also matters. I remember when I used to travel with work last year, by plane, riding from airport to hotel and from the hotel to the office and back, being “protected” from some less pleasant views. Now, by motorcycle we are passing through places that tourism industry wouldn´t want to have people with cameras and money in their pockets see. Kids here don´t go to theme parks, they have fun with their family preparing the pork meat for Christmas. Pleasant and acceptable? Don´t know. Natural and honest? Definitely.
Acum, pe motocicleta, trecem de multe ori prin locuri pe care industria turismului ar prefera sa le ascunda de cei cu aparate de fotografiat si dolari in portofel. Aici copiii nu merg in parcul de distractii, ci se distreaza la taierea porcului de Craciun. Placut si in regula? Nu stiu. Natural si sincer? Cu siguranta da!

Now that we are out of the tourist area we get to see a different country, harsh and straight,the one behind the touristic velvet curtain.


The surroundings might not have looked too good but people really impressed us. Honest, open and smiling, always ready to help, these people didn´t make us feel “foreigners” or “unease”.

Whenever we stop at a streetlight or by the side of the road people approach us. There are all smiling, asking us where we are from and where we are going. People are impressed when they hear about Romania and even if some of them don´t really know where this country is located they honestly wish us safe travels.

We are moving pretty well and soon we discover that there are tolls on the Colombian roads. All the roads. We´ve seen (and used) the toll roads of Mexico but there you always had the “libre” alternative to get from A to B. You would choose “cuota” if you were in a hurry. Here you have no choice. There is only one road from A to B and you have to pay.

Luckily motorcycles don´t pay tolls and have to avoid the barriers through the right. Some toll stations have decent passages for motorcycles like the picture above. Others have tall walls that make a veritable test for someone riding a large motorcycle with side cases, reminding me of my motorcycle test when I had to ride a straight line with just one hand on the handlebar.


We are passing through low and muddy lands. Darrien Gap is on the other side, the piece of land we had to avoid by sea. Panama is further away. It seems so far away now….

We stop for the night in Caucazia (we find out late on that the place might not have been so safe but we were really ok there) then head to Medellin, Colombia´s second largest city. The road to the city starts climbing up the mountains.


We are really high. And surrounded by trucks. There are only two roads connecting North to South and we are on one of them. Things can get crowded pretty fast….

One truck after the other, all going up 10-15 km/h. If you want to get somewhere at a reasonable hour you have no other choice but to follow the locals and start passing them. However you can. Through the left, through the right, through gas stations. Some situations seem inconceivable. Small cars, trucks and motorcycles fighting for the same piece of road.

We are in Latin America for some time now but we never overtook the way we did in Columbia. The rules are simplified pretty fast. The heaviest and the biggest has priority. The small ones have to find their way. For example, a heavy transporter took over the entire road so cars from both sides had to stop, including trucks.


We manage to overtake a lot of trucks and we are really happy where we don{t find others and the road is clear. Now I can look around. We pass stylish towns and military posts with friendly military guys. They are all waving! Funny or not Colombian soldiers were the warmest ones of all the army guys we met since Mexico.


Medellin is a cosmopolitan city, we find it all dressed up for fiesta. There it is in its evening gown!

Christmas is coming. Soon. And we are enjoying ourselves!

Route map for this story:

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Next time we enter the coffee world and find out what Colombian hospitality is. Stay tuned!
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  #50  
Old 31 Dec 2012
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Today, in our hotel's basement:





What a way to finish the year for Gunnar, near 4 KTMs that will race in Dakar Rally 2013. Happy New Year to everybody!
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  #51  
Old 4 Jan 2013
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Guys, I hope you had a blast for New Year's Eve party. We celebrated in Lima and then headed out on 1st of January towards the Andes.

Right now we are high in the mountains and enjoying every moment of it. Here's a picture from today, taken at 4500 meters. In search of llamas!



New entry in the ride report coming soon, still trying to get out of Colombia in there
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  #52  
Old 4 Jan 2013
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Coffee and sweet people: 17 – 20 December
I´m not a coffee drinker. But I did have a coffee from time to time ever since I got into Central America, in the coffee areas. Never too much and always with milk- I know, I know, the taste is not the same but what can I do, I am not a genuine coffee drinker.
As we are heading South out of Medellin, we are entering the Colombian coffee plantations.
We are heading towards Manizales where we will couchsurf for the first time in South America. We are making slow progress mainly because we cannot take our eyes of the scenery.
The hills are all coffee plantations, waves of green interrupted from time to by colored spots: white, yellow, blue. Farm houses. It´s hard to tell how you can reach them up there on the hills.
Even the road signs seem funnier here. Hmmm, what animals should we pay attention to?
We had a dilemma to solve in Manizales. Gunnar was unstable for a while, the steering wheel was vibrating pretty hard. I supposed it was the front tire, it was an old one and had some small bumps. I changed it in Medellin and the “symptoms” didn´t disappear, to my disappointment. Therefore I decided to change the break pads also (thinking that maybe they didn´t wear off equally) . Nothing again! The steering wheel or the fork were tight and good. The wheel was spinning freely. I couldn´t figure out what´s wrong with it.
Our hosts knew a mechanic so we went to see him in the morning. The mechanic did the same thing and everything seemed to be all right. Then he takes a look a the rear wheel. I look also and we see a big crack in the rear tire. I think it helped that the tire was heated now because I checked it few days before when it was cold and I didn´t see anything. Anyway this was bad. The tire had large surfaces with cracks so deep that you could see the casing. Pretty scary. So we know what we have to do without further discussions, we get into the mechanic´s car and hit the city to find a new tire.The only thing I can find is a very expensive Bridgestone. Great, now my both wheels have tires I don´t trust (TrailWings), and since I bought them without researching before I payed a lot of money for them also. But at least Gunnar is fine.
We say “Goodbye” to our very helpful and friendly hosts and pick Salento as our next destination. Salento is a small village further South. We like lazy days when we don´t do too many kilometers but discover beautiful things.
We get to the main plaza in Salento and begin our usual “accommodation ritual” (we are looking for an affordable place, with safe parking for our motorcycle and pretty ok for us also, and that´s what we are asking around for). We get really funny directions, they vary according to how much we can understand from the locals and how much we think we understand….

“Todo largo” on that street (??), walk 4 “cuadras” (I do know what that is), then left and “recto” (watch your language) and you are there. Got it? Hmm, we will see what we can find. We found a different “hospedaje” where we cross the “finish line” of the day. Right on time as sun is sneaking behind the roofs.
In Salento we discover life in the countryside, all peaceful and quiet and two very beautiful souls, Maria del Mar and Nicolas from Bogota who came here for the holidays. There are both bohemians and singers and we get along very well (we were staying at the same hostel). We go out for a coffee together (best coffee I had in my life), alfajores (typical cookies) and we share thoughts and experiences.
We ask them about life in Bogota. Nicolas gives us a straight answer: “We are buying things that we don’t need, with money that we don’t have, to impress people that we don’t care about”. Hmmm, does this seem familiar?
We are really getting along with these people and we continue walking the streets between houses dressed up for celebrations.
On top of it all, Nicolas owns a car that is very special to me. It was the car my father bought the year I was born and 18 years later I learned how to drive it. Here´s the Colombian version.
The next day we say “Goodbye”. Maria offers us her music album on a CD we will listen to when we get home (where we have a CD-ROM). Farewell friends!
Before leaving we go back the the coffee place we had the very good coffee and meet the owner of this small business, Jesus. He is very passionate about this place and he is telling us about coffee growing also inviting us to the place where we selects and grinds the coffee.

We learn a lot of interesting things about coffee growing process.
Even more impressing is the fact that this man is a lawyer. But came back to the “countryside” and started a project trying to support the people there.He told us “I am trying to build something positive for my family, environment and the community I live in then extending it to the region and my country, Colombia. We have to start locally, in small communities. We will be able to see the results when more an more people will start doing the same”.

He is telling us that most of the Colombian coffee producers only grow the coffee, take out the beans and sell them for a low price, mostly for export. Thus the good quality Colombian coffee cannot be drank in Colombia as it is exported.
He decided to build a small processing factory so that the good quality Colombian coffee can be drank in Colombia also. He takes the coffee from his father´s coffee farm but also buys it from other plantations, carefully selecting it, roasting it at the right temperature so that his customers can enjoy an exquisite cup.
I like his approach. He resisted the “big” challenges and doesn´t expect for his solution to universally solve these problems.
Most of the good coffee will continue to leave Colombia in its early stage and for little money and most Colombians will only be able to drink lower quality coffee. But he found a way to bring little changes. He decided to do something, although his work is just a small drop in the ocean. But what is an ocean if not millions of drops getting together.
We shake hands and wished him good luck with his project. Maybe one day our friend will be able to send his good coffee to Romania also.
From Salento we go to Popayan, keep heading South. We leave the mountainous scenery for the sugar cane plantations. Apparently it´s harvest time.
It getting more and more difficult to overpass. Luckily we are not in the mountains anymore so there are not too many curves.
But hei, if you ride for many days in a row and don´t know where to keep your bananas… here´s an idea:
It´s almost dark when we reach Popayan and some rain clouds get there in the same time. We confine to our ritual again searching for a place to sleep. Hard to find an available and affordable spot. It´s holiday time apparently and everyone is traveling home. As I come back unsuccessfully from a hotel search I see another DL650 parked next to Gunnar. Red, clean, 2012 model (but the old lines not the new design) and lots of after market parts.I meet the guy talking to Andreea. His name is Fredie and the red DL belongs to his boss. He is trying to help us guiding us to other hotels but the ones that still have rooms have touristy prices. Then Frankie says “if you want you can come stay at my places. I´m on Couchsurfing but cannot host people right now because my place is really small. But if you want and don´t mind cats you can come sleep at my place”.
We stop by the ship where Fredie is working meet his boss, Jaime (the owner of the red DL650) and he offers to help us well, with a place for our motorcycle overnight.
We feel so taken care of, needing to do nothing and having so much consideration from these guys. We settle in the motorcycle (first worry of any rider ) and then we set up our place to sleep in the hallway of Fredie’s small apartment (which he share with 2 other girls). We move around some furniture to make room on the floor for our two sleeping mattress. The space was very limited but who cares? His heart was so big. So we felt very very good in the end.
Heading back to the shop, Jaime and 2 other friends are waiting us with some s and a lot of happy mood. My Spanish must have been improving due to the s or so I think because we are taking about “heavy” subjects and these guys seem to understand me… Hmmm…
One of Jaime’s friends is a cop (oh and I just told all the stories about passing in Colombia) and he is so funny! He educates us about how we should handle the situation if we are stopped by cops on the road. I must confess that I am not good at the methods he explained and I would prefer not to be stopped at all
And, to he honest, now that we’re out of Colombia I must say that the cops and the military met in Colombia where among the friendliest we’ve seen in the hole trip. No stopping, no control, and every time big smiles and “thumbgs up”.
We talk with Jamie Frankie and their friends a long time, well into the night. Next morning we are invited for breakfast before leaving.
Then, we have to say good bye and start a new day of discovery!
The map of these post:

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Next time we head full speed into Ecuador and try to change the Hemisphere in which we are traveling. Stay tuned!
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  #53  
Old 5 Jan 2013
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Adios Columbia, Hola Ecuador: 20 – 21 December

We still had 2 more days to go from Popayan to Ecuador border. Of course, we could have done it in just one longer day but…. why hurry? Especially that we are getting into the mountains again.
There are many deserted places on the road but nature is wonderful. Beautiful but not that simple. I remember what my friends from Popayan told me “If you go 50-100 km away from Popayan into the mountains you can meet the guerillas. Stay on the main roads”.
Columbia is recovering after a long periods of internal fights with many paramilitary organizations.Many of them gave up arms in the last years and formed… political parties. Not all of them though. The government and members of active guerrillas are discussing it right now in Cuba. The subject is a delicate and complex one, same as in others countries in the area. And it seems really hard to be black or white. The certain thing is that many lives were impacted by these fights. And it´s obvious since we didn´t live like that we cannot imagine how their way of life was during that period.
I remember a Colombian friend from Medellin telling us how he moved to from the coutryside to the city after they were attacked in their own house one day, locked out in one of the rooms and when they managed to get out there was nothing left in the house. Whoever got in stole everything but they were happy they came out alive. But decided to leave those beautiful places and nature landscape for the safety of the city where guerrillas cannot operate. These kind of stories really puts your mind at work and in the same time makes me feel grateful that we can think freely about moving to the countryside when we go back to Romania.
We´re staying on the main road and we are feeling same. Actually we felt safe all the way through Colombia. Things seem to be going back to normal and the army seems to strongly control most of the areas. Colombians can now feel safe again and travel at ease.
On our way to Pasto, we pass through a very weird place. It was a village where basically all the villagers were begging on the side of the road. Just like that, they were reaching their hands and asking for money as you came closer.

We were told that this is a “practice” that happens mainly around end of the year, the villagers are asking for money for the new year and they are making straw dolls that they will burn on December 31 (impersonating the problems and worries they had in the year that was coming to an end). Weird and dangerous customs I would say. We also find out that you have to pay attention at the way they hold their hands. If the palm is up it means they are begging. If the palm is facing down they that person (mostly a woman) is offering herself to you for money. … That place was incredibly sad for me.
Worst thing was that they also had some strings tied to a tree on one side of the road that they were pulling up when you were getting closer to make you stop. The strings were not up when we passed but that didn´t make us feel any better or released. Most of the people “handling” the strings were kids and you cannot tell what come through a kid´s mind or what a pulled string could do to a motorcycle.
I cannot help thinking what kind of parents make their children beg and pull out strings across the road. I honestly doubt these people should have children, or if they do have them they should not be allowed to raise them.
We were relieved to leave that place. Sometimes it is better to travel through deserted areas. But clear road may be dangerous so we have to pay attention.
And where there are no pulled strings or crashed cars there are landslides. Luckily in Colombia the authorities clear the road really fast.
In Pasto we have another pleasant surprise and we are proven again that Colombians are polite and hospitable. We stop at a hotel recommended by some friends who stayed there few days before. Everything is perfect and after having lunch we are getting ready for some online research for our next day border crossing in Ecuador. Unfortunately their WiFi was not working. They tried to fix it for one hour but didn´t make it so we apologized and explained that we really needed internet that day for some research. Therefore we moved to the hotel across the street. The people from the first hotel not only didn´t mind us leaving but also apologized for their internet problem, gave our money back and helped us move to the other hotel.No, the hotels didn´t have the same owner, they were competitors. We were speechless again.
The next day we are heading to Ipiales, the border city from Colombia to Ecuador. We stop at Las Lajas before crossing into Ecuador to see the cathedral that was built over a canyon. The construction is spectacular.
Interesting fact is that Vatican recognized the sanctuary as church only in 1951. Apart from political or religious businesses Las Lajas is a place of pilgrimage. Grateful people put thanking plates on the rocks around the church.
We take a photo with our national costumes and this is it, time to head for the border.
It´s holiday season so not only it is hard to find a hotel room in this period but the border crossings are crowded also.
At least there are no “helpers” like in Central America and you can quietly wait in line. Or on the floor next to a pile of textiles.
Two hours later we are free to explore Ecuador. First thing we notice is that we are higher, we are surrounded by mountains and everything is green!
We are stopping at a gas station to fuel up and we notice something else: gas price. And yes, price is in dollars per gallon.
Time to carelessly rev the engine on wonderful roads. We are in Ecuador…
…and we got here by motorcycle, from Romania! Yuhuuu!
Route map for this story:
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Next time we will be really crossing the Equator line and getting ready for Christmas. Wonder where we will be going? Stay tuned!
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  #54  
Old 8 Jan 2013
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Hoping to help other travelers that might take the same routes as we did, we thought to put together a section listing the accommodations and places to eat that we've liked (or disliked )

The descriptions cover only the journey from Mexico South (as we figured in Canada and US is less difficult to find good places).

The listings are divided by countries so that they are easy to follow.

I do not know if there is a better place to put the link but for now, here it goes here in here

Places – Micadu International

We will continue to update the section as we travel South.
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  #55  
Old 9 Jan 2013
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A line, a fish can, and a stop between high mountains: 21-24 December
Ecuador! It might sound strange, but I remember this country from when I just a kid back home, looking through the geographic atlas and dreaming about far away journeys. I remember this country mainly because, although I never knew for sure what countries the equator line crosses, definitely it should cross Ecuador, right?. And the atlas confirmed this every time I was checking. I know, child logic, but now, many years later, we were in this country heading for… the equator line, surrounded by tall trees.

Dark clouds travel by our side but we don´t really care about this now. We are very careful not to miss the “sign” as we almost did with the Tropic of Cancer sign, back in Mexico.

We do not miss the sign and only a few kilometers before the capital city, Quito, we turn left towards the spot that marks “the middle of the world”.

We find a totally deserted place and a huge pole in the middle informing us that it is official, we are on the equator line.

Mmm, still, I know how this works. How these commercial places are made for tourist convenience whereas the real “landmark” is “a little bit further”. I don´t trust the exact spot of the pole, it has to be verified. So I take out my GPS (it might not have S.A. maps so it is useless for directions but it can still show the current location) and… they are right! Latitude read is: 0.00000. And we also discover that we are at 2753 meters altitude. We don´t know who to blame for our “loss of breath” our excitement or the altitude….

Oh well, let´s have our picture taken, each one in his own hemisphere. There you go, you can be in another hemisphere and still… so close!

We are smiling, we are happy but also nervous. This large and completely empty place makes everything seem very unreal. We cannot believe we´ve made it so far, it would be more easy to believe that rather somebody played a trick on us and put this pole here. But it is true, we are on the equator and from now on we will be traveling in the Southern Hemisphere. Let´s go!

Quito is not far away. We find it stretching over the valleys as if trying to reach the clouds. As far as I know it lays at 2800 meters altitude, and it´s the second highest capital in the world, after La Paz, Bolivia.

Ecuador is known for its geographic location but fewer people know that before the Spanish invasion in the Americas these places were part of the Inca Empire and Quito has been for a long time one of the two capitals of the empire (the other one was Cusco).

We only spend one night in Quito (thank you Felipe for having us) and we don´t have time to explore the old city centre (one of the most well kept historic centers in Latin America). We want to keep heading South. We get out of the city and we are in the mountains, on a 3 lane highway, 3000 meters altitude.

I don´t know when it has been built, how log it took and how much money. But I feel so sad when I am thinking for how long are we struggling back in Romania to build a (first) highway over the mountains in places that don´t get over 2000 meters. But political changes and corruption make us back home to start over and never finish. But we will finish. I think we are changing for the better and rather sooner than later I do hope we will over pass our own weaknesses. Still I would like to be more efficient. I don´t know how things are in Ecuador, but to me, as an outsider, things seem to be working rather well. And Ecuadorians seem united and active, always at work always building something. And we also see a lot of “patriotic” signs by the side of the road. I wonder if they really have any effect on the population?

We ride on through an area called “Avenue of the volcanoes” named after the numerous volcanoes that the road winds through, some of them even active.

Unfortunately weather is not on our side and we can barely see anything. We stop in Baños for the night where we could have been able to see Tungurahua volcano in action, if the sky would have been clear. Unfortunately the clouds are very low and nightfall doesn´t change anything.

We are pretty sad as we missed a very impressive show. Here´s and ideea of what we could have seen, compliments of Google.
On the second day we take a route that could have allowed us to see the volcano from multiple spots. We only see an agrarian mosaic at it’s base. The volcano peak remains hidden in the clouds.

We are not very disappointed though. The narrow and windy road seems to be carrying us into another world, an archaic one, where we seem to find our place. From time to time a spot of blue sky sets light over the fields.


We get lost several time. We have no GPS maps for S.A. and our paper map was not too good. We managed to buy some sort of a route atlas from Quito, but must have been a touristic one, it didn´t seem to be a serious one. But every time we got lost we managed to find locals to ask for directions. These interactions are very dear to us and almost every time I promise myself that for the next trip I will get an open face helmet or at least flip-up helmet.

It´s lunch time and we are still on the same isolated route, in the mountains. The altimeter tells us we are at 3500 meters. We realize that sometimes we are having trouble breathing although we don´t do too much effort. It´s the lack of oxygen. Our lungs are not yet used to this altitude.

We didn´t see a village for some time now. So we decide to stop by the side of the road and get into the food “reserve resources”: our last salmon can from Alaska. It had to travel for so long to help us now, in Ecuador.

The only shelter from the wind (that raises some sort of volcanic ash) is by the side of the road, next to Gunnar. So we take a sit and enjoy our delicious lunch: a fish can, some two days old bread and water. But we are truly happy!

There was no one around, we were surrounded by agrarian fields and the wind. Volcanoes are watching us from behind the clouds´curtain. My mind is far away. We are at 3500 meters and we can read that on an altimeter we received from friends in Romania 2 years ago. On the road we can listen to music from an mp3 player given by our friends in California. We heat water for tea on a burner received also from friends back home. The fish can is from Alaska and reminds us of the Russian guy (do you remember?). And so on, simple things, thoughts, pieces of advice or just a simple smile, we carry them all with us on this journey, received from people dear to us, old friends or friend that we hope to become old friends, from Europe and from Americas. We are all there together, far away, by the side of the road, sharing a fish can.

It´s Christmas time tomorrow and we don´t know where we will be. We are not worried though. We might be far away from home, but… we do have a Christmas tree with us! So it cannot be bad!

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Next time… Santa Claus is coming! Does he manage to find us in Ecuador? Stay tuned!
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Old 15 Jan 2013
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So this is Christmas: 24-26 December
So… yeah, it’s December 24 decembrie and we are on the motorcycle, riding on. We have a Christmas tree but we would really like to find a nice place for the night and for tomorrow the whole day. We decide to head to Cuenca, a city in the South of Ecuador, more because of its geographical location (its a convenient distance from where we are).
But things get more and more milky-white along the way…
I don´t know at what altitude we are but it´s getting really cold. We put on our winter gloves and rain suits (pretty late as we are already wet). And visibility drops a lot.
We keep riding but try to stay very alert. I get less and less visibility. Only a few meters in front. It´s raining but I have to keep my visor open because it gets foggy instantly. Andreea says I might as well let it fog inside as you cannot see anything anyway because of the fog outside so….
We are passed by buses that go way too fast. It´s fast even for a normal day when there is good visibility. We were told the drivers know the road so well that they ride with the same speed no matter the weather conditions. Yap, they might know the road but they don´t know we are on it also. I turn on my blinkers and keep going. Slowly! And we wanted to reach Cuenca fast. Hmm… I guess that plan is gone…
We are both very quiet. We don´t even feel like listening to music on this kind of weather. I keep thinking about tonight. I would really like to find a nice and warm place. And maybe we can also find a supermarket to buy something to eat. I wonder what kind of “traditional” dishes they have? And as I was picturing all this….. I see something strange moving through the fog. Actually it´s three of them.
At that moment, my friends, I could only see walking bacon, steak, ham and sausages running in front of us. I open my intercom and have a good laugh with Andreea. “These three managed to get away from ending up on the Christmas table and now are using the fog to make their escape.”
Our steak and sausages disappear on the side of the road and we are alone again in the rain and fog. This encounter made us happier. We are now both trying to figure out how far our walking bacon will end up.
We get to Cuenca pretty late. And again we have to follow the “ritual” of find an accommodation.
There are many hotels around so we decide to split and start asking. I only find expensive hotels. I am told “es la temporada” Argh… I don´t care it´s high season. I am only passing by. But they do care so I wish them “Merry Christmas” and continue my search. I meet with Andreea and unfortunately she couldn´t find anything in our budget either.
I leave Andreea with the motorcycle and I go check another hostel “round the corner”. They have a room. Even a private one with double bed. Shared bathroom (hostel type), no window and very small. But it´s clean and matches our budget. I´ll go talk with Andreea. I am a little down. Usually we are not very demanding. We sleep where we can. Normally a room like this would be perfect and we would take it in a heart beat. But today… we don´t even get a window on Christmas day?
I go find Andreea and discuss what to do. We don´t really like it but it´s 7 p.m., it´s dark, Christmas Eve and we are with our motorcycle by the side of the road in a cold and wet weather. We will take the room we last found. It’s seems it will be the best we can have for Christmas. Or so we thought!
As we were deciding what to do we hear: “Hello, are you from Romania?” As we turn around we see a good looking gentlemen smiling at us and at Gunnar. He is English and his name is Christopher. He saw the license plate, that´s how he knows we are from Romania. We recognized it because his girlfriend´s name is Codruta and she is from… Romania. We tell him our names and he invites us two blocks down the road to their restaurant. “Come on, Codruta will be thrilled to meet you”. And indeed she is very happy to see us. She wants to know our story and she is even more happy to hear where we are coming from. We are looking around. It´s a select restaurant, candles on each table, people enjoying their dinner and… ROMANIAN carols playing!!!! We soon discover that Codruta insisted on teaching the Ecuadorians some Romanian traditions. We are looking around and cannot believe our eyes. We are dirty and wet from the road. We feel like we don´t belong there, among those well dressed people. But Codruta and Chris don’t let us feel uncomfortable. They are inviting us for dinner. We ask for little time to run to our hostel and change our clothes.

We go to our hostel and the room with no window but the night is not sad anymore. We put Gunnar in the hallway, take all our luggage upstairs, take a shower and change into normal clothes. We are clean and dry! And… there are people waiting for us in a warm place.
We are going back to the restaurant where Chris and Codruta invite us to dinner. We are happy and talking a lot. We cannot believe what is happening to us and that this place really exists. What are the chances for a British guy with a Romanian girlfriend to approach you on the street in Cuenca, Ecuador on Christmas Eve. That he doesn’t pass you by, but stops to say “Hello” and get to know us. And what are the chances for us to enter a restaurant in Ecuador where Romanian carols are playing and be invited to dinner, Romanian dinner, Romanian dishes, just like home! I have a self imposed rule to not post pictures with food on this blog. But this time I decided to break this rule because…. well, because these are real Romanian “sarmale”, cocked like home, that found their way to our stomach in Ecuador. Ha!
Oh, and if you want to know what “sarmale” are, then… well I guess you have to go either in Ecuador (on Christmas Eve) or come to Romania when we will be around
I will let you figure out what that night was all about. I can only say that for us was surreal. At the very end we can only say “Thank you” and be greatful for our lives.

We left the restaurant late in the night and cannot remember how we fell asleep in our small room. I do remember falling asleep thinking that tomorrow is December 25, we don´t have anything to eat and probably all business will be closed tomorrow. But these are tomorrow´s worries. Now we are thinking about the wonder that took place tonight.
In the morning Santa Claus manages to find us here in Ecuador! He brings me chocolate and Andreea gets flowers. We are both very happy! We are going out planning to walk around and hopefully find something to eat. But we are surprised to discover that all the stores are open. Even the market is open and it´s full of people.
We learned a secret in Colombia and it worked so far, if you go to the central market you can have a good and cheap meal with the locals. So we go to the food section of the market and we have another surprise: there are entire pigs waiting for us on the tables. Skilful cooks with huge knives ready to satisfy your culinary needs and serve you whichever piece of meat you want.
We are having a good and cheap meal with many of the locals.
OK, that was the last food-picture on this blog. I promise. Unless we will find another Romanian somewhere down the road…
And we go out on the street just in time to assist to an impressive religious procession. “Nino viajero”. Many cars dressed up to the “tip of their antennas” (extravagant I would say), music, horses, people dressed up as characters from “biblical scenes”.
This manifestation is one of great tradition here in Cuenca and indeed people who participate go to great lengths to prepare.
Other people are running on the side of the convoy, trying to catch some of the gifts (people from the convoy are throwing bags with sweets, bread and other aliments) that are given by those in the chariots.
On the side, sitting quietly on a door step, an old woman is watching all this show. I wonder what is she thinking about all this. How does this connect with earlier years? Was she once part of the those riding the chariots? We cross our views, making eye contact and she smiles. I do not dare ask her anything. I just smile back.

We continue our walk and when we get back at the hostel we meet Phill, one one the motorcyclists we shared the Stahlratte with crossing from Panama to Columbia. He got lost in Amazonia and spent Christmas Eve in a city in the jungle, he wanted to get to Cuenca also so we gave him our hostel coordinates. And here we are reunited and ready to hit the road again. The next day we decide to go together to Peru.
The way to Peru is interesting, some rocks on the road, some off-road and there, we are at the border.

Another border crossing. Another queue. While waiting to get our exit stamps out of Ecuador, a lot of people are gathering around the motorcycles. In these parts of the world the “etiquette” is more… permissive. It is not uncommon to have someone straddle your bike to have a picture taken, check out your acceleration, your brakes. The trick is to stay cool about it and understand that this is not seen as something unpolite or aggressive. It is just pure curiosity.
I confess that even knowing this I am still uncomfortable having a stranger on my bike without him asking permission. Luckily, most of the times while I run around for papers at borders, Andreea stays with Gunnar and you do NOT want to mess with the wife while she is guarding the bike This time she took care of both bikes. So when we are done we try to make our way out of the crowd. Here is Phill trying to “sneak out”
On the Peruvian side all is smooth. The only “hick-up” in my mood is that the mandatory insurance for motorcycles is $35 for one month. The same insurance for cars is only $8. Beyond the big amount of money they ask, that makes you think about how well are the motorcyclists respected in Peru… hmmm. But that we will discover in the next stories. For now, let’s be happy. We are in Peru! And we came here on our motorcycle!

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Next time we find out why Peru is nicknamed “The Egypt of South America” and we manage to find a place from where we can start in full speed 2013. Stay tuned!
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Old 15 Jan 2013
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Till the next story, a sneak peak of some traveling we had to do on the Altiplano in the last days. Nice and hot... ahem...

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Old 18 Jan 2013
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In the desert, passing the last days of 2012: 26-31 December
The landscape changes quickly once we are in Peru. Everything is dry around us.
But the road starts to descend rapidly following the beach line. We are looking for a place to spend the night and among all the 5 stars locations we manage to find a decent person who probably just started the business. We was probably still trying to get clients or else I cannot explain why he gave us such a good price for a bungalow by the beach. Mmmm, first night in Peru the sound of the waves puts us to sleep.
Things get serious on the second day as it is time to really meet Peru. First impressions are good and not so good. We are impressed by the landscape. It´s a desert and some might say there is nothing to speak about but I like it. You definitely get a lot of time for meditation. And my mind starts to wander along with the peaceful sound of the engine.
Phill had a functional GPS so we decided to let him go in front. This way we had someone to blame if we got lost. Ahaaa… blame the GPSof course, I was talking about the GPS.
Here are the 2 VStroms, old and new model. I might be biased but I prefer the old model.
Landscape changes even more and we are now riding through real desert. Peru is also called “The Egypt of South America”. And it doesn´t take us long to figure out why.
Depressing? Maybe. But there is something soothing about the way the dunes are aligned, shaped by wind and time. Waves of sand dancing with the waves of water.
But the wind starts blowing faster waking you up from your dream. You must keep your eyes on the road as it gets invaded by the sand from place to place.
Second picture bings us to the not so good impressions about Peru. There is garbage everywhere. Yes, I know, it´s a general problem. We´ve seen it in many countries, also in Romania. But we can never act cool about it, nor we want just to shoot the “nice frames” and ignore the rest.
Worst thing is that there is trash even in deserted area where you can see no people. And still, the traces of “civilization” are everywhere. All these might be easily avoided by a vacation photo camera but we don´t feel we are on vacation so we also add these pictures to our photo album. We are not judging, we are not in that position by any means (thinking how much work we still have to do back home in this regard) and it actually hurts to see the same sad things happening here.
I remember how angry I would get back home when seeing some smart guy throwing trash from his car. Well, you better learn how to deal with it inside of you after spending some time in Peru (and later we will see that it is the same in Bolivia). Throwing what you don´t need from your car (paper or other trash) is something common here. I wander what people think when they do this. Do they realize it is not ok to do this and don´t care about it? Or they see all the amount of trash by the side of the road and think another plastic bottle won´t make a difference?
I think I have to add something here: we are on PanAmerican highway so I want to believe that once you get away from the main highway that crosses Peru from North to South garbage presence decreases as well. And also, to be completely honest, it is actually hard to “behave nice” as there are virtually no trash cans to be found nowhere. But who knows? And then I think about the huge trash island that floats in the Pacific Ocean, all “human made”, as example of our “civilization”. Compared to that, this land is darn clean. I am seriously wondering if we will ever win this battle with waste.
The only green patches are the ones that have irrigation systems or by the side of the rivers. And there is huge contrast between green and desert.
I wanted to know more about these green oases especially since I couldn´t see any rivers and I read that irrigation water comes through large pipes all the way from the other side of the Andes. Here´s how the Amazonian basin helps bringing the desert to life.
We make another stop by the side of the ocean, in Huanchaco, a resort that seems to be very touristic. But we do manage to find a budget hostel owned by 3 friendly brothers.
Lima is not so far away from here. Another day through the desert and we are in the capital city. Nothing is out of reach of sand out here.
Here´s a view from above of the green- yellow mosaic, where man tried to intervene and cultivate something.
Otherwise, the road tries to find its way between the sand and the ocean. It´s the third day in the desert and I am still not bored. It´s something I cannot explain, the same thing that made me enjoy the endless Canadian preeries (there were different colors there, colors of the field flowers, yellow and purple). I could ride through the desert forever. Ah, I really hope I can do this!
We might be in the desert but one can never forget about basic life necessities, not even away from “civilization”…
There´s no time to wonder about the surprises of international commerce. We get to Lima and it´s December 30. Right on time to count backwards along with many other people gathered by the seaside. 3,2,1 and huraaaay we are in 2013. God help us! We would like to be healthy and wiser than 2012 and we wish you the same thing!
Happy new year, 2013!

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Next time we will leave the desert and its heat behind and venture into the Andes. Stay tuned!
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Old 19 Jan 2013
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A few days ago, we entered in Argentina, just for a day before making a loop back into Chile and Atacama.

At the boarder there was a sign... so here it is, we have it "in our sights"... well not close yet but hopefully we will get there!

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Old 21 Jan 2013
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Where the condors fly!: 1-3 January 2013
2013 came upon us with Peruvian fireworks. I felt that we have to speed up. One year ago, when all this was a just a drawing in our head, I was thinking that we will be in Ushuaia by December 2012 and in 2013 we will be already going up, heading home. Oh well, here´s the reality, January 1, 2013 Lima, Peru shaking hands with the Dakar 2013 competitors and wishing them good luck.
Ok, we accepted the fact that we will not take the 4th of February flight back home (as originally planned), -a sponsorship from a flight company would do as good right now- but at least we can make it to Ushuaia by the end of summer (end of February). It´s time to hit the road. We leave Lima on the 1st of January and move fast past the beaches full of people enjoying their vacation. There are more than full. There were buses full of people! Beaches were really crowded.
We are nostalgic about the beaches up North, so deserted and clean. One more day in the desert and that´s it, tomorrow we will be turning left into the mountains. To the Andes! We stop for now in an oasis, an unexpected but interesting experience.
Huacachina is now a very crowded touristic place but…. it was good for us also that it was listed in the guide of South America or else we would have passed it so we cannot complain. I go up the dunes and cannot help imagining how this place looked like before being discovered by the “travel agencies”. Or how there are many more undiscovered oases in Africa or Middle East, wondering how they are. Wondering if we would see those places someday. This I don´t know but I do expect to see T. E. Lawrence show up from the dunes!
Neither Lawrence nor other warriors can disturb our evening. So we enjoying peacefully this day´s dawn.
We meet Phill here and decide to ride together again. First stop, Nazca lines. The best way to see them is from the plane. But our budget doesn´t allow us to climb on a plane so we take the more “earthly” option:

A steel tower that you climb and from where you can see to of the Nazca lines, plus some weird lines. It´s not all of them but it´s good enough.
Interesting fact is that nobody knows for sure what was the purpose of these drawings (or who did them).
There are many theories, but “your guess is as good as any” as it read somewhere. We would rather not guess what were their purpose, we admire them one more time and then descend our steel tower.
We wave to our “more fortunate” friends wishing them to enjoy their flight and the views. No matter the purpose, to see the Nazca lines or not, flying is something I really enjoy!
And this is it, time to say goodbye to the desert. Ever since we crossed into Peru the mountains were always on our left side but we always kept our distance following the coastline. Now it´s finally time to turn left towards the Andes.
We are 600 km away from Cusco, the old capital of Inca empire. And we have almost 600 km of windy and alpine roads (or should I say “Andine”) that we take us up to over 4000 meters and down again, but not lower than 2900 meters, a giant roller coaster.
The road goes up really fast and we barely see anything around.
It´s just the beginning of the climb so we cannot perceive how high we will get. We stop to take pictures and realize we have trouble breathing without making any effort.
The vicuñas (wild relatives of the llamas) don´t seem to have troubles breathing, they run pretty fast as we are trying to get closer to them. It´s ok, there will be other opportunities. So far we are enjoying the well paved road (still, you have to notice that there is no shoulder)
Phill is behind us although I am sure he can ride much faster than us on these curves (he is a race pilot).
But why hurry when you can enjoy these views?
You might have noticed something new for Peru in the picture above: clouds! We forget about rain, it was just a memory from Ecuador, somewhere around Christmas. I could say we didn´t see rain since last year… But now we are in the mountains and we are in the middle of rainy season.
How come? We planned this trip so that we could follow the summer from North to South. Yes, this might be a good thing in most of the countries but apparently in Peru and Bolivia summer means rainy season. And when you are over 3500-4000 meters, rain can be more than just water (hail, snow…). So we have to pay more attention to the clouds in front.
So far rain doesn´t stay in our way, we get a few warning drops and then we can further enjoy the spectacular views. We cross a mountain pass (Phill´s GPS says 4560 m) and things turn green. In a good way…
Andreea´s riding jacket cannot protect her from the wind she is wearing her rain jacket for some time now. I am still trying to fool myself that I am protected by the (nonexistent) insulation of my riding suit, obviously created for way warmer climates.
We pass through villages and more isolated households.
And we meet people at the same time.
Quechua. No, not the Decathlon brand but descendants of the Incas. Actually, we were to discover later on that Incas was not their proper name. Back then they were also called Quechua, Inca was only their king, their leader.
They are all friendly. They are waving and smiling at us. We don´t get the ADV sign here….
And we are getting another show as we are looking up towards the blue sky. Unfortunately this show is getting more and more exclusive: the flight of the condor!
The huge bird is performing its majestic flight, way up high in the sky. Our camera doesn´t allow us to zoom to much and get a perfect photo. But here´s a “cropped” zoom:
There are more than 600 km from Nazca to Cusco and you can make it in one day if you put your mind to it. We don´t want to do this so we decide to stop for the night in Puquio, a small mountain town “only” 3214 meters altitude. Not a touristic place but a total surprise.
One of those places where you stop only for the night (hoping it will not be “too bad”) but you discover it is much more than that and find it hard to leave in the morning. Yes, Puquio for us was one of those places. It appears to be just another mountain town that you might pass by without any regrets.
But if you do stop and walk around the “glitter” less streets you end up discovering an authentic Andine world. We had cheap food and accommodation (we got the prices for locals not for turists). We slept in a hotel that appeared to be still under construction but with impeccable rooms, hot water and a dedicated owner. We could carelessly and safely walk the streets (with no police around but also without feeling like they should be there).
People were smiling, saying “hola”, talking to us out of pure curiosity and not to ask us for money or anything else.

We were enjoying Puquio.
We went to bed under three lama blankets. It was warm and we slept very well!
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Next time we continue our high altitude ride and have to make a decision: we pass directly into Chile or make a “detour” through Bolivia? Stay tuned!
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