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Photo by Ellen Delis, Lagunas Ojos del Campo, Antofalla, Catamarca

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!

Photo by Ellen Delis,
Lagunas Ojos del Campo,
Antofalla, Catamarca

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Old 17 Apr 2014
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Updated from Mar 06 2014: Jedi Nights in the Tatacoa Desert

North again. Our aimless wanderings are revealing a distinct aversion to the southern hemisphere...

From a rainy morning's start in La Plata, we are going to descend from the foothills of the Central Andes (Cordillera Central) down through the valley of the Magdalena River through the city of Neiva and finally end up in the desert outpost town of Villavieja.

Our ride to Neiva follows the Magdalena River

Across the river we see the foothills of the Andes in the distance, lush green velour carpeting the mountainsides like an EcoElvis has gone crazy decorating the landscape.

Neda is trying her best to ignore the mud on her moto

Neda likes things clean. Clean clothing. Clean motorcycle. It's just a personal pet peeve with her. So when we rode through yesterday's mud bog, it was really bugging her to be carrying all this excess weight. So as we approached the city of Neiva, I spotted a gas station where a truck was being washed. Our bikes and luggage got the royal treatment as they were power-hosed and detailed while we had a snack break.

So clean and sparkly! Neda is happy once again! I forgot how good (um, less ugly) the R12GS looks without luggage...

Villavieja is on the outskirts of the Tatacoa desert. It's one of the most distinctive areas of a country that is dominated by the colour green. We booked into a hostel that was not as comfortable for the pricetag. The actual town was not that interesting as well, so after one night, we decided to ride out into the desert itself (only 15 minutes away) and rough it.

Riding out to Tatacoa: grass becomes less green, air becomes much warmer

I've really begun paying attention to the elevations of where we are and where we ride through. You'd think being this far south in the northern hemisphere everything would be muy caliente, but the effects of riding up and down the Andes have us alternately shivering in the clouds and boiling in the valley. The Tatacoa Desert is at 500m (1600 feet) above sea level and it is hot, hot, hot!

One of the first sights that greet us. Astounding!

Neda is loving both the colours and the heat!

Riding around, trying to find a place to stay

There are several farms doubling as hostels as we ride into the Tatacoa. We find one that's gotten good reviews and booked a few nights to explore and live the desert life.

Our hostel is a goat farm called Noches de Saturno (Nights of Saturn)

We rented a little rustic cabin sheltered by a hot tin roof

Our first day we didn't do much exploring, just caught up on a little light reading on the porch of our cabin and really savored the dry desert heat after all the cold and rain we'd been experiencing lately. The desert is wedged between two mountain ranges which rob it of most of the rainfall passing through. Or so we've been told. Because this is one of the area's two rainy seasons, we listened to the smattering sounds of a thunderstorm hurling huge drops of rain on our tin roof in the darkness (no electricity) of our first night there.

Under the mosquito net, hiding from desert bitey-bugs

In the morning, we awake with the rising sun and peer outside. The water on the ground is quickly evaporating and if we had woken up any later, the only evidence that it had ever rained would be the memory of the sound of rain pattering in the darkness just a few hours ago. A sweaty, little stroll outside in the increasing heat quickly evaporates that memory as well...

Goats being herded through the desert

Young goat herder on horseback

Aloe vera therapy. No, we didn't get sunburnt, Neda has really itchy mosquito bites

These parrots kept us entertained for a good long time!

In the evening, we headed out to the Tatacoa Observatory, which is less than 10 minutes walk away from our farm. On the way, a scooter passed us and these girls stopped in front of us. They had recognized us from the farm because they were using its swimming pool during the day, so they pulled over and chatted with us. It turns out all they really wanted was a picture of us (of me, I suspect).

We've been getting many, many requests for pictures, so what I'm going to do is also ask that they take one with our cameras as well from now on!

Tatacoan Celebrities

Tatacoa Observatory

This observatory is situated in the desert because of the clear sightlines around the horizon, almost 170 degrees of skyline! In the non-rainy season, the skies are free of clouds and the dry desert air gives amazing clarity to the constellations and other heavenly bodies.

Did I mention we were here during rainy season?

This is actually our second time visiting the observatory. Last night it was too cloudy to see anything so we postponed our trip till tonight...

So tonight, we paid our admission fee and were slightly disappointed because:

We didn't actually get to go inside the observatory (in the background)
They wheeled out these smaller telescopes on the roof of the adjoining building...

Our astronomer/guide gave us a seminar on astronomy and the constellations of the night sky. In Spanish. Great.

The telescopes weren't bad though, through the lens you could get great captures
with an iPhone or other point+shoot camera

Saturn! The capture didn't quite get the rings but we did eventually get to see them. Very cool!

I've got quite an interest in astronomy from ever since I was a little kid, so with my limited Spanish vocabulary, I could piece together what our guide was telling our group by certain words that were the same in English. However, doing this kind of hurt my brain, so at one point I gave up pseudo-translating and just stared up into the sky in wonder.

Every once in a while, Neda would translate an interesting fact I did not know like:

- Subaru is the name of a 6-star configuration in the Taurus constellation. The car company Subaru's has these 6 stars in it's logo. Neat!
- The Southern Cross constellation was pointed out to us for the first time. You can actually see it anywhere south of the Tropic of Capricorn at any hour of the night very easily.

This is when my concentration just snapped...

All this time my focus was pretty good, trying to glean any additional information I could from our guide's Spanish seminar.

And then he brought out his laser pointer, shooting it up in he sky like a green lightsaber, slashing away at the stars...

All of a sudden his Spanish words sounded like the excited natterings of a Jawa who's just captured a droid wandering in the middle of the desert. I was so focused on the green beam slashing back and forth across the sky that my ears were instantly filled with John Williams' regal trumpets and the sharp electric hum of lightsabers cutting through the air.

I wanted that lightsaber.

In my mind, the guide and I were locked in mortal Jedi combat, his green weapon inches from my face as I tried to wrest the deadly sword from his clutches. The beam danced back and forth in front of my eyes and I could hear Princess Leia's voice inquire out of the darkness, "Gene, are you okay? You look kinda spaced out and bored..."

Perhaps it was time to leave and explore the rest of Tatooine the next day.
Gene - http://www.RideDOT.com
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Old 19 Apr 2014
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Colombia is dominated by the colour green. From the green carpeted mountains of the Caribbean coast to the rain-forests and jungles of the interior, you can't entirely escape from the colour of lush nature and fertility. That is, until you venture into the Tatacoa Desert.

Welcome to the Tatacoa Desert!

Today we're exploring Red. Or what the fancypants called Ochre. The Martian-like landscape of dry, cracked red soil is concentrated in the area of the desert called El Cusco, which is hard to miss because it's right at the entrance to the park and it's one of the first things you see. It's right across from our farm, so one evening, we hired a guide who worked at the farm to show us around.

Nacho (short for Iganacio), our desert guide

Maybe he was pulling our leg, but Nacho had never heard of the Mexican food "Nachos" before. In Latin America, they're called tortillas.

High atop the Laberintos (Labyrinthe) de Cusco

They say the Tatacoa Desert was a result of a lake that dried out. Within the shapes of the labyrinth, you can make out the areas where water once flowed to sculpt these weird stone shapes that we were walking around and on top of.

Desert is host to a lot of wildlife. This cactus bears fruit to feed thirsty motorcycle travelers

The inside is juicy and tart and full of black seeds

After Neda is done, there will be none left for the rest of the wildlife in Tatacoa

Nacho explained all the different species of trees, plants and cactus as we walked past them. We had a bit of a laugh because everything he pointed out had "medicinal" properties. It sounded like you'd never need to go to the doctor if you just ate everything in the desert every day!

Colours are so rich and vivid, very different from anything we've seen in Colombia

A lot of it reminded us of the red rocks we had seen in Utah

Every morning, the goats in the area are let out to feed.
They've learned to find their way home by themselves when it gets dark

Goats are ravenous creatures and will eat anything. It was quite a selling feature of the Tatacoa Desert to see these goats eating the leaves of these trees, because the branches are so thorny. Over time, the goats have learned to eat around the thorns to get to the juicy leaves.

How do goats eat these leaves? Very carefully!

You can picture where the water once carved through the area

Proof that I was there too...

Easy to map a way out of the maze when you're standing above it!

American Kestral (Sparrow Hawk) watches us warily out of the corner of his eye

Descent into the Labyrinth

Last look around before it got too dark

Nacho points out more interesting, nature-y things to Neda. I just take pictures.

Hiking around the desert was a very nice change of scenery from all the cities and towns that we've been in, and the hot and dry days were welcome after enduring the rains around the Andes mountains. Tomorrow we're going to shift away from Red and explore the Gray of the Tatacoa. With our motorcycles!
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Old 24 Apr 2014
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Updated from Mar 08 2014: Greyed Out

Less than 10 kms east of the El Cusco (the red desert) lies Los Hoyos, the grey desert. For this trip, Nacho suggested we take our own bikes, which saved us a bit of money for the tour. There were two other French tourists staying at our farm, so Nacho took one of them on the back of his scooter, and another guide came and picked up the other one and off we went!

Our bikes looked like land yachts compared to Nacho's scooter and his friends motorcycle

The red rocks and sand slowly turned to grey as we rode further east

We made a pit stop at a point called Las Ventanas (The Windows)

Nacho explains more nature-y stuff to Neda while the bikes pose for a picture

Smiling for the camera in front of Las Ventanas

More bikes join us! It feels like a Tim Horton's parking lot now!

Still the fairest of them of all...

About 8kms into the desert, we stopped at a small pullout at the side of the road and hiked down a valley. The rocks here were slate grey and seemed a lot more dusty and powdery than the red rocks we saw yesterday at El Cusco.

Walking along a dry riverbed

"Los Fantasmos" (The Ghosts) of Los Hoyos

Neda captures some interesting details in the grey rock

All I need is a grey bedsheet and I could blend right in

We were staring at the walls like it was an art gallery

Closeup, we could see the area was formed over distinct time periods
Layers of pebbles separated the different periods that the rock was laid down

Most of the grey desert formed "recently" over the last 2.6 million years in the what's known as the Quaternary Period

These formations look like tall stone mushrooms. Very trippy!

"One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small..."

These two bikers joined us on our tour of Los Hoyos

As we walked back to our motorcycles, we found out that they were from Bogota and were on a two-week tour of their own country. They were very impressed with how much of Colombia that we had already seen and we felt very privileged and lucky as we described the rest of our trip. Their sporty street bikes modified for touring kind of reminded us of how we first started with our trips around Southern Ontario!

Come a long way since touring around Ontario on an old Suzuki GS500!

Group ride with our new motorcycle gang!

The grey desert of Los Hoyos was kind of interesting, but definitely anticlimactic after the red rocks of El Cusco. The best part of the trip was riding through the desert with our makeshift motorcycle (and scooter) gang. Unfortunately, our time in the dry and hot climate was coming to an end. I could sense the rest of rainy Colombia waiting to greet us just outside the park's boundaries...
Gene - http://www.RideDOT.com
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Old 24 Apr 2014
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Originally Posted by lightcycle View Post

You can picture where the water once carved through the area

Proof that I was there too...
Love the pics. Looks like the mini-me of canyons
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Old 25 Apr 2014
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Originally Posted by L84toff View Post
Love the pics. Looks like the mini-me of canyons
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Old 30 Apr 2014
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And we're doubling back again. If we were to plot out our route in Colombia, it would probably look like a bunch of random squiggles scribbled on the map... We're going to be meeting up with the Pan American Highway at the town of Popayan, passing through La Plata. And this time, we're going to do extensive research to make sure we don't swim through mud again!

Fantastic scenery through some not-so-fantastic roads

So after all the research, we plotted a route through what looked to be a main road on Google Maps and on our GPSs. However, when we got there, we were faced with a gravel road. Memories of mud bogs filled our heads. We asked someone if this was the way to Popayan. They said yes.

By now, we've learned our lesson about asking for directions in Latin America. If someone doesn't know the way, they'll usually make something up or give us a guess instead of saying, "I don't know". So we employ our "Best Of Three" methodology: ask three people and if two or more give you the same answer then that's *probably* the right way. Well, all three people we asked told us that this gravel road was the most direct way to get to where we wanted to go... and it was unpaved for pretty much all the way... Great.

The scenery through the mountains was spectacular. We were going slow enough that we could appreciate it...!

A few kms later, we pass a bus coming in the other direction. This made us feel a little better that we were on the right track. Later on we would find out that the major highway that runs between Neiva and Popayan does a huge detour south, bypassing the mountains. That's the route the truckers use, so while this road was a bit rough, at least it was less distance and no trucks! We'll take No Trucks over Crappy Roads any day of the week!

We were passed by a lot of vehicles. This bike was the only one we managed to pass. Yay! Totally Winning!

A lot of adventure riders like to stand up on their pegs anytime the asphalt disappears underneath them, fantasizing that they're Marc Coma riding the dunes in the Dakar Rally. We've certainly done some of that in the past. However, while we're pretending to be all Long Way Round, there'll always be a family of 3 or 4 crammed onto a 125cc motorcycle passing us like we're standing still. Then they'll look over at us while passing with a quizzical look on their faces wondering, "What the hell's wrong with their seats?"

So we sit back down and ride the roads like the locals do now...

The rough road winds it's way through some beautiful green canyons

Over the canyon, we can see where we're going to be 15 minutes from now

Towards the end... sweet, twisty pavement!

Pictures don't do the ride justice, so here's a short video

Finally reached our destination - Popayan

We rolled into Popayan in the late afternoon and after knocking on a few doors, found a cheap hostel. The town is quite pretty: cobblestone streets lined with colonial buildings all painted white. It kind of reminded us of the white towns in the south of Spain that we had ridden through a few years ago.

Neda is happy that there's a kitchen she can use

And, just as we predicted, rains in the afternoon.


We know, my friend. We know...

Things have come to a boil in Neda's mood. Once again, we were in a city wracked with congestion, the sounds of traffic and car alarms piercing the air. She's very sensitive to noise and every time a loud diesel truck passes by, I can see the vein in her temple throbbing like it's going to explode. Her annoyance is mixed with a bit of malaise, as the rains have dampened her spirits and she tells me that unlike me and the blog, she feels like she doesn't have a project to keep her occupied. I know how critical this is for someone like her who's very energetic and driven - quite the opposite of how lazy I am. This lackadaisical pace which suits me seems to be eating away at her.

I think we're going to have to change up our schedule somehow.

Not everyone was miserable though. This little guy had a great time driving up and down the rainy streets!

Cool helmet!

My own woes centered around the same bike issue that's been plaguing me for a couple of weeks now ever since leaving Cali. My ignition delay problem, although not worsening, was a constant worry to me. Every morning, I'd count the seconds between turning the key and the electrics coming on. 10 seconds one day. 30 seconds another. Would the bike refuse to turn on when I was in the middle of nowhere?!?

Then one day, the delay was almost 60 seconds. That was the last straw, there was absolutely no way I could continue traveling this way, no matter what assurances the BMW Service Centre told me that there was no problem. I scoured the Internet message forums for other riders having the same symptoms. There were a couple of promising leads, pointing to replacing the ignition housing.

I emailed a few places down the line. BMW Ecuador was unresponsive, BMW in Cali said the part was not in stock and would take a few weeks to ship. From many recommendations on ADV, I contacted an independent bike shop in Cali and was pleasantly surprised that they were very helpful and responsive. They too said the part was not in stock (since they got it from the same place as the dealer), but they told me to come in and they would take a look at it.

Cali was only two hours away from Popayan up the highway, so we made an overnight trip out of it.

Overnight in Cali. We didn't have to travel to Morocco to stay in Casa Blanca!

A lot of these hostels have the right idea. We don't have many pictures of the two of us, so the hostels make sure they always get a photo of their motorcycle guests with their sign in the background, and for sure, that photo will be plastered on blogs and forums all over the Internet. Free advertising!

Jorge at Asturias Motors diagnoses my bike

We dropped into Asturias Motors and were greeted by Jorge, the owner. He wheeled my bike into the service bay and immediately started diagnosing the problem. "I have the same bike, same model", he told me. I looked over at Neda and I knew we were both thinking the same thing: this guy knows his motorcycles. We had a much better feeling now than when we were at the official BMW shop.

Because the problem only manifested itself when the bike was cold, Jorge told us to leave it overnight and to come by in the morning.

My bike is hooked up to a computer using GS911, an On-Board Diagnostic adapter

I have to get one of those GS911 cables. Then I can talk to my bike. It'll probably tell me, "Quit friggin' dropping me, jerkoff!" On second thought, maybe I don't really need that cable...

We totally don't mind advertising Asturias Motors!

The next day we popped in. Jorge said he couldn't duplicate the problem that morning, so it seemed alright. That was good news, because it would have been the first time in over a month with no ignition delay. He told me all he did was clean the contacts on the ignition housing, which seemed to clear up the problem. This made some sense. While the folks on the Internet bought new parts, those new parts would have clean contacts, so Jorge saved me from buying a $130 part.

When I asked him for the repair bill, he replied, "Nada". No charge, he said. That was super nice of him. We stayed awhile and talked to him and wife Sory. They both came from motorcycle families and you could tell that they were very passionate about bikes and travel, having done trips all over Colombia and South America. If you're in Cali and need anything done to your bike, definitely stop by Asturias and see Jorge. He really knows his stuff!

On the way back to Popayan, someone places a box of chocolate wafers
on my tank bag at a stop light and walks away. What the..?

Traffic in Colombia is such a funny thing. Vendors will place snacks on your windshield at a red light. Before the lights turn green, they'll pick them up again, unless you want to buy it because you've been staring at it for the entire duration of the red light!

Also, the Colombian drivers play a fun game at traffic lights. It didn't take me very long to work out the rules of the game. It goes like this: When everyone is waiting at the red light, the millisecond the light turns green, then the first one to honk their horn wins. At every traffic light, this game is played - light turns green, someone honks, then they win. So I decided to join in on the fun! I sat at the next red light, with my thumb on the horn waiting for it to turn green. As soon as it did, I mashed the button with competitive fervour, and to my delight I was the first one to let out a loud BEEP! I looked around at my fellow motorists expecting them to congratulate me on my triumph, but they just stared at me with quizzical looks.

I had just learned a new rule of the game. Those at the front of the line, don't get to play...
Gene - http://www.RideDOT.com
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Old 30 Apr 2014
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Glad you ran into an honest BMW mechanic! Many would have just started replacing parts and systems ... making you wait weeks, costing you thousands. Big UPS to Jorge at Asturias Motores!
He's on my LIST!

Your guy got straight to the issue. You should get hold of some pro electronics cleaner/moisture dispersant spray. (electronics specialty shop) Learn how to get into those circuits, boards, plugs and connectors. I'm guessing you've got moisture into all of it and perhaps some corrosion build up. Corrosion must go!

Something that used to be so SIMPLE (Ignition switch) ... is no longer so on modern, high tech machines.

Spray the cleaner in and around electronics, gently clean with tooth brush, use high pressure air to blow out and dry. Any elec plugs or connectors you can unplug, do so, and check for corrosion on pins and receptors. Clean off with nail file or knife.

Find silicone Di-lectric grease. LIGHTLY coat all connectors and pins after cleaning/drying them. Do the same with all multi-plugs, circuit boards.
Corrosion will appear sort of green or turquoise. Get rid of it!

Di-lectric will help against moisture and corrosion build up.

Some assemblies may not be repairable or may be impossible to gain access too on your BMW. Do the best you can. Constant rain and humidity are the cause. If you can get into stuff and clean it all up, then try to make it more "waterproof" than original.

Wonderful update! Ride safe!
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We fall into the typical pattern of waking up early and doing all our sightseeing and activities before the afternoon rains arrive. We find ourselves staring at the calendar impatiently. There's got to be an end to this eternal rainy season.

Iglesia San Francisco (Chruch of Saint Francisco)

We decide to tour on two wheels of a different kind!

Neda found out that our hostel rents out bicycles! So we leave our motorcycles parked for a few days and explore the city via pedal power! Although I'm not one to needlessly expend calories (they are a precious commodity!), I think this exercise really helped burn off the excess energy that Neda had.

Sometimes certain things remind me of home...

I spent a while studying the details of the toy bike. Other than our friends and family, I don't miss many things from back home, but my old sportbike is high on the list. When we find a place to settle down, Neda wants a dog. I want a Ducati 999R Xerox Edition.

Indigenous woman selling fruits outside a restaurant

I find the features of the indigenous people so fascinating. It's like a living history lesson of the migration of human beings from Africa. This woman retains many of the same Mongoloid features from when her ancestors left Asia to cross the Bering Straight and down through the Americas.

"Como se Llama?"

Bicycle hooligans outside of church

Popayan is one of Colombia's most preserved colonial cities

Much of the town was rebuilt after a huge earthquake in 1983, which really brought home the point that not many buildings and edifices can stand the test of time and Mother Nature, and that given enough time, all the original cobblestones, bricks and other materials will have been replaced such that almost nothing of the original still stands. In fact, all these buildings were painted white only after the earthquake - they weren't even that colour 30 years ago!

Beautiful colonial architecture. But what did it look like 500 years ago?

Park break outside our hostel

The next day, Neda finds more interesting stuff to do on two-wheels. For a small fee, a truck can haul our bicycles up the mountain to the next town over. Purace is well known for it's natural hot springs and pools. After a soak, hop on your bicycles and enjoy the 30km ride back to Popayan, which is almost all downhill. "Downhill?", I repeat? "SOLD!"

The early morning truck ride takes us up through the twisty mountain roads outside of Popayan. I stare out the window, imagining rushing downhill on the bikes , which were tucked away in the back of the truck. Then a few times, the truck dipped as it drove downhill in sections. My mental abacus was clicking away overtime: "We're driving downhill now, so on the way back, I'm going to have to pedal... UPHILL?!? WHAT THE....?!?!

Every kilometer the truck descended, my sense of dread increased. I was counting off the potential uphill mileage...

Outside the town of Coconuco near the hot springs

The truck let us off just outside the hot springs and we parked our bikes, breathed in the rotten-egg smell of sulfur and jumped in the very hot pools, tinged light green from all the minerals in the water. No sooner had we gotten in, the sky opened up and poured cold rain on us. It wasn't even noon yet! Stick to a schedule, Mother Nature!

Agua Hirviendes Hot Springs in the pouring rain!

Locals are unfazed by the downpour. I don't think I'll ever get used a place where it rains everyday for 6 months straight!

Well, we had nowhere else to be, so we might as well stay in the water. Thankfully, the rains didn't last too long. In the meantime, we (I think me) were quite a curiosity. People would glance over surreptitiously as I waded by in the pools. There was a group of girls that followed us as we went from pool to pool trying to find a comfortable temperature. Neda decided to break the ice and approached them, and then there were a million questions: "Where are you from?". "Where are you going?", "How long are you traveling?"...

It's tough being a celebrity.

These girls were very curious about us

They were selling bottles of this yellow sulfury goop at poolside. They advertised that it was good for all sorts of skin ailments like acne. It smelled pretty vile, so we just took pictures.

This pool was a more comfortable temperature

We waited for the rains to clear. Remarkably, the sun came out as well too, which signaled a good time for us to leave. Back on the bikes! We've done this so many times on motorcycles, it felt weird throwing a leg over a bicycle.

Dual sporting away from the hot springs

I can imagine traveling on a bicycle, watching the scenery move past you at such a languorous pace. Your heart pumping, muscles working hard, the only fuel you burn is whatever you last ate, and time dilates in such a way that the horizon only looks attainable at the end of the day.

I don't like it.

Taking one of many breathers on the "mostly downhill" ride back

Stopping to admire the waterfall? No. Out of breath. Have to stop.

As expected, the downhill sections were exhilarating! Like a chicken, I had to apply the brakes often to stop from achieving terminal velocity - emphasis on Terminal... However, the uphill sections were grueling. I must not be doing this bicycling thing right, because even in the highest gear - the one where despite pedaling like a maniac, you can still only measure your uphill progress in centimeters per hour - I found it was much easier just getting off the bike and walking it uphill.

Neda waits for me at the top of each hill and then we speed downhill together again

Along the way, we pass a small village and some women eating some yummy looking popsicles. We asked where they got them and they pointed further on down the road. When we got to where they indicated, we looked around for some kind of convenience store but didn't find anything. And then this little old lady popped out of a nearby house:

5 cents each!

Two-wheeling around Popayan!
Gene - http://www.RideDOT.com
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We're headed south to the border town of Ipiales. Yes, this means we are finally leaving Colombia! I can't believe we've spent over 5 months in this country! Such a beautiful part of the world, despite the bad reputation it has in the media.

Green velour-covered mountains on the way south

Our route for the day is straight down the Pan American Highway as it winds through the Atriz Valley of the Andes highlands. It'll take us the entire day to travel the 350kms from Popayan, but it's a smooth and flowing ride interrupted only by a couple of construction sites and the city of Pasto.

Stopping to peer down into the Atriz Valley - very picturesque!

Sometimes it's easier to go through the mountain than around it

Camera's flash illuminates all the tiny particle of dust in the tunnel

My selfie got photobombed while stopped at a traffic light in Pasto

Riding into Ipiales

We're hitting the wall a little bit with travel fatigue. Although it's exciting to be entering a new country, I think we need to put our kickstands down for a couple of weeks or more, so we're going to be on the lookout for a nice place to do so. Hopefully somewhere where there's no rain...

It's still raining everyday here BTW. I'm debating not mentioning it on the blog anymore. I'll just tell you when it doesn't rain...

Damn birds. I'm trying to take a picture here!

"Need a light, Neda?" *kikiki*

We were looking for a bit more variety than the tipico (local) food, and there was an okay-looking Chinese restaurant across the street from our hotel, so we drop in for some spring rolls and fried rice.

We had time to reflect on our journey through Colombia: beautiful and diverse scenery, amazing people that we've met, frustrating traffic in the big cities and strange customs. They play this funny game in Latin America, it goes like this: whenever you see an Asian person, the first one to yell out, "Chino!" wins. I don't think it's derogatory or anything, they always exclaim it like they're surprised. Heck, outside of the Chinese restaurant above, the only other Asian I've seen in Colombia is the one staring back at me in the mirror! I'd be surprised too.

The strange thing is that I don't even think they are trying to get my attention, because this will happen even when I'm riding my motorcycle, and from almost-out-of-earshot-range behind me, I'll hear: "chino", so it must be a game they are playing amongst themselves.

I think the game is called, "Punchbuggy Chino". First to see one and call it out must get to punch the other Latin American in the shoulder or something... In the Chinese restaurant I saw the owner and turned to Neda and exclaimed, "Chino!" She shushed me, and punched me in the shoulder. That's *NOT* how you play it, Neda!!!

Las Lajas Sanctuary

After a couple of days, we venture just outside of town to see the famous Santuario de Las Lajas, a basilica church built on the steep slopes falling away into the Guaitara River. The original church was built in the 18th century, but this current incarnation only finished construction fairly recently, in 1949. It's quite impressive seeing it jut out from the side of the canyon.

Outside the church were hundreds of these plaques set against the canyon wall

Most of the plaques give thanks to the Virgin Mary

The scale of the church was massive

Inside, I felt like we were in a video game

When I was a kid, I used to play a video game called Quake (and Doom and Castle Wolfenstein), I could swear they modeled the maps after this church, especially the lighting.

I can tell from the look on her face, Neda knows where the rocket launcher is

Strafe Left! Strafe Right!
Neda: "What on earth are you doing? And why are you holding that camera like it's a gun?"

So gothic-looking, yet it was probably only built in the last century.

Game paused. People praying.
Gene - http://www.RideDOT.com
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Old 8 May 2014
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Originally Posted by lightcycle View Post
Yes, this means we are finally leaving Colombia!
No way...I think everyone will need some photo evidence of this rumor.

Originally Posted by lightcycle View Post
When I was a kid, I used to play a video game called Quake (and Doom and Castle Wolfenstein), I could swear they modeled the maps after this church, especially the lighting.

I can tell from the look on her face, Neda knows where the rocket launcher is

That's too funny. I remember playing all those games, those pics could totally pass for the backdrop.

On another note, how much camping have you guys actually done on this trip? Most say they don't do any at all once they go south of the states, so I'm curious.
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Last edited by L84toff; 9 May 2014 at 19:06.
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Old 9 May 2014
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Originally Posted by L84toff View Post
No way...I think everyone will need some photo evidence of this rumour.
You got me.

We have actually settled down permanently in Colombia and are just posting pictures to keep our blog going. We have been thinking of retitling this thread: "Quit our Ride, Sold our Bikes, Gone back to Work"...

Originally Posted by L84toff View Post
On another note, how much camping have you guys actually done on this trip?
Zero camping. Most of the issues are around security (petty theft), but there have been a few times where it's been safe and possible, but the cost of a bed and hot running water is too close to the cost of camping at the same place, so we splurged the extra $10 or so for a room, which I think was worth it...

I anticipate the tent and sleeping bags will be broken out once we hit Patagonia. Much larger camping culture in Chile and Argentina, so I hear.
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Old 9 May 2014
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Originally Posted by lightcycle View Post
"Quit our Ride, Sold our Bikes, Gone back to Work"...
Unlikely, lol.

Glad you guys had such an awesome experience in Colombia. It's definitely a nice contrast to a book I read a couple of years ago, "Two Wheels Through Terror", about a guy who gets kidnapped by Colombian rebels (quite a few years ago). Interesting story although I'm hoping for an experience more like yours

Originally Posted by lightcycle View Post
Zero camping. Most of the issues are around security (petty theft), but there have been a few times where it's been safe and possible, but the cost of a bed and hot running water is too close to the cost of camping at the same place, so we splurged the extra $10 or so for a room, which I think was worth it...

I anticipate the tent and sleeping bags will be broken out once we hit Patagonia. Much larger camping culture in Chile and Argentina, so I hear.
Great thanks.
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Old 10 May 2014
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Wow......probably one of the best accounts and journey I have read........congrats to both of you, and you are a lucky man having a lovely wife sharing this adventure that is SMILING in each and every one of your pics.......even the ones where things have not gone to plan......!
Please can you sum up for me (and many others) your cheapest countries so far, in terms of gas prices, accom, food, and the most expensive ones......many thanks, keep enjoying it, keep safe, and keep posting....!
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Originally Posted by bobbyrandall View Post
Please can you sum up for me (and many others) your cheapest countries so far, in terms of gas prices, accom, food, and the most expensive ones......
There are huge variances even within a single country. For instance, our most expensive region was the Canadian Arctic and Northern Alaska. Gas was over $5/gallon and we paid $100 each to stay in Prudhoe Bay. But the most expensive gas was in Death Valley, CA - $6/gallon.

Cheapest gas so far is in Ecuador: $1.48 (national fixed price) per gallon for the good stuff!

The cheapest country for accommodations for us has been Guatemala overall, probably $15/night average for a room for the both of us with private bathroom and hot running water. El Salvador came a close second. But it all really depends on which town/city you stay in and whether you stay in the centro or on the outskirts, as well as how nice the accommodations are.

I think if you poll a bunch of mc travelers riding through LA and ask them how much they pay for accommodations, you'll get answers ranging from $0 to $120/night. It all depends on what your tolerance for comfort is and how long and hard you want to look for a place that fits your budget. There are a more than a couple of nights when we've rolled into town dead tired, knocked on so many doors before giving up and just paying the $40 (ouch) for the nice hotel.

As for food, you can spend as little or as much as you want pretty much anywhere you go. Tipico (local) food averages around $2-$3 in Latin America for a whole meal: soup, main course and drink. But if you really want, you can find gringo restaurants within walking distance of the tipico restaurants and pay $10/dish if that's more your speed.
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Old 12 May 2014
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Updated from Mar 22 2014: Knockin' on Ecua-Door

We're entering a new country today! It's been over 5 months since we've done a border crossing and I'm a bit rusty on the procedure that we had developed and streamlined in Central America. Ah yes, I stay with the bikes while Neda cancels the Temporary Vehicle Import Permit. That was relatively painless - just hand in the form and leave. Wow, what a difference from the triple-photocopy-stamp-everything-wait-forever dance in Central America!

Oh yeah, I have to show my face to get stamped out of Colombia

New country! So excited!

We've done no research about Ecuador. We don't know anything about it, so we really don't know what to expect. As we get our import papers to enter the country, a group of young Ecuadorians ask to take our picture with the bikes. Now *this* is familiar. They are very interested in our journey, so I read from the mental cheat sheet as they ask, "Where are you from?", "Where are you going?", "How long is your trip", "How much do they bikes cost? How fast do they go?" etc.

Paparazzi stop at the border

We stop by the SOAT booth to buy our insurance for the month, but there is a power failure and the computer is down. We've got a bit of a ride ahead of us and it's a bit late in the day, so Neda wanted to find another SOAT place further on down the road. I was a bit hesitant about riding without insurance, but I also didn't want to ride in the dark, so we pressed on, careful to stay under the speed limit so we wouldn't get stopped by the police. We're told that speed enforcement is very strict in Ecuador.

Nice roads

The first thing that struck me while riding in this country was how nice the roads were. At our hostel in Cali, we met some Ecuadorian tourists and they told us that the government had spent a whole lot of money recently on upgrading the pavement all over the country, so we knew beforehand, but riding on the smooth twisting asphalt around the Andes was such a noticeable change coming from Colombia.

But then the honeymoon ended. No more free Peaje! Government has to pay for all these new roads.

We're not used to paying for tolls, so Neda is fumbling around for change. 20 cents per motorcycle! Time to load up the tankbag with loose change. We no longer gleefully yell, "Pee-Ah-HAY!" when we approach the tolls now.

As we entered Tulcan, the first town just a few kms south of the border, we stopped by a store that advertised insurance. Unfortunately, they didn't sell "extranjero" (foreign) insurance. They told us that we wouldn't be able to get the kind of insurance we needed anywhere in town, but we would probably be able to buy the coverage for our imported vehicles in the next major city of Ibarra. It was a long way to go without proper papers, and I was a bit nervous.

Neda is missing vegetables in our Latin American diet

There were a couple of police checkpoints on the road headed south. Everytime we approached one, we nervously slowed down but thankfully, we got waved through as they were only checking cars and trucks instead. About half-way to Ibarra, my fears were realized. The policeman working the checkpoint looked at my face through my visor and decided to pull us over. Oh no. Nononono. What kind of trouble are we going to get into without proper insurance? Fines? Impoundment? Would we have to bribe him?

Neda is the designated Spanish-speaker, so as I pulled over, Neda stopped beside the cop to figure out what the problem was.

The cop didn't even look at her. His gaze went past her, and his eyebrows furrowed as he stared directly at me. Had I gone too fast? Broken some kind of traffic law that I didn't know about?

Then he indicated to me and asked Neda, "Chino? Japones? Coreano?"

HAHAHAHA!!! I've never been so happy to play Punchbuggy Chino in my life! At that moment, I knew we were okay, so Neda explained that I was Malaysian, and the policeman was very impressed with that since he'd never met a Malaysian person before. We chatted for a while about our trip and our motorcycles (he was a rider too) and then he let us go on our way.

We're developing quite the arsenal of tactics to avoid tickets in Latin America: "Throw Gene under the bus" and "Punchbuggy Chino". Awesome!

The view from our hostel in Otavalo

We rode through Ibarra but by the time we arrived, all the stores were closed, so we would have to come back the next day to shop for insurance. Ecuador has really impressed me with how modern and clean everything is, very different from Central America and Colombia.

Instead of staying in Ibarra, we found a hostel in Otavalo, a pretty town which is about 15 minutes away from the city. We opted to make our base here for the next few days because we've heard that there is a huge indigenous population here and we wanted to stay till the weekend because of the huge famous outdoor market that they set up every Saturday morning.

Walking around town, we saw this woman in a traditional dress

My favorite part of our trip so far is seeing the local culture that's been preserved as a snapshot of history. The last time I saw this many indigenous people was back in Guatemala and my head (and camera) was snapping back and forth trying to take it all in.

Early morning in the historic centre of Otavalo

No, no, do what you did before!

I was taking a picture of this mural above because I thought it looked cool. As I was focusing, in the viewfinder I saw this guy walk past me and photobomb my shot, grinning mischievously and putting up the rabbit ears with both hands. Unfortunately, I was too slow with the shutter. As he walked away, I called out to him. He turned around expecting me to be mad at him, but instead, was surprised when I asked him to pose in front of the mural. Alas, he got camera shy and gave me this serious-smile instead. I wanted to see the grin and the rabbit ears again - it would have went perfect with the mural's stare! LOL!

Vendors setting up their stall

We had read that the best time to see the Otavalo Market was early in the morning when the vendors were setting up. That was terrible advice. Not only was it boring watching people put up stands and tents, but I missed two hours of sleep. We walked around town for an hour or two looking for a good breakfast spot.

This guy had many towels on him. Still wondering what they're for?

LOL! I didn't even notice this little girl giving me the evil eye until I went through my pictures later!

We found a stall that served breakfast right in the middle of the market, Neda has her usual caldo (soup)

As we ate breakfast, we watched as the hustle and bustle in the market picked up

Just a reminder of where we are

This little piggy wore a hat. Keeps him warm on those chilly Otovalo mornings

Walking back from a morning filled with shopping

In a field on the outskirts of town was the Otavalo Animal Market

All sorts of livestock were for sale. You could pick up a pig (and then find them a hat in town later on)

If only I had more room in my topcase, ole Foghorn here would have made many a tasty lunch on the ride south!

I had to hide Neda's wallet, she was this close to emptying her tankbag
full of loose change and seashells to fit this little guy in!

Somebody needs a haircut. Me. I'm talking about me.

Otovalo was a really picturesque town, and it made a really good first impression of Ecuador on us. The country seems to be very prosperous and safe. I had a read that this was one of the top recommended places in Latin America for ex-pats looking for a new home, and now seeing it first hand, I can understand why.

At night, everything is lit up with pretty coloured lights

Two kids in the fountain, too fast for my shutter-speed to catch

We're loving Ecuador so far!
Gene - http://www.RideDOT.com
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