Grant Johnson in Ecuador

Wednesday, March 11, 1998

The border was easy, stamp the passport, stamp the bike document, always more stamps, then across to the Ecuadorian side, stamp, and stamp again. Write all the info down in a big book, stamp passport, stamp, interestingly, the Peruvian bike document as entered into Ecuador, and that was it. We were told that we would have to complete the actual bike entry in Loja, the first major town up the road, it couldn't be done at the border.

Grant on a very muddy road in Ecuador.

Grant on a very muddy road in Ecuador

Leaving the border, and after asking directions in Macara, we headed off up the 'best remaining' road to Loja. The usual best route was washed out completely. Okay, let's try second best. Up and up and up into the mountains we go, on a crummy dirt road, only to come upon a pickup stuck in the mud, and blocking the one lane road nicely. We helped, or tried to for a while, then when it became apparent he wasn't going anywhere for a while, maybe a long while, I scouted the possible routes around. There was a big sand pile from a previous slide to one side that looked good. Okay here we go again. We cleared a path, and I ripped through fast, or I wasn't going to make it at all. Success, and Max's turn. Nope, not fast enough and he fell over right beside the pickup truck. Pick him up and push through and we're off.

A little ways anyway. More, steeper, up, then another long, long mud stretch. It doesn't look good at all. It's steep, really steep, and the mud is half a meter deep in places, with deep, wiggly grooves from trucks slithering through. I walk it several times, up and down, checking the sides for possible routes. Possible, but I'm not happy. This is not a good beginning, and there's a long way to go. Then it starts to rain. Hard. I see a truck coming down, slide, slip, and slither. We wave him to a stop, and ask about the road ahead. More of the same. He says that there is another better road to Loja from Macara. Now we find out. It's getting late, it's raining, and there's a better road. Right, back to Macara for the night.

Had dinner at a restaurant run by 'gays' we are carefully told. Also that it was the best restaurant in town. Tough being gay in a macho society like this, and in a very small town in the middle of nowhere. Good to talk to, very friendly, as were the two barmaids. Even Max didn't get lucky with the ladies though, despite much trying.

After much discussion in town, we find that there are at least three if not four routes out of Macara. The main route-a nice enticing red line on the map-is out totally. Our route of the previous evening is bad to impassable. The next best route is "good but has one bad spot." Should be no trouble for motos. Right. Heard that before. They seem to think that our bikes are the common local 175cc trail bikes that might weigh 100 kilos, not our 350 odd kilos.

Thursday, March 12, 1998

The road is narrow; one lane of gravel and dirt, slowly twisting it's way up into the Andes. Steep cliffs, straight up on our left, and straight down, way down, on the right. Remarkable views disappearing into the clouds, thick, lush green forest everywhere, vines and trees overhanging the road, and steadily dripping moisture. Numerous small water crossings, some mud, and poor Max fell again. I do feel sorry for his bike. The passenger pegs are both broken right off, one mirror is cracked, the cylinder head protectors are scarred and broken, crash bars gouged and bent, the hand protectors have a matte scratch finish now, and the saddlebags have more scrapes than smooth spots.

The 'one bad spot' does indeed look like a bad spot. I know you've gotten tired of hearing this. I can't help it if the route is a piece of shit. It's El Nino! Enjoy!

The river has washed away the bridge, as usual. It's only a small river, but it's on a steep mountainside, very very fast, and very rocky. Lot's of nice 15cm. (6") diameter, smooth, slippery round rocks - and a nice rocky cliff at the downstream edge of the road if you screw it up. Time to go wading. Well, I send Max in, as he just bought a nice tall pair of rubber boots in Macara to replace his hiking boots for this stretch. I'm toughing it out in my Sidi road riding boots, which are great - until the water comes over the top. And it will do that here. How is it? How deep? How's the current? No good answers, and Max is sure, so it's my turn. Damn, the water's cold! My boots fill, water to my knees, and I splash around, kicking rocks into the deeper holes on the best route through, well to the left, upstream and away from the drop-off. I am almost knocked over a couple of times by the force of the water. Very bad, very rough.

A local lad comes down the hill, and we recruit him to haul the saddlebags and boxes over to the other side. Just as we are preparing to go through, a BUS arrives. I make sure he doesn't try and go through before we do, as I think he is not going to make it, blocking us for who knows how long. All the passengers get out to watch the show, and inspect the problem. They're smart enough not to be on the bus when it goes through.

Finally it's time, and I head through, fast, and on the pegs, bounce, bounce some more, the river is pushing me sideways on every bounce, but I'm through. I think that with the saddlebags it may have been a different story.

Max is learning, and this time, I make sure he understands; on the pegs and fast, keep the speed up so you don't have to accelerate in the river, 'cause it doesn't work. He bounces around, almost falls, but doesn't and we're through.

As we load the saddlebags back on, the bus tries. Nope, front wheels stuck in the middle of it,and the middle of the bus is wedged onto the bank solidly. One man gets into the river, lies down and crawls under the bus, yes in the river, and tries to move the rocks out of the way. Suicidal in my opinion. If a rock under the wheel moves he's done for. Another man starts digging out the bank where the middle of the bus is hung up on it. I think they'll be there for a while. A couple of big husky young British guys from the bus come over, and we chat for a few minutes while we get reloaded. They're impressed with what we're doing and how far we've come, saying that the bus seems easy - they can always get off and walk or catch a pickup truck going through if it's bad. Prophetic words.

There's a man underneath the bus, clearing rocks.

There's a man underneath the bus, clearing rocks...

Our helper is very pleased with the US$4.00 we give him. We're happy because we're through 'the bad spot.' Suckers.

Another 5 kays down the road and we come to the REAL 'bad spot'. The previous was a warm up. There are a dozen or so trucks and a couple of buses parked in front of an enormous mud slide. It's about 10 meters deep over the road, and I can see where the front end loader is working, that he has cleared about 50 meters of road. I can hear at least one more piece of heavy equipment working on the other side of the slide. Talking to the bus driver in the lead bus, we ask how long do the workers expect before the road is cleared? "No se," and a shrug. "I don't know. Nobody does. Maybe a few hours." "How long have you been here?" I ask, thinking it's certainly been a while. "Three days." Another shrug. "Days!!" Oh dear. Then it starts to rain, and we can see where the mountain is still coming down at the slightest provocation, as more mud slides onto the road. Where they had already cleared it. Great.

We climb a small hill to the right of the road to see what it looks like on the other side. Two caterpillar tractors are working away, as Max, a former road builder in Italy explains, at odds with each other. One should be cutting a swath, and the other pushing it over the embankment, instead while one cuts a nice swath off as he should, the other pushes a big mound into the path, which the first guy has to also push away, slowing down the whole process. Nevertheless, they are making progress, but it certainly doesn't appear to be because of good planning and organization, more in spite of themselves. I guess that if you move enough mud around enough sooner or later it'll end up off the road.

The Brits from the bus finally arrive, having walked the 5 kays to the slide. One look at it, and they start looking for ways around. One of them scrambles up the near vertical mountainside to see if it's possible to go around and over the slide. It's certainly not possible below, it's a very long, very straight drop. His return some 40 minutes later is heralded by a shower of gravel and mud and tree branches crashing down from above, as he falls back onto the road covered in mud and bits of grass and trees. "Yeah, it's possible, great," he exults. "Let's go!" And they're off into the jungle.

More rain, then it comes down in a torrent, we can't even see ten feet in front of us. I take shelter in a pickup truck cab with two others. We moan and complain, and talk about what we're doing, where everybody is going etc. Finally the rain eases up, and I check on the bikes, to make sure they haven't sunk or fallen over in the mud. The road is one-half river now, over a half meter deep in places, racing down the hill and threatening to wash out more of the road. I spend a few minutes building a small diversion for the water to divert it off the road and over the side. A couple of other bystanders decide that's a good idea and pitch in.

Waiting for the road to be reconstructed!

Waiting for the road to be reconstructed!

A few hours and it looks like they've actually broken through. One cat makes it right through, and they start widening the gap. Finally, there's a big enough gap to drive through - and the mad rush from both sides starts! It's instant mad chaos as everybody tries to get through, in both directions at once. In the mud. On a steep hill, in the rain, on a one-lane road with too many vehicles trying to get through. Again. Gridlock. Again.

I'm disgusted, it's insanity, and there is clearly not the slightest thought in a single so-called brain anywhere in the area. Screw it, we can slither through and around the stuck vehicles. And we do, adding our share of swearing and cursing and honking, once again taking turns blocking trucks so the other can get through, weaving across in front of trucks from one side of the swamp to the other, wherever a clear space presents itself. We actually get through second, despite starting about tenth. We quickly pass the one in front of us, and speed off at about 30 k in the cloud-fog and rain and mud to Sozaranga.

The road into Sozaranga is a steep downhill, a muddy, rushing river. It's like kayaking down a river, with the added fun of no clue what's under the wheels, bouncing madly over invisible holes and rocks, it's getting dark, a torrential downpour, and I can't see shit. The fog and rain is so bad my visor is completely fogged, so I have to ride with the visor open, the rain pouring in. I try to keep my glasses clear of the rain, tilting my head down so the visor can protect them from the worst of it, but it's hopeless, the water is everywhere, I wish I had my scuba diving goggles. My glasses are running water and fogging, it's pitch black now, our headlights casting a feeble glow over the river that was the road, and we are still going down and down, jungle on the right and impenetrable black on the left, I think that means there is nothing there but a long quiet drop into the abyss.

We finally pull into a lousy little town, with but one truly lousy little hotel.

We're the first ones through, we're 'lucky,' we get one of the last rooms. Most of those coming through after will be sleeping in their trucks. The hotel is a ratty old wooden building tacked onto the roof of a store, a narrow, steep stairway leading to a long landing, where a number of people will spend the night, a row of cubicles separated by plywood sheets, a single toilet for 10 rooms, no shower, and a sink - with no water available. It's bucketing rain, and there is no water for the sink or toilet. Welcome to the third world.

Later in the evening, the truckers gather on the porch below the hotel, where I've parked the bike under cover. Max lucked into a parking garage of a resident for his bike. The alarm goes off as people look at the bike, touching it, peering at the speedo and everything else. We hang around for a while, then get dinner. Everything seems okay, although the evening's entertainment for the truckers is drinking some local concoction out of a large jug, dipping their glasses in at frequent intervals.

After dinner, I end up talking to one of the groups, refusing their offers of a drink, aided by one of them trying to hand me his cup so I can dip in for a drink. One of the guys, who speaks some English, is very friendly, and we talk about the countryside, the economy, and what a rotten life a trucker has. His pay works out to about US$50.00 a month, when he works hard and stays away from home for most of the time. He also talked about the dangers, pulling a 45 caliber revolver out of a holster and waving it around to accentuate his point.

"Gotta protect yourself ya know, especially up north, man. Drogas, (drugs) you know, everywhere. That's how you really make money, but it dangerous man."

The others all nodded sagely, "Yeah, lotta money." They all knew all about the drug trade, and while none admitted to having anything to do with it, all said there was a lot of it around. I thought that this was a good time to take my leave, and headed for bed.

We are now at 4 degrees 19.6 minutes South, and 79 degrees 47.4 minutes West, 80,185 km. on the speedo. We managed 186 km today.

Later in the night, I was awakened by a tremendous crash - and then the bike alarm went off. Shit, the bike's been knocked over. Running downstairs, sure enough, it was on its side, and nobody anywhere near it. Max and I picked it up, and then I noticed that the windshield was smashed in two pieces, split right down the middle. Great. When questioned, nobody in the area admitted to anything, one venturing "niños, it was niños playing, and running by knocked it over." Sure, at one o'clock in the morning. Drunks is more like it, wanting to sit on it and unprepared for the weight.

Max had the best suggestion of the night, park it on the street, out in the rain - nobody will touch it then. And I did what I should have done in the first place, park it very close to a wall so that a fall is only a few inches to the side, and no damage. (It will only fall to the right, away from the side stand, unless somebody kicks the sidestand up, and that would have to be pretty deliberate.)

A couple of false alarms later, then I turned it off, because as usual the alarm was affected by the moisture. No more problems during the night.

Friday, 13 March, 1998

Just realized that the bike was knocked over at 1 am, Friday 13th. Hope that's all for the day!

We slept till 10, after all the disturbances of the night, and finally left by 11:15. None too soon, it was already clouded over pretty badly. And just 100 meters out of town, we hit a big, deep and greasy mud patch. I made it through okay, although it was touch and go. I had to paddle a lot with my feet to keep from falling over, and banged my calf on the saddlebags and my ankles on the cylinders pretty hard in the process. Max is short, and has a very hard time paddling, and doesn't quite have it together enough to keep up enough speed and balance to stand up and make it through. He didn't fall, but got thoroughly stuck, and I had to run back and push - again.

More mud patches and small water crossings as we worked our way up and up into the clouds. Visibility is down to 5 meters, it's very quiet, eerie in the cloud, trees appearing suddenly out of the mist as the road curves and winds its way through the mist. And then my ears popped and it wasn't quite so quiet and eerie.

We were up to 2,470 meters, well into the Andes, popping in and out of the clouds, one moment 5 meters visibility, the next brilliant sunshine and fantastic views over the green-swathed mountain ranges. We rounded a corner and could see the road descending in loops and curls ahead of us along the spiny ridge of mountaintops below us, winding through small clusters of houses too small to be called villages, pasture lands and crops in fields improbably pasted to the sides of impossibly steep mountains.

We stopped at a house that had a stalk of bananas hanging on the porch to see if we could buy a few. Maria, the old Indian woman was happy to sell us all we wanted for about 3 cents each. We met her husband, and took some photos of them which they were happy to pose for, provided we send them a copy, which I will of course.

Maria and her husband.

Maria and her husband

We arrived in Cariamanga, just as the clouds looked all set to open, and with another 167 km ahead of us to Vilcabamba, after only 57km for the day. In a straight line we had covered all of 25.5 km according to the GPS. Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to break a little early and avoid the rain. A good decision, it started pouring just as we were unloading.

One enterprising, or perhaps threatening, man suggested that he would 'watch' the bikes for us for only 10,000 sucres, about US$ 2.00. He suggested that his friends in the pickup truck beside him would also 'watch' for us. I refused, as we had already arranged secure parking. I asked him, curious to see his reaction and answer, if it was 'necessary', if there were 'bad people' around, and he casually shrugged and said no. I laughed and said adios. And parked the bike securely away.

Saturday, March 14, 1998

A nice day for the first time in a while gave us great views on the road to Loja, which was finally paved, although in poor repair, and a long downhill run through spectacular mountain scenery.

Spectacular mountain scenery in Ecuador.

Spectacular mountain scenery in Ecuador

In Loja, we asked a policeman for directions to the right place for 'registering' the bikes, as we had been told to do at the border. He didn't know what we were talking about, but told us to follow him top the police station. We'd never have found it on our own, Loja is a maze of mostly unlabelled streets. The police there looked at the papers we had, and said that that was fine, we didn't need anything else, and made comments about the guys at the border not knowing what they were doing. Well I hope they're right. I'm not looking forward to any great hassles at the border to Colombia.

Vilcabamba is a small resort town, recently discovered by tourists and still unspoiled, but at the same time with almost no tourist facilities except for a few hotels. We picked a nice 4 star hotel with sauna, whirlpool, steam room, pool - all for 100,000 sucres total - about US$ 20.00 for the two of us. Ahhh, luxury. A couple of days rest, wash and check the bikes over, even a chance to trade my pocket books in for new used ones.

Four star hotel in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, costs US$20 per night.

Four star hotel in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, costs US$20 per night

My leather pants are in a desperate state, the mold that formed on them in Trujillo when they weren't properly dried stinks horribly, and putting them on knowing that there is mold growing inside isn't my idea of nice. More wet and rain and mud hasn't helped them any. A thorough scrubbing, much detergent and shampoo doesn't get the stink all out, but at least they have a chance to dry in the sun. At least I don't have Max's problem - he washed his helmet liner, as did I, but he left his helmet upside down, thinking it would dry better. It didn't dry, it just stayed wet and now smells worse than my leathers. In fact it reeks. I have to put on smelly pants, but he has to put on a disgusting reeking helmet.

Three days at the Hostal Vilcabamba, top quality meals, and all the facilities costs me just US$ 82.63.

Tuesday, March 17, 1998

Reluctantly we headed off into the mountains again, more beautiful mountain scenery, a nice day once again, although we do get the odd splatter of rain. The road is paved, as usual in poor condition. The people we see at the roadside are native 'Indios,' the women dressed in black full skirts and white blouses with bowler hats, and usually a baby or a load of something on their backs tied into the brightly colored shawl wrapped around their shoulders. The men wear black 'Bermuda' shorts, although a little tighter cut, white shirts and various jackets. The children are dressed much the same, and when we spotted a group of children on their way home from school, we waved and they waved back cheerily, laughing and grinning at us. We stopped at the little village there, and as they came up to us we started taking their pictures. Lots of smiles and waves from us at the kids and adults around, and though at first they were a little shy, the adults standing around told them it was okay, and they soon entered into the spirit and happily posed for us.

Ecuadorean kids.

Ecuadorean kids

I gave them some balloons and pens I had left over from Africa, and Max gave out some candies he bought at the store. Everybody was happy with the deal, and shook our hands and waved friendly good-byes as we motored on.

Ecuador girl with candy.

Ecuador girl with candy

More riding along the ridgelines on the very top of mountains, altitude 3,360 meters, a spectacular view in all directions. Ecuador is definitely a place I will need to come back to, but in the dry season! The roads, while poor, are good enough barring the washouts, and the scenery and people are terrific. The bike is complaining bitterly about the altitude, maximum speed is only 120 kph at 2,500 meters, and certainly less at higher elevations. Acceleration is truly pathetic, and Max's much newer and faster bike with electronic fuel injection that automatically compensates for the altitude is clearly much better suited to the altitude than mine. Both our fuel mileages are well down. Normally we both get about 15-17 km / liter, with Max's usually very slightly better, but now I'm down to about 10 or 11, and Max to 13.

The altitude isn't bothering me yet, but Max is complaining about headaches anytime we get over 2,500 meters. His experience in Bolivia where he got extremely serious soroche - altitude sickness - at 5,000 meters is making him a little paranoid too. There he had been so sick he was throwing up, he couldn't see, everything was gray, and he had a blinding headache, so he pulled up to a hut in the mountains and begged for a place to sleep from the woman. He stumbled into a straw pallet on the dirt floor, and has vague memories in the night of a man coming in and chanting over him, shaking a rattle and spitting on the floor all around him. In the morning he felt a little better, and managed one coherent thought - down! He headed back down, across the border, and at 2000 meters - felt fine. No headache, no problem, nothing.

I bought some film, Fuji Sensia 100 in Cuenca - less than US$ 5.00 per roll, compared to US$ 11-12.00 in Chile and not available in Peru. Weird how variable the prices are.

We are at 2 degrees 53.7 minutes South, and 78 degrees 59.82 minutes West, but who cares about West, it's the 2 degrees South that matters. The Equator is calling, a big destination for us now.

Thursday, March 19, 1998

We headed for the local major attraction, the best Inca ruins in all Ecuador, at Ingapirca. One building, the temple was pretty well preserved, but the rest was just low stone walls and a reproduction of an Inca house. Mildly interesting, but we did find a couple of souvenirs at a little shop there. The nicest part for me was that there wasn't a huge hype, no masses of touts pushing a ton of stuff you don't want, an English speaking guide was free, although entry was US$5.00, and it was generally pretty relaxed.

Ecuadorean mountain village.

Ecuadorean mountain village

Leaving Ingapirca, we soon ran into the clouds again, cutting visibility and speed way down. Maybe the reduced visibility is why we missed the sign - if there is one - for the turn-off to Riobamba, our next destination. We pulled up to a stop at, you guessed it, a huge landslide covering the road ahead. And they weren't even trying to clear it, but were carving a footpath over the top, over 100 meters up. We weren't going to get through this one. Just as well, we were informed that we were on the wrong road to Riobamba, this one went to the coast and Guayaquil!

Back we go, 45 km to the intersection, which has a nice sign coming from this direction. On the way, we hit a big bump in the road too fast, my back end coming way up in the air, threatening to keep on coming. Scary on a fully loaded tourer. I look back at Max as he does the same thing, launching his top box right off the back of the bike and flying over his head to land and bounce down the road in front of him. The plastic catch is busted right off, and it won't stay on. Digging under my seat, I pull out a BMW tie strap, the ones that come with the bike in the crate, and that holds the box down securely.

It's getting dark, even though it's only 5:30, but the cloud is so thick it blocks all light. It's raining too. Are we having fun yet? No? Okay, take away the nice pavement and let's have some mud and dirt, throw in a washout or two, then let it get really dark. Betterrrr. Speed is down to 20 kays, we are both standing on the pegs to see over the windshields, face shields open, water pouring in, peering through the murk and gloom. Max is leading, my night vision is getting worse, unfortunately, so I'm following his taillight. Then it's gone, and I can't see him anymore.

A bus passes us, and I try to follow him, but he's going to fast for me, the road conditions are too bad to see safely at that speed, even with his taillights illuminating the road ahead slightly.

I'm in the dark and fog and rain, peering past my windshield, when I see a few meters in front blinking orange lights on the left, another on the right and a red light on the left. Curious! Stopping, I realize it's Max's bike lying on the ground, four way flashers blinking. As I park the bike at the side of the road, Max appears out of the gloom, holding his side with one hand and shaking the other hand in pain. I asked him what happened, and he shook his head ruefully, "Too much speed, not looking good, and tired." I'm having a hard time not laughing.

Good lesson, and nothing too serious, although his right saddlebag was now lying on the ground. The plastic hook at the top was ripped right off, gone in the mud. Another BMW tie strap to the rescue, and we're off again, Max a lot slower now.

What seemed like hours later, we finally pulled into Chinchaya and a small hotel at 7:45, an hour and a half in black fog, visibility an average of 10 meters, and pouring, miserably cold rain. My electric vest saved me here, but Max was shivering pretty badly. 227 km, 90 of it a waste today. We're only 67 km in a straight line from Cuenca.

Friday, March 20, 1998.

We left Chinchaya at 11:00 in the rain - no fog in town, but as soon as we got out of town we hit a big, dark cloudbank. More mud and slop and washouts, detours and small river crossings. At least it's not too dark, we can see ok, at least 20 meters. Near Riobamba it finally clears, as we lose a little altitude.

We're heading now for Baños, supposed to be a very nice little town deep in the Andes, good tourist facilities, and lots to see. The only problem is finding it. There are no road signs, so Max asked for directions to Baños at the restaurant where we had lunch. The restaurateur (it was a nice restaurant) was very helpful, drew us a map and everything. Too bad it was the wrong Baños. Thirty some kilometers later we arrive at a dead-end, and in asking for directions discover that there are two Banos - or Baños. One's a mountain (no accent on the n) and the other is the town (cedilla??? accent on the n). We were at the foot of the mountain. I think. Wrong anyway. Back to Riobamba, and try again. We finally saw a sign saying 40 km to Baños! Wonderful!

The road into Banos was the usual mud and sloppy bits but no great difficulties. The scenery however is spectacular. The area is quite heavily farmed, and very mountainous. As a result, the farms are nearly vertical, stuck on the sides of the mountains, which are almost completely covered in farms, only excepting absolute vertical places. The road is the only level spot in the entire area, and there is no farm machinery. Everything is by hand. We could see people working on the slopes with hoes and shovels, backs bent, planting and harvesting a variety of crops.

Finally pulled into Baños, a pretty little town with a real Alpine setting, at 52 km, not 40. Ah well. Just as we pulled up to the hotel we had been recommended, two motorcycles pulled up. Both were ratty tatty beat-up old XT-500 Yamaha's, one two up and the other solo. They were from Germany and had spent the last six months in northern South America. We invited them to join us for dinner, but said they were heading on for Quito, as they were flying out in a week.

Saturday, March 21, 1998

Since Max's top box and saddlebag were in need of repair, we went looking for a workshop that could do what we needed. Max was convinced that we wouldn't find anything here, we would have to wait till Quito where there were better facilities. My own opinion was that the work wasn't that complicated, and we could spend days running around a big city like Quito, and not get any better work and get charged twice as much. I think Max also just didn't want to do it today. Of course, today is not in Max's vocabulary, he is very Latin in that regard - mañana is a way of life.

Max at repair shop, Ecuador.

Max at repair shop in Ecuador

Within 5 minutes we drove by a tiny little shop in the driveway off the street, pulled in, showed the man the problems, and "No problema" and he and a couple of others set to the repairs. Max and I had to supervise to make sure that we got what we wanted, but they were very good about it all, and we worked away for 2 and a half hours by the time it was all done. Total price for the two of them that actually worked - 40,000 sucres - or about US$ 9.00. And Max tried to bargain them down.

I was happy with the job, as was Max, who was actually very impressed and thanked the other two and me profusely. Best of all I had it out of my hair, and got two of my three straps back, as Max had not put one on properly and lost it on the way. Bought some more film, even cheaper here, only US$ 4.02 for a roll of Fuji Sensia 100 - 36. I continue to be amazed at just how cheap Ecuador is, especially after Argentina and Chile. In Argentina, US$50.00 got us a concrete hole with no windows and no facilities except a bathroom, and Chile wasn't a lot better. Here in Banos, Ecuador, in a tourist area, US$20.00 gets a private cabin in a 4 star hotel, with steam room, sauna, hot tub, swimming pool, full gym, underground air conditioned squash courts, 2 great restaurants, excellent meals for US$6.00, and 10 meters from the areas biggest attraction, the waterfall and mineral baths. What a difference.

We also discovered a small shop making backpacks and similar equipment. Very nice, incredibly cheap, and yes he would make a pair of front bags for Max to replace the tattered denim daypacks he had lashed on. But not until Monday morning. We worked out the specifications, and left with the promise that they would be mostly done by 10 on Monday, and just needed final fitting to finish. One of these days I'll learn.

Monday, March 23, 1998

We load up, ready to leave, arrive at the shop all set to finish the bags off in an hour or so, and find that they aren't quite as ready as hoped for. Not bad, but by the time we get done, and Max has decided he also wants a money belt made and a sheath for his knife as well, it's 2:30. No point in leaving now, so it's back to the hotel.

I did buy a couple of souvenirs, including a set of the Andean "pan?" bamboo pipes, all of US$2.00, a blowpipe with poison arrows and poison container - no poison included unfortunately - for US$6.00, the real thing, made by the Waorani indians, a reclusive tribe from the Amazon basin near here. They use 10 different plants and trees to make the set, and it's remarkable to see how straight the hole in the blowpipe is, considering it's a meter long and done completely by hand. I also bought a half meter high balsa wood hand carved and painted macaw (sort of a parrot), which we saw being painted in the workshop. Another bargain at US$8.00.

Tuesday, March 24, 1998

Finally leaving Baños behind, we are heading across the Andes to the Ecuadorean Amazon, as Max is desperate to see the selva, or jungle. Not that I mind, the Amazon has always had an attraction for me. The road however is not the best. Right out of Baños it's a narrow dirt track, literally carved out of the side of a vertical cliff, like a tunnel only open on one side - and that side is straight down for 500 meters. The 'ceiling' often pours water onto the road, and tree roots, vines and lush, thick jungle vegetation hang down over the road, creating a curtain that occasionally has to be pushed aside. The road opens out after about 25 km, and we can see where they are building new tunnels through the mountain, and widening and improving the road.

This side of the Andes, the views are amazing, my childhood imaginings of the jungle laid out in front of us, the mountains now turning into hills thickly coated with a rich, emerald green mantle, stretching off for miles into the mist and low hanging cloud. The jungle is all around us, and when we stop for a break we can hear the screeching of the birds in the forest, and occasionally other sounds, sounds that don't sound like a bird, unknown jungle sounds. We've lost a lot of altitude, and it's much warmer now than it was, the sticky jungle humidity making our shirts stick to our backs, sweat trickles down my forehead at the slightest exertion. The not-so-nice aspects of the jungle.

We stop at Tena for the night, and have reached 0 degrees, 59.438 minutes South, almost to the equator. The altitude is only 760 meters, and the bike is the only one that likes it, for us the heat and humidity are a debilitating shock after the mountains and the cold we have been experiencing.

Wednesday, March 25, 1998

Last night we had a long conversation about the local attractions with a couple of locals at a café in town, where we waited out the torrential rain that started like clockwork at 5:00. They particularly recommended a hotel they called Casa Suiza, in a small town on the Rio Napa called Ahuano. We have to return back the way we had come, 20 or 30 kilometers to Puerto Napa, then a left turn onto a dirt and gravel road leading to Ahuano.

A couple of hours riding get us to the Rio Napa, and a small collection of wood and palm leaf shacks clustered in a clearing at the side of the swiftly flowing river. A few people loitering in the shade, a couple of trucks, some tired looking produce and dusty goods on tables by the river make up the whole town.

Looking for a way to cross, we discover that the river crossing is via small barge, sitting on the other side of the river. We wait for them to come over to our side to give us a ride over, but they're not in a hurry to go anywhere. We chat casually with the usual curious onlookers, until one of them goes over to his truck and honks his horn and waves and yells at the boatmen for us. They look up, and go back to their conversation. A few minutes go by, and then one can be seen heaving himself up, clearly in no hurry. A couple other men he was talking with jump into their canoes and motor off, small outboards screaming.

The boatmen head up the river to our left, pointing well past us, the little outboard on the barge and the outboard on the canoe pushing the barge as an assist are screaming furiously, and just barely making headway against the current. They sidle across the river almost sideways, and finally bump into the shore right in front of us. A boatman heaves on a chain, and lowers the gangplank for us. We are the only customers.

We can't find Casa Suiza. We can't see any sign at all, so we ask for directions. Still can't find it. Ask again, and the man sitting on the stoop of a building just jerks his thumb behind him.

"Esta aqui." ("It's here.")


It's just an overgrown dirt driveway between two small buildings on the edge of Ahuano leading to a concrete pad behind a scruffy looking white concrete building. But the building is the kitchen, and the path leads around to a veritable oasis of civilization, "La Casa del Suiza." It's a beautiful modern resort, with an immaculate swimming pool, (a rare thing) which was even then being carefully cleaned of a few innocent bits of vegetation by a worker.

The setting is spectacular, situated on the top of a cliff overlooking a fork in the Rio Napa, with the jungle stretching out for miles into the distance. I can hear parrots screaming in the jungle, and the rapid-fire chatter of a few women from town washing clothes in the river below us. Their freshly washed clothes drying on the rocks make a brilliant splash of color against the turbulent mud-brown river and emerald green jungle.

Back to reception, and Max looks shocked at the price. It's US$70.00 per person all-inclusive, meals, boat trips and trips into the jungle. When we were talking to the men in Tena, they said it was about 60.00, so I am not surprised, and can't figure out Max's problem. We order a couple of drinks and sit on the deck enjoying the view while we talk about what we are going to do.

Max thought, despite his insistent "I unnerstan everting they say per-feck" that the rate was US$6.00, not US$60.00. At six bucks it would be the bargain of the century, and I am not complaining too loud at seventy. I wouldn't want to stay long at that rate, but after the conditions we've been through and considering it is all-inclusive, I don't think it's too bad. Besides, we're here! And he was most insistent on coming here to see the jungle. I'm getting a little frustrated with Max, he seems unable to make up his mind and focus on what needs to be done, and make a decision. Finally I tell him I'm staying and he can do what he likes, and sit back and enjoy my drink.

More mumbling and grumbling, and eventually he wants me to come into town with him and see what there is available. Feeling much put upon, I finally agree.

The town is very tiny, only one small main street a block long, and a couple of side streets. We are pointed to one two-story building on a side street as the best place to stay in town. They don't have any rooms, but they assure us we can sleep on the deck above the river and park the bikes on the street. Only $US5.00 each. I don't think so, there is no security at all for anything, and they suggest we try around the corner at a place that is "a small hotel," also above the river, but they have rooms.

It's another rickety, unpainted wood building on the concrete above a slipway for dry-docking boats, just on the river. Parking is on the concrete in front of the 'hotel'. We follow the landlady up a creaky wood stairway, the building shaking and vibrating with every step. Around a corner, down a hall, another corner and another hall - this place is a maze - or a rat's nest, I'm not sure which. She proudly shows us the bathroom - a small curtain screens the 'toilet,' a hole in the floor over the river. I think that's called a 'long drop' toilet. So long as nobody too heavy gets in there it's probably ok, otherwise they could be following their waste into the river! The shower is out on the deck right beside it, complete with a workman showering, the water running straight off into the river.

"Es muy bien," he says with a grin.

I'm sure it is.

The room is tiny, a filthy once-green foam mattress on the floor, a couple of blankets tossed in a heap on top. The view of the river through the cracks in the wall is terrific if you want a view. The mosquitoes don't have to squeeze through the cracks, they can just come right in the window. It is cheap, just US$3.00 each.

I look at Max, he looks at me.

"I'm going back to Casa Suiza, I'm not up for this, I have no interest in getting eaten alive by mosquitoes tonight," I said.

"You think mosquitoes?"

"And who knows what else," looking around at the bedding and cracks in the walls and floor. You could even see through to the river below. Great views.

"I stay here, I want save money," Max says. "You stay here too, is okay."

"No thanks, I'll see you later. You can always eat at Casa Suiza."

I think in the end I got the better deal by far, as Max paid $10-15.00 for each meal and the boat trip we took was $15, as well as two jungle trips at $20, all of which were included in my US$70.00. I probably paid about $40-50 more than Max for the two nights, but I had a beautiful room, high up above the river and away from the worst of the mosquitoes, as well as excellent screening and a cool breeze through in the evenings. The rooms were built from trees and branches, blending in nicely with the surroundings, but well sealed and with all the amenities. The hammock on the porch was perfect. That night I watched the sun go down over the jungle and the river below, the odd boat passing by, and listened to the jungle sounds as the night came on.

After lunch we went on a canoe ride up the river and around an island, then to a locally owned zoo in the jungle. I was pretty wary of this, as we weren't told we were going to see a zoo, which I am not fond of at the best of times, and had a bad feeling that this would be pretty grim, and didn't want to contribute to furthering cruelty to animals.

As it turned out, it was pretty good, the workers were from Germany and Austria, and had committed to a year or more working at the zoo, called Amazoonica. It was locally owned, but the owner had been educated overseas and had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done. All the animals were rescued from traps or bought from locals who found them injured. They were trying to release the animals when possible, but some would never be able to be released, either because they had come to the zoo too young and didn't know how to fend for themselves, or had a permanent injury.

"AmaZOOnica, Centro de Rescate, Rio Arajuno, Ahuano, PO Box 202, Napo, Ecuador"

The cages were mostly a good size, and they were working on enlarging a couple that weren't. It was all in a very natural setting, the fences almost invisible in the vegetation. They were very dependent on electrified fencing, as they couldn't afford adequate fencing materials.

They also had a small shop, where they were selling a few things made by the local Waorani Indians, a very reclusive group of Indians who wanted no contact with civilization, but had figured out that civilization would buy their handicrafts. I bought two blowpipes with darts and poison kits. Each set was supposed to be made from ten different plants. Mine were only made from nine, because they didn't include the poison.

The blowpipe kits were only 40,000 sucres each or about US$12.00. A plain ordinary printed T-shirt was more at 45,000 sucres. We talked with the staff for over an hour after the tour, but finally it's getting dark, so we head back.

Thursday, March 26, 1998

The next day, we went up the river to the trail to 'la Mirador,' (the viewpoint) and embarked on a long hot sweaty hike through the jungle to what turned out to be a rather poor view. The view wasn't worth it, but fortunately the jungle was beautiful, everything you would expect a jungle to be, with the exception of headhunters hiding in the vegetation and watching us. At least I didn't see any.

At the river, our guide quickly tied a pile of five three-meter long (10 feet) balsa logs into a raft. We returned down the river on the raft, feet dangling in the water, enjoying the heat of the sun and the coolness of the river, watching the jungle drift slowly by, the parrots screaming raucously somewhere out of sight in the depths of the jungle.

Friday, March 27, 1998

In the morning, I woke to a heavy, ghostly fog, the river invisible but still audible, burbling away. Not an auspicious start for the run to Quito. It cleared by nine when we left, but the weather was taking a change for the worse, and we soon hit rain.

We stopped for lunch in Baeza, a small town at the edge of the mountains. The one restaurant that looked reasonable from the outside was very nice inside, serving excellent food at a great rate to everybody coming in out of the rain.

The road out of Baeza climbing up into the mountains was in poor condition, a soft, powdery, crumbly black tarry stuff, packed into something that resembled blacktop but was very soft. It was formed into ridges and bumps and holes, as though it was an inch thick layer over the original potholed dirt road. And it probably was. As if to make up for the road and the weather, as we climbed higher into the mountains, the views were spectacular, opening out over vast emerald blankets of verdant jungle, occasionally glimpsed through patchy, fast-moving clouds.

There were a number of waterfalls, including one that seemed to fall out of the sky it was so high up into the clouds, falling in two long steps a tremendous distance to the valley floor below us. The road surface improved as we climbed, but the road was narrow and very twisty, with long drop-offs and vertical cliffs at the sides. We were getting into more traffic, and the weather was still lousy, rain and patches of fog everywhere.

Quito is in a beautiful setting, houses plastered haphazardly onto the sides of steep green mountains in great patches, with the city center in a valley surrounded by higher mountains. The traffic wasn't even too bad, although we were stopped by police, who wanted to see Max's passport. They weren't interested in me initially - and ended up talking to us about where we from, and showed a lot of real interest in what we were doing. They completely ignored the traffic they were supposed to be guiding through the intersection. Then one decided to be officious and asked for my passport, but the officer in charge of the three-a woman-essentially told him not to be a jerk and get back to work!

The day was an interesting one for the statistics junkie-starting at an altitude of only 390 meters, we climbed to a high of 4000 meters, then back down to 2,750 meters at Quito, and South 0 degrees 11.965 minutes of latitude at 78 degrees 29.448 minutes West longitude. Almost to the equator!

We ended up staying at the Hostal Florencia, which had good secure parking for the bike and was right in the downtown area. At 30,000 sucres or US$6.70 each, I thought it was fine. Although pretty tatty, it was clean and dry, but Max was complaining about wanting someplace better! Can't win!

We spent the next three days doing a little sightseeing and shopping, mostly separately, as I think we both needed a little free time to ourselves. I spent a lot of time at Café Net, one of three Internet cafes in the area, working on my trip notes and mail. It was a very popular spot, full of travellers and a few locals. The management and staff are mostly US educated, originally from Ecuador, and returned to live and work in Ecuador simply because they like it here, and I can understand why.

The Ecuadorians are very friendly, easy to deal with, and you never feel like they are either going to rip you off, or try and sell you something you don't want. Coming from Peru especially I really noticed a difference. Peru felt much more pressured, like everybody was out to get rich and didn't really care about anybody else in the process of getting there. Peru was more like Argentina that way, but more desperate, more hungry, like they didn't really think it was possible to succeed but they were going to try anyway. Their favorite target was a tourist, and a close second was anybody not from their village. I didn't have the same feeling in Chile, but Ecuador was much better, more relaxed.

We talked to people about the Colombian situation, and the general consensus was not good. The average Ecuadorian had absolutely no interest in going to Colombia, and had usually never been there. Everything was hearsay, but uniformly bad. To hear them talk about it, it was a wonder there were any Colombians left.

"Is very dangerous, kidnappings, robberies, murders everywhere." One man said to me.

The guerillas were apparently trying to weaken the government, and pressure the people into voting "the right way" in the coming elections by using terrorist tactics. The story about the three kidnapped foreigners was in all the papers, making us even more nervous. Max was convinced he was okay when we heard that the Italian one of the three was free. But then he'd be optimistic if he was the only Italian alive: "They wouldn't kill the last Italian!"

We did hear one unsettling story that was corroborated by several people - the bus companies weren't allowing foreigners on the buses as they endangered the locals. Clearly foreigners, even Ecuadorians were the main targets.

The news from home wasn't particularly encouraging either, both the Canadian consulates and the US State Department Advisories recommending against overland travel in Colombia, going on at length about the dangers. Balancing this, Aviv and Greg, who had both been there in the last month or two, said they had had no problems at all. Greg, especially surprising for an American, had said he wanted to come back to Colombia, and spend a lot of time there, saying he thought it was the best country he'd seen in a long time.

Who to believe? I felt that there probably was danger, but only if you are at the right (or wrong!) place at the wrong time. We had often been warned about places being dangerous, but it's usually only isolated incidents, precipitated by stupid people doing stupid things. This was getting serious though. With the elections getting closer, the guerillas were stepping their activities, and anytime they start targeting tourists, the risk shoots up.

In the end, we decided to go for it, but get through as quickly as possible, stick together, and don't stop for anything. A good plan, but, the best laid plans, and all that.

Monday, March 30, 1998

The newspaper headlines were screaming about the campesinos upset about the governments' plan to raise the gas taxes by 10 percent, and that there might be blockades on the road soon. We decided it was time to get going, hopefully ahead of the blockades, and before any other problems popped up to freeze us in place.

Tuesday, March 31, 1998

We actually made an early start, hitting the road about 9:00. A very good thing as it turned out. Our plan fell apart quickly soon after we left town, Max disappearing on me as we climbed into the mountains, hitting an altitude of 3,190 meters, the old G/S wheezing and puffing its way up.

I got the GPS out, keeping an eye out for the equator. I had been cheated out of the equator crossing in Africa by the Sudan problem, and didn't want to miss it here. I had crossed the Equator many times by now, but always by air. This would be my first by land. Ecuador may or may not have a marker at the Equator, so I wanted to be ready.

The road wound and twisted through the hills, the GPS sometimes getting tantalizingly close to the magic 0.00 degrees, once even crossing over for a moment to North, but the road twisted again and it dropped back to South. Had I crossed, and that was it? No marker, nothing? The range of error on the GPS was enough that I may not have actually crossed, so I pressed on, wondering all the time when I'd catch up to Max.

I was watching the GPS so closely, I ended driving right by the marker for the Equator, but did see the GPS go solidly into North, so I turned around to hunt for the exact spot, finally spotting the inevitable tourist trap shop selling souvenirs. Still no sign of Max. He obviously missed it too.

I took a few pics in front of the tourist shop with its Equator sign, setting up my tripod in the deserted parking lot. Still no Max.

Finally I headed off again, GPS marked at 0 degrees, lots of pics, and my first Equator crossing done. A few miles down the road, and here comes Max looking for me. About time. After berating each other vociferously for being slow/disappearing off, he wanted to get pictures at the Equator too, so back we went.

This time, I spotted the REAL Equator marker, 50 meters from the shop, with a big concrete globe about a meter and a half in diameter set into a small plaza. Rather unprepossessing, and truly ugly backgrounds all around, but what the heck. It was the Equator. More pictures, of both of us this time, and a long conversation with an obviously well educated local man who was most interested in us, and professed to have been in Colombia recently. More horror stories, but he seemed to think we'd be okay.

Grant at the equator, in Ecuador.

Grant at the equator, in Ecuador

We soon stopped for lunch, where we met an American who had been living in Ecuador for over twenty years. He was clearly in love with the country and the people, and had no intention of ever leaving, but had no use whatsoever for Colombia. He said that the people were great, but politics, guerillas and the drug trade were destroying the country and the people.

He didn't recommend against going, just said, "Be careful, and don't trust anybody."

He also warned us that there was a blockade just ahead, but there was a route around it that took you up into the hills a bit.

With that in mind, we headed north out of town. Just a couple of kays down the road, trucks and cars were stopped everywhere. The ever-present third world vendors, who seemingly appear out of the bush as if by magic, were busily hawking fruit and drinks to the stopped travelers, truck drivers were sitting on blankets at the side of the road - and nothing coming towards us. The roadblock is on.

In the lead, I headed down beside the cars, looking for the turnoff to go around. A few cars and trucks were heading up a steep side road, so I followed. "There is always a way around" is the motto here, even if it's not always true! The road led straight up and still more up, well onto the flanks of the mountain, past fields of maize and I don't know what else bounded by ancient walls built of field stones, with collapsing walls here and there. Finally the road turned left through a village, very old and rundown, the street a single track of cobblestones following the contours of the hillside. I could see small children, laughing and giggling, hiding behind broken down old walls, or peeping solemnly out through glassless windows at the procession bouncing and creaking slowly past on the ancient road, a road that hadn't see this much traffic total in a hundred years.

Buses, trucks and cars coming the other way forced constant stoppages as we squeezed past each other. I was getting into the rhythm, flowing with and around the traffic, bouncing over the cobblestones, waving to the kids, and enjoying the stares. I looked back to see how Max was doing, but he was nowhere in sight. I realised I hadn't seen him since I had turned off the highway. I was making very good time, certainly better than Max would be on these roads, so I decided he was probably just a little behind. When we hit the highway again he should catch up, so I just kept rolling along.

I finally reached the end of the detour, after almost an hour on the side road. Hitting the highway, I stopped for a breather, and waited for Max. Once again, no sign of him. I waited a while, watching the traffic go by, and finally decided he must have gone some other way.

I rode on, passing through a few small towns and plenty of beautiful countryside, over a rise, and once again trucks and cars were stopped, people hanging around talking desultorily, and kids running and playing. I popped up my helmet front, and rode slowly through the jam, smiling and nodding at people as I rode by. Kids waved, big excited grins on their faces, adults acknowledged me with the usual lift of the head, and stared, just as curious as the kids.

Nearing the head of the line of parked trucks, I could see hundreds of boulders and branches scattered haphazardly on the road ahead, effectively blocking cars and trucks. Two hundred meters of "roadblock", and on the other side were more cars and trucks trying to come the other way. People wandered back and forth, a few vendors wandered around, nobody in any hurry.

I stopped at the head of the line, parked, and took off my helmet. I asked a campesino walking by, who was looking keenly at the bike, what was happening.

"The road is blocked, maybe three, four hours more."


"Why are you waiting here?" he asked. "You can go, another big moto went by a few minutes ago."

"You don't mind?"

"No no, we don't hold up travelers, it's okay, go ahead."

"Gracias senor," and I wove my way through the rubble, smiling and waving even more, just to make sure nobody got pissed off. Everybody was amazingly friendly, as though they were happy that at least somebody was getting through.

Obviously Max had gotten ahead of me somehow, so I set off in pursuit. A couple of hours down the road, and still no Max. And then over the rise, and once again the trucks and cars were backed up. Passing through, I came to the head of the line, and sure enough, there was Max.

It turned out that he had been to lazy to take the side road, so went up to the head of the line, and eventually managed to talk his way through! No such luck here though, the Campesina in charge of the roadblock was a big, tough older woman, and she wasn't having any nonsense. The road was closed and was going to stay that way until she was good and ready to open it.

The military was there, about twenty soldiers, with hundreds of people milling about at the barricade, a huge pile of trees and brush, toughened with boulders underneath it all. Occasionally the Campesina would let someone walk through, but only if they convinced her there was a good reason.

The soldiers were very interested in the bikes, and spent a lot of time looking them over, and discussing them in rapid fire Spanish I couldn't hope to keep up with. They slowed down to ask questions, then raced off again until something else occurred to them to ask about. They were astounded to learn how far we had come, shaking their heads in disbelief or admiration, I'm not sure! What seemed to be the hardest for them to believe was that we had come so far on a motorcycle!

One old man collapsed in the heat, but the Campesina called a doctor through from the other side, people crowding around, but the soldiers took charge, sending people off to get water, and he was cared for amazingly quickly.

I think that this convinced the Campesina that it was time to open the barricade, as she told the soldiers they could take down the barricade. I was first through, waving back at people as they waved and yelled in triumph, finally we can go!

Max close behind, we raced into the mountains ahead, hoping to get to Tulcan before dark. There wasn't anything else of any size before there, and we had a long way to go.

The already beautiful countryside became absolutely spectacular as we climbed up the mountainside. We had a tremendous view over a broad valley, a few small villages clustered here and there, tall church spires punctuating the scene, and all beautifully lit by the late afternoon sun. We stopped for a few pictures, and talked with three fieldworkers who came up over the rise to see us.

A few kays more, and the now familiar signs of another roadblock appeared. Once again, we worked our way to the front, to find that the Campesinos were waving us through, saying something about it's ok, so I squeezed past a large truck parked right at the barrier, a couple of small trees. It was easy to ride over it, so I did. A couple of meters on, the front end felt very strange, so I stopped to look at the tire. Flat. Absolutely flat. Damn. I looked back at Max, who was about to cross at the same spot, but it looked like he couldn't get past the truck because of his wider saddlebags. I parked carefully on the slope, and went back to help. And saw the three inch spike I had just driven over.

Pointing it out to Max, he said, "I know, they said there were nails in the trees!"

Oh, is that what they were saying as I rode by. I do have to improve my Spanish.

With me guiding, Max tried to squeeze by the truck and avoid the spikes, but at the last moment, bump, crash, and he was rolling on the ground, bike firmly planted in the tree. We picked it up, now decorated with a few leafy branches, and tried not to step on the spikes. There were so many I wondered how I had managed to hit only one in my headlong blundering rush to get on through.

The campesinos were busily cutting a tree up that they had felled across the road, as they couldn't move it, it was too big. While they worked on that, I got to work on fixing my flat. At least it was the front - my first on the front - and much easier than the rear.

Max was very proud of himself as he came running over with a can of aerosol flat repair, "This will fix it quick!"

"I don't think so thanks, I don't trust it, and that was a big spike. I'll change the tube."

He was insistent that it would work, but I didn't think so. I sure was tempted, but I just didn't trust the goo. I'd used it twice before, many years ago, and had it fail both times.

I pulled off the wheel and the tire, then pulled out the tube. The spike had gone right through, punching a big hole in the tire, and puncturing the tube on opposite sides, then tearing a two-inch x shaped rip in the tube as well. I was right, Max's repair goo would not have fixed this, just left me with a big, gooey mess all over everything to deal with. I grinned at him, feeling pretty proud of myself for being so smart.

His eyes were big as he looked at it. "What about on my bike?" he said, looking very worried.

My fatuous grin disappeared. "Oh. You don't have a tube. Your tire would have a smaller hole than mine has, and a plug and goo would probably be fine. Five minutes to fix."

I pulled out my spare front tube and slapped it in. We were on the road again in "only" twenty minutes. My attempt to make time had a penalty, though. I managed to sprain my left thumb badly, seriously aggravating an old ski injury. Both of my thumbs are tender at best, and this one would become a constant, nagging pain.

The rain came down again, night fell despite our haste, and we were riding in the rain after dark again, but at least this time on pavement. We finally stopped for the night in Tulcan, at the Hotel Los Alpes, only 25,000 sucres each.

Wednesday, April 1, 1998

We decided to stay a day, rest up and do a little overdue maintenance on the bikes. My right fork leg seal was spewing oil, and I was concerned about the oil ending up on the brake disk, so I changed it, and cleaned the airfilter as well. Should have done that a long time ago from the look of it. Max's was dirty too, but he couldn't clean it as he still had the original paper element. We knocked and scraped the worst of the dirt off and left it at that. He was very interested in the foam washable filter I had.

Next day we headed for Colombia...


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