November 20, 2010


Sue from Meaford asked a question on our Spot about accommodations so I thought I'd post a quick overview of how we do it.

It took awhile, but we've finally got it. Our biggest challenge was finding a suitable room and then getting to it at night and away in the morning. A suitable room has: wi fi, hot water, secure parking, breakfast included, and a toilet seat. In the beginning, we relied on signs or riding through town. This resulted in a lot of frustration when hotels were found to be: full, expensive, dirty or too remote.

So RuthAnn started using “Footprint", similar to “Lonely Planet” and we have been very pleased with the results. Many are hostels, which means they are very basic but very good value for money - ok cheap. One such was a place called “Chill Out” in Huanchao, Peru that was owned by a Scottish ex-pat and his Peruvian wife. She cooked a wonderful curry dinner and he made an English breakfast the next morning and the bill for the room, two meals with beer and wine was under $30.

Getting in and out of cities was another challenge as we didn't have room for individual maps so we just brought country maps which lack fine detail. There weren't GPS maps available for any countries other than Chile and Argentina so we just have very high level electronic maps. Asking directions usually results in the response “directo” and a wave of the hand which I think loosely translates into “piss off and stop bothering me!”. So we are now using the Google map on our Spot which Steve pulls in on his iPhone and Ross is able to lead us in and out of even the biggest cities.

Our Spot gives the co-ordinates of all the hotels where we have stayed if anyone is interested. All have been great with one exception-a '24 hour' place in Central America that catered to an hourly clientèle that kept RA up most of the night increasing her Spanish vocabulary!

November 19, 2010


We will be leaving Peru tomorrow after twelve very interesting days exploring this diverse country and riding some fantastic roads--many of them at high altitude.  Jean has done a great job of summarizing our time here, but there is one day that has not been discussed yet.  That is Tuesday, November 16, the day we tried to ride to Puno from where we would visit the floating islands on Lake Titicaca

Ross did his usual good job of leading us out of town (Cusco in this case) to the road to Puno.  It was a nice spring day and the first two-thirds of the ride took us through a rich agricultural area.  The fresh green of new crops poking up through the hand tilled soil was a pleasant sight and reminded us a bit of the springs we experienced in northern Algeria many years ago.

The road was fast and high--11000 to 13000 feet; the G650s get 75-80 mpg at these altitudes!  When we were about 15 kilometers out of Puno, we saw long lines of transports parked along the side of the road.  Soon, ahead of us was a solid line of trucks and buses at a standstill on the road.  We also saw lots of rocks on the road; the common way here to halt all traffic.

We stopped and soon learned that there was a transit strike and the road to Puno was blocked.  We could try to pick our way through the blockade or take one of two dirt tracks; we decided to stick to the pavement and slowly advanced past the stopped traffic.  No one seemed to mind us doing this and some even moved rocks out of our way.  Many people were walking in both directions carrying their luggage; those going in our direction asked for a lift!  We soon encountered another obstacle: broken glass on the road!  To be sure, we slowly picked our way through this mess for about 6-7 kilometers until both lanes were blocked.  Enterprising young men were ferrying people back and forth on small motorcycles and from one of them we learned that even they could  not reach Puno.

Staying on the road at 13000+ feet was not an option so we decided to turn around and head back to the last town we had passed, Juliaca, about 35 kilometers away.  We again picked our through the rocks and glass without any punctures and eventually found a decent hotel for the evening.  We have since met a few people who were trapped in Puno and taxis were able to get them past the blockade (on one of the dirt roads) in 2-5 hours at very inflated prices.

Not knowing when the strike would end and what the road surface would be like, we headed for Arequipa the next morning (after carefully checking our tires for embedded glass and correct tire pressures); another high road reaching nearly 15000 feet in altitude.  Along the way we saw flamingos in the high altitude lakes, llamas, alpacas, and more vicunas.

Lake Titicaca will be saved for another time; Chile and Argentina, here we come!

November 18, 2010

Re-visiting Peru

This is our third trip to Peru and every time we have seen something different. The first was by ship to Lima where we explored a city rich in Spanish culture and history but modern and vibrant. We came back to see Machu Picchu, truly one of the wonders of the world and spent two weeks in Cusco surrounded with an odd mix of international tourists and indigenous people. We enjoyed both visits immensely and looked forward to coming back.

On this trip, we discovered a whole new Peru. First, riding in from the north, we encountered the endless desert that runs along the entire coast inland as far as the eye can see. Massive sand dunes have been formed over the centuries but not much else. No vegetation exists so we were surprised to find shanties dotting the landscape as we approached Lima. These turned into full blown slums spread high up the dunes and eventually became the suburbs of the capital city. Getting into Lima was a nightmare! Peruvian drivers must get their training in India because the don't give an inch and have no patience with lost tourists. We finally hired a taxi to take us to the hostel in Miraflores we had stayed in on our last visit. There we changed oil, brake pads and had our laundry done for $3.00-bonus!

Leaving Lima, we started off on what will be one of the high points of this trip. First we went to Nasca to see the famous lines carved in the desert almost two thousand years ago. Steve and RA had been before so Ross and I took the plane ride over this vast expanse to see these curious images of a monkey, spider, condor, hummingbird, 'space man', and various straight lines that look like runways.

The road from Nasca to Cusco climbs to 4500 meters and the views are almost beyond description. First, the high, barren landscape of the coast where nothing grows or lives. Then it gradually evolves into high desert with scrub and LLAMAS! Well that's what we first thought but it turns out they are vicuña, a rare relative of the llama. Soon we found herds of llama and their much cuter cousins, the alpaca with their beautiful big eyes and plump, furry bodies. All of this along the most amazing, twisty tarmac we have encountered since Columbia.

We skipped Machu Picchu because we had all been there within the last two years and instead took another fabulous road to Arequipa where we took a tour to the Colca Canyon, home of the Andean condor. This canyon is the deepest in the world and the condor is one of the largest birds in the world with a wing span of three meters! We left our hotel at 3:00AM in order to see the condors at daybreak and we did-having five sightings. One large male flew so close we could see his eyes and wing detail.

A funny thing happened on the way back. We stopped in a town square and two little girls spotted us and started dragging their alpaca over to have us take their picture, for a small sum. They appeared to be about 3 and 5 years old and were dressed in traditional garb. I got them posed with the alpaca, whose name was Maria, but it looked away as I was about to shoot so I called “Maria” and with that, the three year old hauled off and slugged Maria on the side of the head! The poor alpaca dutifully faced the camera and both girls said “cheese”. Another Kodak moment!

November 16, 2010

Sights from the Saddle

Often times, you're riding down the road and you see something interesting but there is nowhere to pull over safely to take a picture so you just have to store the scene in your memory bank. Here are some I was able to retrieve:

-Sign in Mexico: Better to be a minute late than have a minute's silence.
-Coffin on top of SUV
-Donkey pulling a cart and baby donkey walking alongside while his mom worked.
-Trucks so loaded down with hay that all you see is a moving haystack
-Sand dunes of Peru as far as the eye can see.
-Deep mud road crossing from San Augustan to Popayan, Columbia (took all day to go 146kms)
-Drop off’s into valleys that are thousands of feet down with no guard rail or divider.
-Half the road washed down the mountain with only some branches on the road as a warning.
-Whole families on small motorcycles. Dad wears the helmet, mom and kids don't.
-In Columbia, there were billboards saying “No more stars in the road”. They paint stars -on the road as a memorial to people killed in road accidents. It took me a while to put the two together.
-In Ecuador, they had the same idea but used winged hearts instead. In one particularly bad corner, there were about a dozen hearts! Needless to say, it slows you down!
-Hundreds of roadside shrines for accident victims ranging from wooden crosses to little houses containing religious icons, candles and flowers.
-Shanty towns in northern Peru consisting of shacks no bigger than the average storage shed.
-Construction workers in coveralls, balaclavas, sunglasses and hard-hats looking like terrorists. Some wear breathing devices to keep out the dust and sand.
-First sight of the Pacific Ocean as we came up over a hill.
-Signs telling people to use their seat belts but most people travel in open trucks where they all stand in the back like cattle on their way to market.
-Pairs of shoes hanging by their laces strung over hydro lines.
-And always, always big waves and smiles or thumbs-up when they see the bikes.

November 10, 2010

Prepping the G650GSs

We bought our 2009 G650GSs this past February shortly after we returned from New Zealand where we  rented F650GSs (singles) for four weeks.  BMW was offering $1000 in accessories at the time which was quite welcome.  RuthAnn’s red bike (factory lowered) was on the showroom floor; I  had to order my black one. 

I’ll start at the front of the bikes and work my way back ; the bikes were set up exactly the same.

Stock low front fender removed
Stock fork brace removed and replaced with Wunderlich fork brace/fork gaiter kit
PIAA 510 lights (fog on right/driving on left) controlled by Autoswitch with the high beam flasher
Peel and stick headlight protector
Touratech wire rock guard headlight protector
High fender rear extension from Dakar  650GS
Heated grips
BMW hand guards with Touratech spoilers
Round rotating wide angle mirrors mounted on both mirrors
Kaoko throttle lock
Additional electric outlet on instrument panel--provides power for my GPS
Touratech oil filler cap with dipstick/aluminum replacing plastic/opens with 45 Torx wrench
BMW engine guards
Tool tube made from 3” PVC pipe/painted black/attached to engine guard
Touratech shifter and rear brake levers
Touratech rear brake master cylinder guard
High seat for me/low seat for RuthAnn
Center stands
Jesse Odyssey II panniers with lid loops and red and white reflective tape
Flashing halogen brake light
Signalminder which gives us self-cancelling signal lights, front and rear running lights, and flashes signal lights when brakes appled
Coiled bicycle cable locks attached to rear rack--used to tie down helmets or tie bikes together at night
New chains and sprockets mounted before leaving home
Metzeler Tourance tires and new tubes mounted in San Antonio

When we bought the motos we got top boxes for both bikes and a tank bag for my bike, but left them at home.  RA bought a very small Cortech tank bag and I bought a small waterproof backpack by Ortlieb that I tie down to the rear rack with small Rok Straps; both can be quickly removed and carried if we are worried about security. 

I am using a Garmin 660 Zumo GPS and a SPOT satellite tracking device; both are mounted on the the handle bars with RAM mounts.

That’s about it--if you have any questions please ask.

November 6, 2010

Riding High

No, we're not sampling the Columbian 'white gold', we're riding on top of the world! The Panamerican Highway weaves its way through the Andes Mountains at altitudes reaching almost 12,000 feet. The scenery is breathtaking! In Columbia, it was mainly natural habitat but here in Ecuador, the land is almost fully planted. The checker board squares of fields reach right up to the summits and are so steep you wonder how they ever harvest the crops.

Yesterday, we crossed the Equator and stopped for the obligatory photos and listened to a lecture on the earth's position and rotation. It was interesting to see the GPS reading of 00 000 017.

Last night, we stayed in Riobamba at the foot of Volcan Chimborazo which is the highest mountain in Ecuador at 6,310 meters. What an amazing sight with it's snow-capped peak.

Back to the riding. Cars are much more prevalent here than in Columbia where bikes ruled. The drivers are extremely aggressive and very fast. When we crossed through Quito yesterday, RuthAnn named it the Quito 500. Quito is at 2,850 meters and it 1.5 million population stretches down a deep valley which we could see from the elevated roadway. Its an impressive sight! The roads have been excellent probably due to the frequent tolls that are collected. Bikes were free in Columbia but here we have to pay 20 cents, a small price for such great grins!

November 1, 2010

Drug Dealing in Colombia

As our friend, Lynda Carlson, wrote “who would have guessed that it would be a relief to hear that you made it to COLOMBIA!” After years of hearing about drug cartels, Pablo Escobar, kidnappings, etc. we had heard that things had changed and it was now safe to travel and explore this beautiful country. And so we reclaimed our bikes from Colombian Customs without too much effort, just the usual bureaucratic paperwork, and rode into Bogota.

We had pre-booked a hostel about ten miles from the airport and arrived after dark feeling not too great, partially due to the elevation (2,546 meters) and an on-coming bout of the flu. This resulted in our first and only drug deal-buying Neocitran at the local farmicia! I needed an extra day to get back on my feet, so we didn't leave right away and RuthAnn took the opportunity to do our laundry in a washing machine! What a treat after hand washing our clothes every night in a bathroom sink.

Our first pleasant surprise was the quality of the roads and the drivers. While they are fairly aggressive, it's not hard to fall into the pattern and feel quite safe. There are tons of bikes, mostly 125ccs, and their riders wear helmets and protective clothing. And they LOVE our bikes! Everywhere we go, crowds form around them and us, asking questions and taking pictures. RuthAnn is singled out for special attention due to her small stature in proportion to her bike.

The second surprise was just how friendly everyone is. People lean out of cars at stop lights to chat, wave and give thumbs up as they pass and always, always, big smiles greet us everywhere. This is a real family-oriented country where children accompanied by both parents and are well-behaved and out-going. They welcome us taking their pictures, especially of their kids and are very proud we have come all this way to visit their country. We get to practice our Spanish and learn what we can about local routes and roads.

The scenery is everything the guidebooks say as we found out on our second day riding through the mountains. Its lush, tropical climate means there are flowers everywhere, bamboo and palms grow thick at the roadside and fields are full of crops. Today, we visited an archaeological site dating back to the 6th century containing numerous statues, reminiscent of Easter Island, that were used as grave markers. It was interesting to read that their graves were far more ornate than the homes they lived in while alive. Guess you can take it with you!

Hola SAm

Our three hour tour of the Miraflores Locks and museum at the Panama Canal was made interesting and enjoyable by our guide Tio, a fourth generation Jamaican whose great-grandfather came to work on the construction of the canal.

On Thursday morning (10-28), we took a taxi to the Tocumen Airport in Panama City for our flight on Copa Airlines to Bogota.  The 90 minute flight on a Brazilian built Embraer 190 (comparable to a Boeing 737) was on time and uneventful. We kept our shoes on through the security check and were served snacks, a sandwich, and sodas during the one and a half hour flight.

We took a bus to Girag to find our bikes and soon were on our way with a handful of paper work to clear them through customs.  The fancy new building gave us hope until we actually got inside where, after being shunted from floor to floor, we finally landed in front an official’s desk.  We soon had two people working on our paperwork which took about two hours to complete.  We then walked in the rain the several blocks back to Girag.  The very nice lady there re-did the whole paper work package for each bike with all of the correct photocopies--we hope!

The bikes were quickly inspected in the waning daylight and after gearing up and riding down the temporary ramp from the loading dock, we were on our way to Hostel La Pinta.  We stopped to gas up the bikes and then hired a taxi to lead us to our lodging; we had done this in Panama City and it worked well as it did here. 

Jean was fighting a cold/flu and headed right to bed; the rest of us snacked a bit in the lounge and then adjourned to our rooms.  We were all fighting colds and the 9000’ altitude was affecting us a bit as well. 

After two nights in Bogota, it felt good to get on the bikes and ride again.  We ended up in a hostel in Neiva on Saturday night that we figured out (the next morning) was the equivalent to the motor hotels found in Mexico, CAm, and SAm that rent rooms by the hour!  I guess the porn channels on the tv should have tipped us off…

The ride to San Agustin was the best of the trip so far.  Good roads, spectacular mountain scenery, and a wonderful lunch at a road side restaurant made for a very good day.  Halloween is alive and well here and we enjoyed witnessing the hustle and bustle of the evening in downtown San Agustin as we dined on roasted chicken, papas fritas, and Poker cerveza at Super Pollo.   Trick-or-treaters accompanied by their parents made the rounds of the shops to collect a piece of candy, and masked motorcyclists let us take their pictures.  A parade down the main street about 2100 made for a fun and memorable end to the evening.

This morning we visited an archeological park just a few kilometers from our hotel.  Many statues and burial grounds dating back to about 3500 BC make up this park.  The area was first excavated by the Spanish in 1758--there was a lot going on down here while our North American homelands were but a thought.