About Us

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Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Brian & Deya met in Vancouver Canada. After a few years together we were married and made choices. One was not to have children the other was not to take life for granted. The rest is yet to come.

August 29, 2011

Border details compliments of Deya II

 

Names of border crossings.

Costa Rica (exit)-Sabalito

Panama (entry)-Rio Sereno

Panama (exit)-Porvenir Comarca de San Blas

Colombia (entry)-Cartagena

Colombia (exit)-Puente Internacional de Rumichaca Ipiales

Ecuador (entry)-Puente Internacional de Rumichaca

Ecuador (exit)-Macará

Peru (entry)-La Tina

Exiting Costa Rica.

A simple process except for the fact that the offices for Immigration and Customs are not marked properly. The office, for both, is located at about 100 metres from the end of the road before turning right. Likely you will ride into Panama before you know it; if you find yourself turning right at the end of the road and going down a really shitty piece of road then you have gone too far because Panama’s roads are nicely paved.

The sign indicating Costa Rica’s Immigration and Customs reads:

Ministerio de Gobernacion y Policia

Direccion General de Migracion y Extranjeria

OFICINA REG. SABALITO

Coming into Panama you maybe able to see a sign that says: M.A.G. SABALITO CUARENTENA AGROPECUARIA. That is it, you made it to where you needed to go, get in there… The trees don’t allow the proper sign to be seen.

***Immigration:

Original passport is required and a stamp of exit is placed. A form called Sistema de la Integracion Centroamerica (SICA)/Comision Centroamerica de Directores de Migracion (OCAM)/Registro Migratorio is filled and handed to the Immigration officer as a proof of exit before the stamp can be obtained.

Zero fees are charged.

***Customs:

-Passport: original.

-Permit of entry to Costa Rica for the vehicle: original.

With these requirements the permit is cancelled or suspended and they keep the cancelled or suspended permit. However, a document is produced called Comprobante de entrega a la Aduana de XX (XX depending on the aduana you are at); you get to keep this document which is required if you come back into Costa Rica in the period you were given initially (3 months), that is if you mark “Suspendido” otherwise they will completely cancel it and you will have to get a new one. There is an important note: after having a 3 month permit, the vehicle needs to be out of the country for 3 months; I am sure the laws and regulations are more complex than that, there is more information than what I am just describing, but it is an idea of what is expected.

Entering Panama.

Pretty friendly and helpful people in this border.

***Immigration: Original passport is required and a stamp of exit is placed. In this specific border they require a copy of the passport only because sometimes the system does not capture the information (due to the location they are at) and they have to re-enter everything for which they need the copy.

They also require financial proof, either $500.0 USD cash or just by showing a credit card. This was not applied to us. For Canadians they provide 6 months stay.

***Customs:

-Passport: original & copy.

-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original & copy.

-Vehicle insurance for which you need your passport and the title or registration of the vehicle. The insurance provider gives you the original insurance and a copy for Customs. Cost=$15/vehicle and it is valid for one month. It is important to mention that you can name a second driver and if you do then you have to get a copy of the passport of that second driver for Customs.

-There is no fee to import the vehicle.

This is how you get the document that will allow you to circulate through the country. However before you get it you still have to do couple of things. Here we go. You go to Customs office with the documents mentioned above. They stamp your passport with the permit number and the name of the person who authorized it. A document called Control de Vehiculos is produced and it is valid only for one month which means that if you plan to stay longer you have to visit a Customs office later on before the permit expires. The Customs officer provided me with her phone number in case we had any problems: 722-8452 (Rio Sereno border). The boss usually signs the bottom of this document but since there is no actual boss in this border that space remains blank. Before finally getting your permit (Control de Vehiculos) you need to visit another agent to get a document called Factura de Fumigacion (receipt for fumigation fees and the actual fumigation). This is $1 USD/vehicle and they spray your tyres mainly with a liquid or any parts that may show dirt. After the fumigation takes place, an agent from “Fiscalizacion Aduanera” (working with Customs) comes to inspect your bike and belongings (more out of curiosity than anything) and signs the Control de Vehiculos in the back side of the sheet and you are now DONE… Very thorough process but simple and clear. Like they said, they are there to help, facilitate and ensure you come back through that border.

Note: insurance for the vehicle is also good for only one month, which means that if your stay becomes longer than one month and Customs authorizes another period the insurance has to be renewed. The insurance agent provided me with her email in case we needed an extension later: gblanco1006@hotmail.com

Exiting Panama.

Exiting Panama is actually quite absurd. The instructions on what to do are in the back page of the Permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle, but since we entered through Rio Sereno and the paper was elaborated manually we HAD NO BACK PAGE. Therefore exiting Panama was a mystery. Some people said we just had to show up at the boat and Immigration would sign our Permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle as a proof of exit and that will be enough. Some said we had to go to the Police station and actually start a complicated process. As simple as we want it to be, we also want to ensure that we DO NO VIOLATE any laws since we will be coming back to all these countries one day and besides RULES ARE TO BE FOLLOWED NOT TO BE VIOLATED.

Here is the actual process to be followed regardless of the method you use to exit Panama, you can cross the Darien Gap if you like and it will remain the same process:

1) You need to go to the Policia Nacional-DIJ (Direccion de Investigacion Judicial) and bring your motorcycle at 9 am so the motor and chassis can cool down. At 10 am an officer will start looking at your bike and ensuring that documents match motor and chassis. At 11 am they will be done looking at your bike and by 2 pm you can pick up a document that will allow you to properly exit Panama, this document is picked up right in front of this office in the other side of the busy road where DIJ is located.

At DIJ you need:

-Passport: original & copy.

-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original & copy.

-Permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle: original & copy.

These documents are sent to Comunicaciones Interpol to check for any issues that the vehicle may have at an international level. If there were any serious issues then the vehicle will remain under the jurisdiction of DIJ.

In our case we had to add an extra step. Therefore if you end up following our path make sure YOU DO NOT DO THIS ON A FRIDAY, just in case you run into inconveniences.

As beautiful as Rio Sereno was we had problems with our Permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle because the VIN # was not written fully due to the lack of space in the sheet and even though I asked the lady to complete it she said it would not be a problem. Well, it was a problem as the police would not accept an incomplete VIN # and they sent us to Customs to fix this little problem.

When in Customs we looked for the “Control Vehicular” department and asked them to fix the document. Mr. Pinilla is an old grumpy man who could not care less and was abusive and angry when I asked him to do it properly this time. It took several hours before I was able to retrieve the document from this office because surprisingly our entry WAS NEVER recorded which means we never entered the country. Because of this they had to elaborate another Permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle with a new entry date and make several notes to ensure that this would not be a problem. I basically forced them to explain in the paper THEY had made a mistake.

In order to get this document I had to deliver:

-Passport: original & copy.

-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original & copy.

-Permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle: original & copy.

Anyway, finally I got a new Permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle attached to the old one and I had to get another photocopy of this to deliver to DIJ officer; the DIJ officer was actually helpful because while I was doing this on a Friday he was getting the final exit document from Panama with the promise that I would bring a copy of the new Permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle once I had it.

We went to deliver this copy to the DIJ officer exactly at 2 pm and we went across the street to Secretaria General to receive our final exit document. Before we got it we had to deliver:

-Passport: original & copy.

-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original & copy.

-Permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle: original & copy.

Along with the documents that DIJ sent to them: Inspeccion Vehicular.

This is how we got our exit document called: Salida with a legend on top reading:

Republica de Panama / Ministerio de Gobierno y Justicia / Viceministerio de Seguridad Publica / Policia Nacional / Direccion de Investigacion Judicial. This document is only good for eight days after it is produced. In the event that you do not exit the country within those eight days you have to renew it by going to the Secretaria General again (only).

In addition we had to sign a document with some details of our exit method which you are not required to know exactly. Also, we had to sign a book with some repetitive information about our exit.

With all these steps we felt a bit safer about our exit. It is always better to follow your instincts even if people say: THERE WILL NOT BE A PROBLEM, perhaps not for them but for you…

We chose to go by boat on the Stahlratte and here the second part of the exit procedure takes place.

***Immigration: Stahlratte is the only boat that gets Immigration to come on board to stamp the passports. Simple process. Normally people would have to go to a little Island named Porvenir if leaving from Carti. Immigration also stamps the Permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle as a proof of exit.

From here you can now enjoy San Blas as we did; Stahlratte is your best choice.

Entering Colombia.

Because we travelled with Stahlratte they took care of everything for us including Immigration and Customs. However, I needed to find out what is done and how is done, I am never content when someone does these processes for us and this will be the first and the last time this happens. Nothing against Stahlratte, it is just the way I like to operate. In fact, it is easier and better for people if someone else does it, especially if you do not speak Spanish.

***Immigration:

In our case passports were sent to Immigration for the stamp and we were given 60 days. In any case you just need to jump of the boat and go to the Immigration office.

***Customs:

In our case Stahlratte used an Agent to do the process. We just had to provide:

-Passport: original

-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original.

-Stamped by Immigration (cancelled) permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle: original.

-Some details as colour of the bike and model (which sometimes may not be in the title or registration).

In any case: you get Immigration dealt with (preferably by foot because your vehicle does not suppose to go anywhere but from the boat straight to Customs). Then you go to Customs, in Colombia called DIAN (Direccion de Impuestos y Aduana Nacional). Look for Grupo Importacion., they are pretty helpful.

A) If you are arriving on a boat like Stahlratte and you can ride your vehicle in DIAN the process is pretty simple and fast.

You deliver:

-Passport: original & copy of the picture page and the stamp of entry to Colombia page.

-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original & copy.

-Stamped by Immigration (cancelled) permit of entry to Panama for the vehicle: original & copy.

The period for the permit given for the vehicle will depend on the period given by Immigration, in our case 60 days.

A document is issued with the name of: Importacion Temporal de Vehiculo de Turista. An inspection needs to occur before you can actually have the document but it never did, why? Just because, don’t ask.

B) If your vehicle is arriving on a large vessel/container then the process is different and I don’t know the details but I know enough to get everything started:

You need all documents related to the transportation of your vehicle from the country of origin. You also need to know which port your vehicle is at for the following reason:

-If your vehicle arrives through the “Muelle El Bosque” then you can be assisted only once a day, in the morning, which means that you will not get anybody to look at your vehicle until the next day.

-If your vehicle arrives through another two muelles (I did not write the names) then you can be assisted in the morning or afternoon, two times a day basically.

***Insurance:

Insurance is necessary and you have to get it right after Customs. Sura is the company that sells the insurance and for it you need the original Permit of entry to Colombia for the vehicle and money in Colombian pesos, US dollars are not accepted anywhere.

The insurance is only sold for a minimum of three months and it cost approximately $85,000.00 pesos which is equivalent to about $47.00 USD.

Exiting Colombia.

One of the border crossings with less hassles, except for a Colombian decided to bump me with his car, what an idiot.

Offices are marked properly and the only people hanging around are money changers smoking pot.

Here we go.

***Immigration:

Immigration is run by DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad) and they require:

-Original passport and a stamp of exit is placed. Fingerprints are required.

-Zero fees are charged.

Worth mentioning that in one full consecutive year, a tourist gets a total of 180 days in Colombia regardless of when they are used or how.

***Customs:

-Passport: original.

-Permit of entry to Colombia for the vehicle: original.

-Vehicle inspection to ensure the information in the documents match with the vehicle.

With these requirements the permit is cancelled and they keep the cancelled permit. However, you can ask for a copy of the cancelled permit for your records, you never know when they are going to forget to enter the information in the system.

The vehicle can enter again anytime under the Immigration terms that a tourist may get at the time on entry, but remember you can only stay in Colombia for 180 days in a full consecutive year.

Entering Ecuador.

Again offices are marked properly and the only people hanging around are money changers, these ones look older and they don’t smoke pot in front of you.

***Immigration:

Immigration is run by Policia Nacional y Servicio de Migracion and they require:

-Original passport showing the exit stamp from Colombia. A stamp of entry is provided.

-Zero fees are charged.

Worth mentioning that in one full consecutive year, a tourist gets a total of 90 days in Ecuador regardless of when they are used or how. There is an opportunity to extend that period for 90 more days.

***Customs:

-Passport: original & copies of the picture, stamp of exit from Colombia and stamp of entry to Ecuador.

-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original & copy.

-International Driver’s Licence: original & copy.

-Vehicle inspection to ensure the information in the documents match with the vehicle, i.e. VIN (Vehicle Identification Number).

-Zero fees are charged neither insurance for the vehicle is required.

As well as with Immigration we were given 90 days permit but it can extended for another 90 days if necessary in the respective offices.

Exiting Ecuador.

An incredible border crossing. As usual we find certain things that should have happened or little surprises.

We were supposed to get an Andean Immigration Card at the entrance of Ecuador but we did not so the Immigration officer prepared one at the exit and filed it.

***Immigration:

-Original passport and a stamp of exit is placed.

-Zero fees are charged.

Worth mentioning that we spent 17 days out of the 90 days we were given. So we still have days we can use in our return.

***Customs:

-Passport: original.

-Permit of entry to Ecuador for the vehicle: original.

-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original.

-Vehicle inspection to ensure the information in the documents match with the vehicle.

-No fees are charged unless the period of the permit has expired, then charges will apply.

With these requirements the permit is cancelled and they keep the cancelled permit. However, you can ask for a copy of the cancelled permit for your records, you never know when they are going to forget to enter the information in the system.

The vehicle can enter again anytime under the Immigration terms that a tourist may get at the time on entry.

One thing we found out is that some borders may not have the system to capture information for the vehicles in transit and later on in the return to Ecuador this can be a problem. We were told that Zapotillo border for example does not have the system and although you maybe able to leave the country the legality of it is in doubt.

Also, the ATM in Macara does not accept foreign debit cards so come prepare with money for the next part of the process. At least $100 USD.

Entering Peru.

Again offices are marked properly and the only people hanging around are money changers. People were extremely helpful and clear, nothing I was expecting to be honest.

***Immigration:

-Original passport showing the exit stamp from Ecuador. A stamp of entry is provided.

-Tarjeta Andina de Migracion (Andean Migration Card). It needs to be filled and just to make sure it will be safe staple it to your passport. You will need to return at the exit point.

-Zero fees are charged.

A tourist gets a total of 183 days in a consecutive year in Peru regardless of when they are used or how. The officer will provide the amount of days requested so make sure you request a little bit more than the necessary period otherwise you can end up paying $1 USD per day you exceed over the given period.

The service in this particular border is 24 hours as well as Customs.

***Customs:

-Passport & Andean Card: original.

-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original.

-International Driver’s Licence: original.

-Zero fees are charged.

-Insurance for the vehicle (SOAT) is mandatory and you will avoid a lot of hassles with the police if you just get it. It is $35 USD per month per motorcycle and you buy this insurance right in front of the Customs office with your passport and title of the bike.

Photocopies of all documents are taken by Peruvian Customs.

As well as with Immigration we were given 90 days permit. A document is produced called “Certificado de Internacion Temporal”.

With these we can roll into Peru without having to worry about corrupt cops unless we do something stupid like speeding or not obeying signs.

I am quite impressed with the Peruvian process, it was easy and clear. Good job people!!!

Deyanira Mendoza Dominguez – Adventure Researcher

Puppy Love

“Oh, that’s not right…”

We had spent the night with new friends and were returning from a visit to a beautiful farmhouse when down the road we saw a disturbing sight. Three young ladies had happened up on a very small box on the side of an uninhabited road. They had opened the box, probably to determine what was crying inside and found eight tiny puppies. The girls tried to leave but the puppies, maybe seeing them as family or just survival, tried to follow. The girls ran.

Of the eight only two could keep up but only made it about a block and realized they were on their own, four more huddled together consumed in panic and the confusion of abandonment, in the middle of the road. The final two, probably the weakest, stayed near the feces stained box, unsure of where to go, too far away to possibly see their brothers and sisters and seeking any measure of security they could find.

From the desperate attempt of the two runners to the pathetic hidings of the two at the box, the fear, panic and confusion was intense. It was survival at its most primitive, it was shocking and it was in babies. The scene playing out in front of us seemed sick and disturbing and while I have seen death, starvation and the impetuous behaviour of humans this was by far the saddest thing Deya and I have seen on our trip to date. When people have more mouths than they can feed it’s a tragedy but when their pets do it and people drop the children off in a closed box to starve to death or be crushed by a vehicle, it’s just sick.

Carmelo had spoken first saying, “Oh, that’s not right….” “I don’t like dogs but that’s just not right”. We came to a stop so we didn’t run over the four pups huddling together for security in the middle of the road and Deya got out of the car. Deya walked over to the little creatures and began to pick them up, holding all four in her one arm with ease. The puppies looked relieved and didn’t struggle or move in her arm, sinking in as if to take comfort from Deya’s warmth, or the beat of her heart or maybe her smell. They simply don’t have the capacity to face the world alone, unprepared, weakened and malnourished, with little or no skills to survive in a desert environment and they instinctively knew it.

I walked back and picked up the two at the box, I noted the condition of the box. Once closed, the box was barely big enough to hold eight puppies and was messed with urine and feces. The size and consistency of the mess did not suggest they were well fed but the smell was enough to suggest the hell they would have endured sitting in the sun, wanting for breath, even for just a moment.

The two were somewhat pathetic, malnourished and insecure. I thought logically for a moment that these two were the weak ones in the pack, not going far from the box knowing they cannot compete, likely the first ones to die in the group. They seemed as though they were too afraid to move, possibly too weak to move far and they seemed as though they looked 1000 miles into the distance without seeing anything. They seemed to have that desperate feeling as though a death sentence had just been handed down and they were alone to abide it.

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By now the trunk of the car was open and Deya had placed the other four in the back, I placed the two runts with them and noticed how they seemed to sense some level of protection. I looked briefly, marvelling at how helpless they were, believing that they would have done anything just to have a warm hand put beside them even for an instant. Deya began to look at the sad scene in the back of the car and I told her to close the truck, we still had two to pick up.

The two runners were not far away, they were looking for anyone to help them, as we approached they came out of the side of the road and ran to us. They were all happy to be with some one, anyone and together. The smallest of them was now eating the cardboard in the back, they were not old enough to be teething, this was pure hunger.

Now that we had picked them up the real problem started, what to do with them? Deya wanted to keep one, I get it but it was not realistic given our situation. Both Carmelo and Cody where leaving soon and could not care for eight little starving puppies. So, we decided to try to give them away. Carmelo drove around offering a puppy here, a puppy there but no one wanted another mouth to feed. They were cute and we thought we were in luck when we stopped by a soccer practice played by teenage girls. The girls all ran screaming to see the puppies and pick them up but at the end of it, still eight puppies.

I can’t speak to the thoughts of the others but since no one wanted them, life would likely come to a hard and cruel end and since there are no resources or animal shelters, my mind went to killing them. I said out loud, “We should have just driven by” and thought about the very sharp hatched in my pannier back at the house. It would be quick and efficient unless I slipped at which point it would only be a moment of sloppiness. Would this be a better, more compassionate fate for these abandoned little kids? I know I could have done it but I would hate having to do it and felt some of that hidden anger and shame for the way we humans manage this world we call ours. I’ve hidden that disgust a long time and don’t want a reason to open that door in case I can’t shut it again.

Carmelo suggested dropping them off in the square, Deya said we should get some milk and Cody agreed it would at least get them a shot on a full stomach. It was decided and we went about abandoning them again, possibly in an area where people would pick them up, with some food in their stomachs and maybe, just maybe a chance.

All but the two runts ran to the milk and I had to place them in front of it or they would have been left alone. They all drank without recess as if it was their first and last comfort of food. We took the chance to leave while their backs were turned, comforting ourselves that we did just about as well as anyone could have but knowing secretly that we are still a part of that group that didn’t do enough. They may be just puppies but the quandary was one of human proportions, of education, of mortality and humanity, of something we still haven’t found.

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August 22, 2011

To Peru

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We left Baños feeling a little intrepid and yet a little anxious. Maybe it was because of all the negative concepts we had developed about Peru. The threat of the corrupt police is nerve-wracking and continuous. When we have had bad cops try to harass us into paying a bribe it sticks with us for days. It goes against my nature and I feel a kind of rage which further disturbs me. So heading towards Peru, I think, has been a bit stressful.

It may be that we haven’t crossed any borders for some time and scar tissue left over from Central America is still sore. I can’t be sure but what propels me forward is a desire to ride, see, smell, feel and hear the environment around me. Meditating in my helmet to the song of wind chattering and bugs splattering is a deep need I have. The long periods of thought and contemplation allow me to accept my fate and give me hope. I just wish it wasn’t interrupted by the occasional retarded bus driver in my lane playing chicken.

Our stay in Baños was superb after the first night was over. We were quoted a price and the next morning everything had changed. We almost had to have the police show up due to the miscommunication. Really it boils down to the ‘gringo’ syndrome and people’s attempts to squeeze whatever they can from you. It ended up well enough since we moved to another place that was really nice. We were able to spend time with our friends, cook fantastic dinners with them and play some cards.

We visited a couple of places near Baños when we were there. A place called Puyo which had machetes wielding natives inspecting us, located in the Amazon jungle. We didn’t hang around; it was one of those benign scenes until you thought about it and realized nothing good would come of the situation. The road out was good though and we banged along pretty well. The other spectacle was the Volcano Tungurahua which we motored up a long winding hill to get a look at, we saw the peak but couldn’t get a picture due to the cloud cover. If that sucker ever blows the town is screwed!

Our route out was simply South on the Panamerican Highway. It was nice and we passed some areas over 3600 metres in elevation. One spot was called ‘The Nose of the Devil’ to which I recall my nose being very cold. Not sure if that’s how it got its name or not, I don’t care much, it was a beautiful ride. As we drifted along we came to a fork in the road up in the mountains. A small community called Nabón laid approximately 17 kilometres East of the main road. It was late enough that we were thinking about finding a place so Deya asked a local who was waiting for a bus. He said go to a specific shop in the village and asked for his friend Fabian, he may be able to get us a place to stay.

So with little hesitation we headed into Nabón, stopped and asked Fabian if he knew of any place to stay in town and he said yes. Fabian was one of those outstanding people that you meet and set us up in the old folks home for the night. He took us for dinner introduced us to some people. It’s a beautiful town, quiet and well kept. I felt like we could spend some time there, hanging out with friendly people makes a huge difference and would help us to decide to return on our way back North.

The morning was awesome, we spent some time chatting with the residents of the home and they fed us breakfast. A good experience in general. We learned some things too, to be expected. The people in these homes are often much more advanced in their disabilities that we might see in Canada. They don’t get sent to the ‘home’ the first time they fall on the stairs or get their driver’s license taken away by the state. These people are usually well past the point of helping themselves. The tough part is, in a very rough and untrained assessment, that the training and resources to help them be as productive as possible in these final years doesn’t exist here. It’s not a matter of will, it is simply non existent. I want to say the culture may be different but I think any senior anywhere might feel that they are being put out to pasture when they get dropped off at the orphanage, I cannot blame them.

Nabón has a bunch of cool things to offer so we agreed to come back for a couple of days to tour around on our return trip. We parted with some hugs and photos and a bottle of locally produced Tequila. Believe it or not they make their own fermented Agave and even have an annual festival to celebrate it. You will hear more about this in a few months.

We made it to Vilcabamba in good time, the riding was easy and the Panamerican is an easy and safe route for driving. Not much on the adventure side but simply a well fashioned road. Vilcabamba as you may have (not) heard is where some of the oldest people in the world live. Though we only saw one old ancient feller doing laps in front of the church the idea is that the water in the place has magic. Really though, it would likely be a life time of mild climate, hill climbing, fresh food and a relaxed, low stress environment. I think anyone could live long under these conditions. The funny thing is the people who come here (lots of tourists and expats) who think if they meditate, drink the water, smoke pot and climb a couple of hills moaning some Tibetan omms for 2-4 weeks they will have achieved nirvana. Only to have to return to the paradigm of self delusion in which they cover up the thing they have with the thing they think they are looking for; like seeing a good person in front of you but not accepting that you are standing in front of a mirror.

While near Vilcabamba we tried to visit an organic farm but the conditions were not right so that was abandoned, we did stay for an extra day near the village though, it was that nice. I would recommend the place as a natural and beautiful place to hang out.

We left Vilcabamba via a back road en route to Curiamanga. Since our GPS is toast we quickly got lost, I say lost because we didn’t have spare fuel and really didn’t know where we were going. Locals all give the same directions in Latin America, “Derecho, derecho, derecho.” Swinging their arms wildly from left to right. Derecho means straight ahead and when you come to a T-intersection it apparently still applies, for example. There was one guy who did give some great directions and we both laughed at him, I hope he wasn’t offended but it was funny. He told us where to go, left here, right there then a big left at the road, swinging his whole body left in a dramatic pirouette. He did two of those pirouette tricks and Deya just about fell of her bike and I was charmed by his enthusiasm.

We finally made it to an average town of Curiamanga via back roads and had to wait for cheap (84 octane) gas. The gas is controlled by the military in the South so the Peruvians don’t come in and take it all. Its reduced cost is supplemented by the government so it should remain a benefit to the citizens, I get it. At $2 USD per gallon for 92 octane it is a steal, Peru is about $5.5 USD per gallon. The biggest trouble is actually finding a station with fuel, many don’t have fuel and if they do then only the low octane stuff. The engines hate it and a special warning, they may tell you it is 87 octane but it’s likely 84 or 82 octane, the truth is the attendants don’t even know what octane is, no insult intended.

The next day we dashed towards the Border crossing at Macará. This was it, we had to cross into Peru, expecting the Ecuadorian part to be as easy as the entry I wasn’t concerned until we made it across the bridge, then things took a turn as it was about to become a long day. There is no fee for entry into Peru and life can be hard, it’s even harder when you are stupid. Stupidly we had not taken enough money to cover the $70 USD needed for mandatory insurance for both bikes. We were already checked out of Ecuador and had our passports stamped into Peru when we discovered that we needed insurance. I guess it’s possible not to get the insurance but let us be honest: people complain about getting harassed by the police yet they enter without insurance (mandatory) and they speed and do other stuff that draws attention and gives reason for a stop, life is hard but it can be harder.

The choice was easy, we get the insurance. The Ecuadorian Customs said we could go back into town and get cash since there are no facilities at the border. We figured it would be a breeze, it was not. First, finding a bank machine was really tough, “derecho, derecho, derecho” and when we did it didn’t take our cards. This took hours and when we finally found a machine that would take the cards, it wouldn’t go through? Fortunately the Bank Manager was a great guy, he took Deya over to the Peruvian Consulate where they let us use their internet, Deya checked with our bank in Canada via ‘Magic Jack’ and found out that we were good, it was the actual bank that couldn’t take international cards despite the ‘Cirrus’ or ‘Plus’ logos.

Back to the bank, the manager tried to help us but there was little they could do so the bank manager pulled $15 USD from his pocket and said it was for some food or whatever we needed. I want people to understand 15 bucks, in Canada that will get you an average burger and fries for one person, here you get a good sized meal with soup and beer, enough to feed two people for 3 bucks. This is a lot of money for someone to pull out of their pocket like that and he had zero responsibility to help us out. I wouldn’t have accepted but Deya did and it is very much appreciated.

Back to the border to try to get through to the next town. The senior officer of the military in charge of the Customs detail asked me about my Veterans plate. I told him I served in the Canadian military, he wanted to know with which group. He was happy to here I was an Infantryman and told the rest of the guys as they were all infantrymen as well. I don’t know if that helped or if it was all Deya but these guys wouldn’t let us go without insurance stating that if something went wrong they don’t want us in any kind of trouble. They put together the funds to get us insurance and a special bit of advice of importance and value. They also gave us a litre of fruit juice and a load of bread for the journey, this was really something because we hadn’t eaten all day and missed breakfast hoping to get an early start at the border.

I have to admit the generosity can seem a little overwhelming and makes for a really good impression. The irony is the ideas we had coming into this place, the angst we first felt about approaching the border and dealing with officials. It all washes away and you’re left with a perspective of people and situations instead of a general paintbrush view of the entire team. Deya’s language skills play a huge role in these developments, something that I doubt I could manage alone.

That evening we made it to Piura, a big city of about 400 000 people. It wasn’t too bad but was certainly noisy and had some sketchy areas. It is painfully clear that most cities over, say 20 000 people, suck and we end up feeling tired and worn out. In the morning we decided to get some 90 octane gas to get rid of the tin cans dangling from the bottom of the bikes. The problem was we had 2 gallons of spare crap on the back. Deya made the executive decision to give the gas to one of the Moto taxis coming to fill up.

It turns out most of the Moto taxis put about 1/2 litre at a time in their vehicles or about 1 buck. So when the first guy came over and we put 7 more litres in his 8 litre tank a bit of excitement occurred, which resulted in a line up. The next guy got 1 litre and we were out but people kept stopping by, a few pedestrians had come by and were poking and prodding at the bikes and starting to dig into the panniers. I had my tools out trying to tighten and oil the chains, it was hot and there were too many people around. They all seemed well intended but I was pissed off and snapped a bit at some kids who were reaching into my panniers and leaning heavily on the bikes. I know better than that and should have done the maintenance somewhere quieter, sorry guys.

After spending the night in the dirty and unremarkable town of Chiclayo (800 000 people) we realized that we were doing something wrong. The lonely planet guide is helpful except that it often leads us to these kinds of tourist facilities when really we are not tourists, we are travellers and we need to discover places off the road or like Nabón.

We got out of there and headed South through the desert “Desierto de Sechura” on the Panamerican. It’s similar to the Canadian prairies in its flat and straight characteristics but different in that it’s all rock and sand. There is also an overabundance of garbage, a stark reminder, as you spend hours driving past it, that as humans we do a lot for ourselves and little for the earth other than consume and waste. Despite this it was fantastic helmet time and I enjoyed the riding (minus the retarded bus drivers). We were lucky enough to find a group of 4 riders passing us, all on adventure touring bikes, these fellows were heading home to Brazil after doing a counter clockwise loop up through Venezuela and down. We chatted briefly and may even visit them if our timing is good. The short visit was very positive and we were happy to bump into other riders, it’s motivational and there is a bond. It made us re-evaluate our tactical plan and our route, which I’ll mention later on.

Finally we made it somewhere awesome, Huanchaco. It’s a beach town popular for surfing and has a population of less than 20k people and a good place to spend Deya’s 30th Birthday! I call it awesome more because of the feeling of ease here. The feeling comes from the atmosphere, the relaxed people and the food and lodging which are easy and affordable. I can even sit quietly and type without worrying that we’re going broke or the BMW logos are being knifed off the bikes and glued to some 3 wheeled Bajaj 125cc. It is this pace which I enjoy in a place more than anything, I only wish we knew how to find it alone in the tent on a mountain somewhere with our little stove and the sound of the kettle whistling. Maybe we’ll figure that one out before we leave Peru? Until then I’ll enjoy this place, my beautiful wife and beautiful life.

August 12, 2011

Ecuador

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“My country is beautiful, please enjoy it.” With a warm handshake and a nice smile the gentleman at the border was both courteous and sincere. Some advice on places to see, an easy border crossing with good weather and we were into Ecuador. The bad traffic of Colombia was now next to gone and the roads are well constructed with passing lanes and pull outs for heavy transport. The level of courtesy on the road was also surprisingly good. We hadn’t been in Ecuador long enough to have a bias, this is simply the observation.
Needless to say, our first day in Ecuador was fantastic. We made it in one go all the way to Otavalo (altitude 2550 metres), sight of the largest open (weekend) market in South America. The city is beautiful and the market, even during the week is substantial and well placed. We stayed in Hostal Maria which had good enough parking and rooms with private baths for $12 dollars a night. The town felt very safe, as did the rest of Ecuador, and we could wander the busy streets after sundown without worry.
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We even found a ‘Pie Shop’ that had fantastic pies, we had blueberry and strawberry and chocolate with ice cream, for only a $1.50 USD/each. The pie would easily run about 5-6 bucks in Canada. The town hosted pretty much everything you need and the food is cheap. We ate a huge meal in the market for $1-2 USD/each, 600 ml of beer is $1 dollar. This makes life better when the primary budget items are less expensive.
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I was initially worried about the rumours of cheap fuel. Cheap is not the word I like to hear when it involves the motorcycles survival. What I was told in Colombia and Ecuador when I remarked about the difference between cheap and quality was that the gas in Ecuador is very high quality. Regular (Extra) and Super (Plus) are the two fuels of choice. Extra runs about $1.50 USD/gallon! With Super at about $2/gallon. That’s right, ‘a gallon’! Here is the tricky part that we figured out, Extra is 82 octane and Super is 92. This explains the price difference, correct me if I’m wrong, if you’re putting in the ‘cheap’ stuff you are going to end up with a lot of pre ignition (explosion versus combustion) unless you are driving around at 4000 metres (less oxygen for the explosion) every day.
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The consequence of all this less expensive food, lodging and fuel means better food! I love to eat and the food here is just fine. In fact we haven’t been craving food from home nearly as much. One of the down sides, sort of, is the altitude. Deya and I think we have been feeling more fatigued from the altitude. I have had headaches and my bones and joints hurt a lot. I’m not sure if this is real of if we are just getting old, maybe both.
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Middle of the World
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We left Kai and Annette’s (riding the Duck) stuff at the hostel in Otavalo and emailed them so they knew to check it out on their way there. They ended up staying there and got their stuff! We headed towards Quito. Quito sits at an elevation of about 2850 metres and is the capital of the country. It is a nice town with all the options of a major city but we felt it lacked security. While we didn’t see anything really sketchy there was a lot of evidence of graffiti and hoodlumism. But what makes this city great is the friendly people and the very passive traffic. For a big city the traffic is very thin and most people demonstrate courtesy. It makes riding and walking around the city very comfortable.
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When we first entered Quito we were looking for TECNIMOTO, the motorcycle shop of Carlos’ dad, which was introduced to us first in Cartagena. We found it without too much trouble. We talked to Carlos’s dad and brother Daniel and told them about our maintenance plans. We agreed to come back the next day to do some work but first had to find a place to stay. As luck would have it a fellow rider on a beautiful Harley, reconditioned LA police bike with working lights and siren was there. We started chatting with Bolivar about the bikes and our plans and he offered to show us around to some options for accommodations. We saw several places but most were out of our price range, the best one was near Bolivar’s house called La Casona de Mario and was $10 USD/each which was over our budget but the best price we could find. The place was really nice and comfortable. We checked out some other places but when you see graffiti, broken beer bottles and crack zombies everywhere the price doesn’t matter.
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The next day we headed back to the shop for maintenance. I have to say this was a tough day for me, the altitude made it difficult to pay attention to the details. With a bit of a headache I missed some really small things that could have been a huge problem. Fortunately Hugo and Daniel were there to keep us from getting totally messed up. Hugo has a mind like a diamond and maybe as many years experience. It was a real pleasure to have him there and kind of reminded me of Tom’s Pan, F*&cking Idiot! We changed the oil and filter on both bikes, changed the break fluid on both bikes, removed Deya’s chain and sprocket which looked like they still had half life and replaced it with the F800GS chain and sprocket set, replaced the rear bearings on her back tire, made a new tool for removing the bearings and it only took us 9 hours.
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Wow, I was knackered but the worst part was the blunders. First I put the bearing spacer in backwards which caused the bearings not to turn. Had to take the tire off and pull the new bearings, duh. Then I put the wheel spacers on the wrong side, this made the break disc bind on the calliper face causing the wheel to seize, brutal! I over tightened the Master Link and cracked the rivet, not a big deal but still dumb. Finally I dropped the oil from my bike, replaced the filter then started it up to get the oil moving, wondering why the sound of metal on metal wasn’t going away for what seemed like an eternity, having failed to put new oil in! There where a couple of smaller non important things but I think you get the idea. These are not things I would normally screw up so I was pretty much annoyed with myself.
Bolivar met up with us again and guided us back to our hostel, good thing because I was mentally done. We had a good sleep and headed out the next day for a walk. Walking is a good way to discover a place and getting lost is even better. We did a lot of both and when we returned in the early afternoon Kai and Annette had arrived, good! We enjoy these two travellers and their company is always rewarding.
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Kai said something one afternoon when we were talking about BMW, their bikes and their service after seeing the ‘30 years GS’ sticker on my bike. He confirmed that BMW has a reputation as the moto to have for world travel, that they can go anywhere. This has been a long tough road not just for the motorcycles but for the people who have built that image and I agreed. Kai mentioned that when he deals with BMW, walks in their super clean showroom with mud on his shoes, messy hair, holes in the jacket and 400,000 kilometres on his old BMW with over 30 years on BMW bikes, having clearly helped build this image and reputation with his own meat, he quickly gets put to the back of the line. I mean who would want to help him when he’s not on a shinny new 1200GSA with more wingding’s and laser fed gadgets than you can shake a stick at? I didn’t know how to respond other than to acknowledge he’s right and my hats of to him and his wife for helping build the dream we find ourselves in today.
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Before we left Quito we took a day trip to Papallacta where there was supposed to be some hot springs East of Quito. It was a cold, windy, wet and totally beautiful ride. The hot springs were not very enticing so we just had a coffee instead, the ride, over 4000 metres high, was worth it. Kai had a special coffee….hahaha..Kai…..(inside joke)..
Once we pulled out of Quito having spent the previous evening with Bolivar and his beautiful family we headed for the Quilotoa Loop. This loop is on the West side of the Panamerican Highway and is well worth the journey. The northern half of the road is simply fantastic, actually it’s perfect and the scenery is beautiful.
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We stopped for a snack and to lounge. As the day progressed we made it about half way around the loop and decided to stop, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, in a little town called Chugchilan. The lodgings seemed expensive at $8.00 USD/each, for being way out in the hills, altitude about 3300 metres. It was really cold, I had the heated grips on full all day and most of my layers. We got the wood stove going and had some beer, this was good and the place would actually be a nice location to spend a few days.
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Crater of Laguna Quilotoa
The next day we headed out towards Baños, the road turned a little uglier but since it was dry it really wasn’t too bad though the wind would become excessive. Deya had a breakdown of the mental sort, the same as we have seen before but I didn’t shit my pants this time. We decided to work on it rather than just keep repeating this pattern. I have to remind any naysayers that while I don’t get to ride at my pace, level or style and I have to deal with Deya’s struggles I am 45000 kilometres and 11 countries into an epic ride WITH my wife on HER own bike. So while I might bitch a bit I am firmly aware of the awesomeness of my situation.
The day ended well with more fantastic riding, a plan and a place to stay in Baños. We will enjoy the last few days with Kai and Annette before moving on. They will stay to pick up some Spanish lessons for a couple of weeks and we are now on a time crunch.


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August 04, 2011

A Mixed Bag

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Medellin is really something, it has a feeling of advancement yet it’s simple in construction. Pablo Escobar, one of the biggest and most famous drug lords ruled this city and the drug trade for some time. The development of infrastructure is impressive yet the level of poverty is evident all over the city. There is a feeling of security that cannot be denied but lurking beneath the veil is the squalid tailings of the drug world and each night the general rule is to be in your home.

They say that the rebel groups recruit in the universities because the students at this age are looking to make a difference, are struggling to find their place and this often means they are ‘against the man’ or at least at odds with their parents; prime territory for spreading your ideologies. This brings up an interesting point though, about the rebels, why do they still exist in such a functional place and where might they be?

First off Colombians number in the range of 46 million with a land mass of about 1/10 the size of Canada. Not so bad you say considering the size of Canada, but the thing is that most people live in a third of the country. This has to do with many things but one of them is security. Ask your Colombian friends who live abroad, they will probably tell you they have property that they can’t get to because of the dangers. The rebels have effectively been swept under the rug or pushed into the other 2/3 of the country but that doesn’t keep them there. Recently we stayed in the beautiful city of Popayan, prior to our arrival the FARC ( Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) detonated a car bomb in the city. This is a terrorist act, same as the extortion, the murder and raiding towns, kidnappings and all the other stuff they are engaged in.

So how do these groups get to the young intelligent university students you might ask? Well, they appeal to their needs to rebel, to take risks and have fun; they sell them drugs. That’s also how they finance themselves, you don’t have to be a genius to figure that one out, the same thing goes on in Afghanistan. Pot and opium in one country, pot and cocaine in another, you pick. You can guess what kind of revolutionary business is going on here I don’t think I need to spell it out. Oh ya, shame on the rest of us whose demand creates the supply.

Getting past all that and feeling pretty safe means that we had a good time in Medellin. We got to spend time with our biker buddy Diego and hung out with Kai and Annette who we met in Cartagena. We traded some language lessons with Kai and Annette so now we know how to get around Germany! Können sie mir helfen? We toured the city by foot, metro and Metro cable (gondola), visited some of the Library parks (very impressive) and a beautiful and massive aquarium where you can see species of the Amazon including huge piranhas and killer frogs.

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We stayed at the Hostal Medellin, run by Claudia, this place was perfect for us. Though hostel life is a bit noisy and smelly at times the folks here were entertaining and there was no shortage of fun conversation in almost any language. The hostel itself has hosted many motorbikes over the years with some notoriety. We cooked often and shared some of the feasts and made a few new friends. We were waiting for a few different things in Medellin, primarily a new touch screen for the GPS which never arrived. One of the highlights was going to town to get extra bearings for the wheels, we found some wicked prices on the parts and Kai (German mechanics teacher) showed me how to remove and install the new ones. I was totally impressed!

We were able to visit two companies in the city, both involved motorcycles and both interviews were awesome. This also put us in touch with the infamous Carlos Mesa, previously of Moto Angel. This guy is known as the go to guy for motorcycle repairs in Colombia. Though Carlos doesn’t work there anymore he can still be found and we were lucky enough to find him.

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After 17 days touring around Medellin and surrounding cities, like Santa Fe, we departed. Kai and Annette were leaving the same morning about an hour before us and we said our goodbyes, secretly expecting to catch up to them for another short ride. As luck would have it, we were about to leave when our commonwealth brother Leslie pointed out that there was a lot of oil on Deya’s front forks. I took a look and sure enough her right front fork was shot. That meant two more nights at the Hostal Medellin, not a heart breaker.

The BMW shop in Medellin is called Ruta 40 and is easily the best shop we’ve been to since our departure. We got the BMW travellers treatment; they started immediately and estimated 1.5 hours. We didn’t even get to leave the shop, instead they bought us lunch (Bandeja Paisa) and we got to see the work shop, ask questions and inspect the damage to the fork seal. All in, this was a great experience and made us remember why we bought BMWs. Good work to the entire staff and management of Ruta 40 in Medellin.

Out of the shop the same day the only deficiency was now in my mind, I kept looking at my own shocks with scepticism. However, this would pass with some reassurance from Carlos. Finally, maps and stickers acquired, things fixed and good weather we were able to leave.

Our plan would take us to Salento where we intended to stay but the route was plugged with smoking trucks and twisty roads. This makes for a slow choking go of it and the day dragged on. As we tore through the mountains the scenery was spectacular and we stopped randomly at a roadside stand for a coffee. The family that ran the stand was awesome and chatted enthusiastically with us. Eventually the son of the folks convinced everybody that we should stay the night. This became a highlight for us, the family was outstanding and really typified what Colombians are like. They set the bar pretty high in terms of friendliness, sharing and good conversation. It would have been easy to stay days longer but we needed to go, wanted to go. We thought that we would stop by again on the route back, I hope we can.

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At Salento we stayed in the hostel La Floresta, we had heard that our buddies on the Duck had come by so we got our stuff unloaded and started to ask around town for the Germans. Well, there are a lot of Germans around but none with ‘The Duck’. We checked out a natural reserve, Valle Cocora, in the mountains and cruised the town a bit. Salento has a nice pace and is the start of the Coffee Region. This region is beautiful and would be the equivalent to a wine region anywhere else with beautiful plantations and homes.

The next stop was the dirtier town of Tulua, the rooms are cheap enough and we came and went. We would have stayed in the Coffee National Park but once you have seen one plantation it becomes a matter of how much money you want to spend. We are not cheap but we like to eat so we decide to skip the tourist joint and continue South towards our final Colombian destination, Popayan.

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Popayan, the city I mentioned earlier with the car bomb is quite beautiful. It’s also a little expensive but has a great feel and easy to walk around. Our time here would be short, again our goal was to get into Ecuador. The route to the border was simple although the road was on and off as far a quality goes. At the end of the day it is hard for me to talk about our ride because for all the good things that we find in Colombia, I am completely exhausted by the retarded drivers. I can only hope it’s not so sever in Ecuador. I would like to rant again about the drivers but it is pointless, I’m not bitter just disappointed that I can’t deliver a spectacular report on traveling Colombia by bike.

P7310035The border was a piece of cake, no helpers because they get hammered by the law but a lot of money changers smoking pot. The Colombian border at Puente Internacional de Rumichaca was organized and professional even though there seemed to be a bit of chaos, it felt safe enough. Across into Ecuador, as we would soon find out, things are different.