Hello fellow HUBBers,
I'm Shadi, 25, from Belgium. Earlier this year I arrived by mere coincidence in the beautiful country of Ecuador. A Scottish skipper took me on as a crew member on his sailing yacht late december and after over two months of sailing the Atlantic (and lots of waiting too) we made it to Ecuador early march. During the voyage I kept thinking I really wanted to get a bike and travel SA; mainly Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. But of course everything changed completely.
I wanted to share the story of my ride up from Ecuador to where I am currently, Nicaragua, both because it might be interesting for other riders and because I just want to tell the tale.
After I arrived in Ecuador I was browsing this amazingly helpful website and a dutch guy by the name of Cor responded to my post so I decided to travel to Guayaquil to go ahead and buy his 2011, 200cc Chinese-made Qingqi motorcycle. I had never ridden a motorcycle in my life so I figured this might just be what I was looking for: a light but heavy enough bike.
Cor was happy to sell it because he had to fly out and I was happy with the bike and the numerous accessories he gave me with it.
We went to the notary's and they legalized the bill of sale and made an authorization for me to ride it while it was still registered in Cor's name. Very friendly, price $20. I was good to go!
I went around the block a couple of times with a couple of engine cut offs of course, but people in Ecuador seem to be used to other people not knowing how to ride bikes or drive cars so everything worked out fine. I made it alive through heavy Guayaquil traffic to the insurance office which was on the road towards the coast, where I wanted to go. They charged me 50 cents to put my name instead of Cor's on the insurance document (SOAT) which was still valid for about 10 months. FYI, one year moto insurance costs about $25 for Ecuador.
So I made it in one piece to the coastal village of Olon, slept like a log and did some minor repairs on the bike the next morning. A Chinese bike is very much a work in progress, so to speak.
Further north is the town of Montecristi where the finest quality Panama hats are produced (that's about everything of interest to it) and past the fishing city of Manta, going towards Bahia, there are some quieter and very beautiful beaches. Mainly San Jacinto and San Clemente are pretty nice places, very Ecuadorian. If you make it to San Clemente there are some inexpensive and OK cabins at the northern part of the village, towards the cliffs. The owners are a German-Ecuadorian couple but I forgot their names.
The next couple of weeks I spent in the coastal region of Ecuador volunteering in the beatiful little town of San Isidro, during which I also got the bike tuned to my liking and attached a plank with hooks on the rack to carry my backpack. Furthermore, I decided to get an Ecuadorian motorcycle license after all, just to be sure. It was straight-forward. Any small town ANT (Agencia Nacional de Transito) office will issue them to foreign tourists, I had the impression. You just have to do a visual test and take some copies and passport pics. Total price is about $65.
After about six weeks in San Isidro my 90 days tourist visa were about to run out so I rode on to Quito. I'm not a big city person but Quito has a lot to offer. Colonial old town, lots of good museums, some pretty viewpoints, good climate (sunny days and chilly nights) and OK nightlife. Check out La Estacion (lots of live music, good vibe, good food) and Green Wheels (bicycle and moto friendly place, very nice people and also very good food and vibe).
I actually crossed the border without the bike to go to Ipiales (Columbian border town) in order to get a visa extension. If you want to know more about extending an Ecuadorian visa take a look here
After my bikeless trip to Ipiales, Ibarra and Otavalo I returned to Quito and rode on to the Oriente or Amazon region of this wonderfully diverse country, passing by the most amazing thermal springs in Ecuador: Papallacta. The Papallacta pass is very windy, rainy and cold but the thermal springs make you forget all the discomfort! There are cheap places to stay and you can go to either the original and most luxurious springs above the village ($7 all day) or the more humble but equally enjoyable springs just 1km before you hit the first junction to the village. Those cost $3 for the whole day.
After Papallacta the road keeps descending towards the Amazon plain. Some very beautiful views and the road is in good shape.
So I had made it to Tena, one of the most tourism-minded places of the Oriente, where I had my bike registered in my name officially! YEAH!
If you buy a bike in Ecuador there's a couple of options: either you buy it new and talk to the dealership if they can help you to get it registered. They will probably find a way but you might have to pay some more. In this case it's advisable to buy your bike in a smaller town in the Oriente or on the coast, because in the Sierra (or mountain) region things are usually more organized and official.
The other case is: you buy a second hand bike which already has plates and up-to-date paperwork (papeles al dia, very important!). This is what I did. To get it registered in your name you have to do a process which is called traspaso
. These are the steps:
1) Go to any office supplies place and buy a document called carta de venta
. Fill in the contract together with the seller and take a couple of copies of both your passports. Go to a the notary and ask them to make the document official. Price $10. If you will proceed with the registration immediately that's step 1, if not ask the previous owner if he agrees to give you an authorization to ride the bike while it's in his name still. This costs another $10.
2) Take the contract and the green registration card to SRI. This is the tax office (IRS). Tell them you want to do a traspaso
, and they will tell you the copies you need. This might involve a lot of waiting and a couple of runs.
3) Go to the place they tell you to pay the traspaso
tax. Any place that says SERVIPAGOS
accepts the payment. Do not
lose the receipt they give you.
4) Go to the ANT with your bike. They will tell you which copies you need. They'll do a 'free' and very basic technical exam of your bike and then it's the waiting game and around $40 to get the job done. Don't do the last step anywhere in the Sierra as there's more chance they could be a pain...
Right, so back in San Isidro I had met a Peace Corps volunteer who told me that I had to go and visit his friend who was also a Peace Corps volunteer in the Amazon. So I got in touch with him, he said 'great' and I made my way to the small town of Santa Ana, about 25kms out of Puyo on a dirt road. It was great. It was where the road ends. It was where I wanted to go.
Apparently I had arrived just in time for the annual fiesta
of the San Jacinto commune, of which Santa Ana is one of the 37 comunidades
. We partied with the indigenous, drinking their traditional Chicha
, a low- alcohol fermented drink. Chicha comes in all kind of tastes and forms: in the sierra they use different types of corn, in some places they use sugar cane juice, and in the Amazon they make it from yuca, or cassava. The only difference is that yuca does not have a lot of sugar - which becomes alcohol - so the women chew it after it was boiled and then let it sit for at leat 4 days. They then mix it with water and go around to 'feed' the drink to everybody. It's awful-tasting and I was shitting my brains out, but you can't say no because they'll pour it over your head.
At the party, men play drums during the day and drink. At night there's dancing, live music, the beauty queen elections (which is something pretty serious
), and more drinking. It was great fun.
After about 2-3 weeks of working with the family and more partying (two weeks later was the yearly fiesta of Santa Ana!) I made my way back to Quito through the thermal spring town of Baños and after having stayed another 2-3 weeks in Quito I decided it was time to say goodbye to Ecuador and move north. Into Columbia...
On the sixth of August I left Quito, north bound on the Pan American. I decided to sleep in the little town of El Angel and then moved on to the border town of Tulcan and got one last Guitig sparkling water (amazing water!) before heading into Columbia. The border crossing was the easiest one I've had on the whole trip. Columbian customs (DIAN) took some pictures and verified the engine and chassis numbers, and gave the bike 90 days, just like me.
I got lunch in Ipiales and bought a SOAT insurance for $20 (one month), which you can get almost anywhere. I then moved on to Pasto where I didn't feel like staying so on the VIVA guide book website
I saw therew was a lagoon close to there. So, Laguna de la Cocha it was. Beautiful, very peaceful. Pristine.
Next day I went on to Mocoa, over the trapulina de la muerte
or 'staircase of death'. It was very tiring, pretty wet and slightly dangerous but I have never seen such overwhelming mountain views in my entire life. The paved road stops at San Francisco and then it's 80kms through completely unspoilt Andes mountains and over pretty steep passes until you reach the last pass (20kms before Mocoa) when the road goes down about 2000m. There's a police checkpoint just after that last pass where it's like being on top of the world. There's a 180 degree view where the Andes just fall into the Amazon plain, when there are no clouds.
Mocoa itself is an OK town, 8km south towards Villagarzon there's the Fin del Mundo
Next stop: San Agustin. Wonderful little town, great archaeologic parks, but most impressive I found the Salto de los Bordones
near the hilltop village of Bordones.
After a couple of days in the San Agustin area I decided to go to the Tatacoa desert, just north of Neiva. Great place. Very beautiful. The road from San Agustin to Neiva was blocked, though, because the indigenous did not agree with government plans to build a hydroelectric dam just south of Neiva. Long, long waiting lines and it didn't look like they were going to unblock any time soon, so four Columbian riders (it's pretty common in Columbia for people to do big distances by motorcycle) and I took a detour and made it just before dark to Neiva. I then took some wrong turns and only arrived around 9 in the town of Villavieja, next to the desert. I ate something and rode into the desert hoping to find something. Everything was ink black but luckily I found a place that offered me a hammock for 10 000 pesos, $5.
The next day I left for Ibague. Going north from Villavieja there's 20km dirt road until you come to the village of Potosi (I think) where you can take a little ferry over the Magdalena river for 1800 pesos, $1. From there on it's a 2-minute ride to the main ruta 45
, which is a very good road that brings you to Espinal. From there it's either east to Ibague and the Eje Cafetero
or west to Bogota. I took a left towards Ibague, which is supposed to be the musical capital of Columbia, but it was a pretty big deception. Heavy traffic, pretty lame place and don't expect to find a room for under $20.
I did sleep very well in the huge bed of my 70's-style room and the next morning did the first of the two mountain passages to go to Medellin. Those passages are pretty dangerous. Steep, heavy traffic, lots of big trucks that have to go onto th other lane to make the turns. Also, Columbians are very bad drivers. Luckily, overtaking the slow trucks is relatively easy with a bike.
After this first mountainous part came the city of Armenia, and from there on it's an easy ride to Pereira, which is supposed to be a nice city but I kept going towards Manizales. Just out of Pereira was a highway service station where I found out some of the most-visited thermal springs in Columbia were just 10kms from there. Great! I was getting tired anyway so I made my way to the thermals of Santa Rosa de Cabal. I found a really nice place that offered me a hammock for 5000 pesos, $3, and off I was to the springs. They were amazing.
Next day I was off to Medelin, where I arrived right in the middle of afternoon rush hour. Was almost run over by one of those idiot colective van drivers but made it safe and sound to the friendly Palm Tree hostel.
Spent four days in Medellin walking around, taking pictures and visiting museums. The Museo de Antioquia
was very good, a big bite, including a lot of works donated by the Medellin-born artist Fernando Botero. The Medellin modern art museum
is a real winner, they also do a free open air cinema on fridays.
Furthermore, if you have time and feel like a little more of a real Columbian experience, take the metrocable
cable car up to Santo Domingo and take a walk, or go and visit the amazing new public library which has nice views of the city and free internet. Supposedly, the parque Arvi
is also worth while, I just didn't make it in time.
My original plan was to go all the way north to Cartagena and on to Santa Marta to take part in a Rainbow gathering, but when I was in Medellin I received the wonderful news that I had been accepted for a Vipassana meditation course in Nicaragua, starting on the 12th of September. This was on the 20th of August. There was no way I could pay the Cirag rate nor the incredible amount of $900 the sailing yachts charge so I did it the hard way, through Turbo.
I had to get moving to get my ass over the Darien Gap!
People who are interested in my experience crossing on a merchant barge can find it here
. It's at the bottom of the page.
So after all I made it on the third of September, alive and well, PANAMA CITY!
I stayed at a relatively crappy place in the historic centre of Panama, which is very beautiful but is turned into one big contruction site at the moment. I left my bike outside with a lock on it because they wanted to charge me $10 to leave it in the car park for the night. Nothing happened.
I had an OK time in Panama. Nothing special. Good place to eat is Cafe Coca-cola, on the square where the old town kind of starts, parque Santa Ana.
I was trying to get new sprockets and chain for my bike in Panama, I thought it would be easier to get there and maybe cheaper but NO. Hardly any motorcycles in Panama and I had to get some pretty hard to come by parts...
Started making my way to David and on the way met a very friendly Belgian guy who's married to a Columbian woman. They're expecting their baby in a couple of months and they were so nice to invite me to their house... As the guy noticed I did
need a shower. Panama is the country where you are sticky when doing nothing!
They washed my clothes, cooked a meal, even offered me a bed. What a beautiful world! Thanks Erik and Dilia.
Next day I stayed in David at the weirdest place ever, the Purple House
. Everything purple! Cooked up some fish and fried potatoes with (YES!!) Belgian
s I found in the supermarket... In the morning I had some trouble changing the engine oil myself for the first time and then I set off to Costa Rica, in a sweaty fashion.
The crossing into CR was OK. The only setback was that insurance is at least 3 months and costs $19. The whole thing took about 2 hours, including lunch.
Costa Rica is such a strange place. It's incredible, of course, in the sense of natural splendour, and this is due in a way to it being so un-Latin. It's the only place I have ever seen in Latin America where rubbish is separated, where buses are not usually decorated, where everything is clean. No rubbish next to the road. Little fish living in the gutters. Clean food!
Wonderful... The other side is, though, that everything is pretty expensive.
Anyhow, I was in a hurry and low on cash so it took me three days only to get to my beloved Nicaragua.
First stop: Sierpe, little village next to a lagoon. Laid back.
Second stop: Mata de Limon, lowlife beach place. I had
to stop because I was completely soaked and after some negotiation got a room for $20.
Last stop: Liberia. OK little city. The youth hostel is pretty good value, and I found the new 44-teeth sprocket I had been looking for and had the new sprockets and chain put on. My bike now rolls like a train... But it still sounds like a lawn mower.
I then moved on to Nicaragua. The difference is almost shocking. Of course, Nicaragua being a little less developed and more socialist, the whole border crossing is more of a bureaucratic mess. Bike had to be fumigated, then I got my passport stamped after I had paid the $1 community tax. Tourist tax was $12. Temorary bike import was free but they only give it 30 days and insurance is $12 a month. If you want to extend the bike's permit afterwards that's a dollar per day, with a maximum of another 30 days. Plus, it has to be done in Managua at the central customs office (DGA, in front of the Rolter flip-flop factory), which is a two-day job.
Anyhow, I had made it! I had about a day or two to realx before the meditation course was going to start so I decided to roll into San Juan del Sur. It's a little surf and party town which is (to me) not that special but it's an OK place and the beaches around it are splendid! Also, for nature lovers, you can visit the La Flor NP where turtles hatch (july to november).
On the 12th, making my way to the meditation centre, something had
to happen... This whole trip having gone so smooth.
So, all of a sudden my dear bike's electrics start to malfunction. There seems to be a bad connection or something and the contact flicks on and off... What a bummer. 60kms before my (temporary) final destination... I stop and twist some wires below the dash board and open it and take off some tape. Everything seems fine.
So, five weeks after leaving Quito and lots of adventure riding I had finally made it after all.
I will continue riding north through El Salvador, Guatemala and on to Mexico from early november. If anybody is travelling in the same direction and feels like meeting up feel free to contact me. Also, any questions, I'll be glad to answer.
Lots of good riding to all, may all be happy,