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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Updates From Ecuador | Quito, Mompiche, & Canoa...

Greetings from Ecuador!  10th country on the adventure thus far...

First off, a HUGE thanks to Chris I. from Omaha.  I've received several donations through PayPal recently, but this one, from someone I don't know, was quite large and very generous.  Chris, I hope my journey has inspired you to take off and see the world on the back of a bike someday for yourself.  Thanks again!  The donation will keep me going for a little bit longer, which means the world to me. :) 

...Last night I woke around 2am and couldn't go back to sleep.  I noticed a bright unread message notification, so decided to roll over and check e-mail.  I found a concerned message from a blog reader Veronica.  She has been following along, but hadn't heard anything for a couple of weeks and was concerned.  Interestingly, I've received more than a few of these, which for me is pretty neat.  Not the worry of course, but that people (complete strangers for the most part) are actually interested and following along, and of course concerned enough to reach out to check-in when things go dark for a bit.  When I reached Canoa and started 'work' I put up an 'out of the office' message on ADVRider to let people know I'd be away for a bit, but forgot to do the same on the blog, sorry about that.  Anyway, I'm fine and have decided to post a bit this morning to get everyone up to speed... 

The border crossing from Colombia to Ecuador was painless and relaxed.  Aside from an hour'ish delay due to some paperwork issues (stemmed from arriving on the boat and things being filed incorrectly apparently).  The border itself was chill on both sides, but I'm also surprised at how much more experienced one gets at dealing with travel stress after being at it for awhile.  A friend of mine Dyann back in Denver is currently planning a similar moto trip and was asking me about border crossings yesterday.  I was looking back on the first few in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, etc, and thinking/comparing it with this latest experience.  In the beginning I was fumbling with gear, sweating bullets, accepting help and overpaying 'handlers', paying for insurance and sprays when they weren't needed, and missing out on them when they were.  Now it's a totally different story, I'm waving away helpers in fluent Spanish like the pesky insects they are, laying down and napping when there is a delay, going with the flow, and all the gear has its perfect place.  Turns out, it all seems to work out in the end regardless of the stress level you choose to live in...  an interesting realization for me, and probably many, many Americans.

Since I have quite a bit to catch up on, I'll leave the Quito portion brief.  The riding all through Ecuador between cities is fantastic.  The mountains gorgeous with roads carving through like twisty veins of asphalt lifeblood.  There is also a huge amount of back road and dirt riding if you choose to partake.  If so, I would recommend hooking up with the boys at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental.  They can show you all the best routes that Ecuador has to offer.  I didn't stray too far off the beaten path and ended up staying at Casa Helbling in the city, which is two blocks from Freedom.  Plenty of adequate secure parking, beautiful private rooms (starting at $20USD), and a choice location in Mariscal Sucre made this a good choice for a few days.  Interestingly, the longer I'm on this trip, I'm really starting to dislike being in large cities.  When I was younger, and even at the beginning of this adventure, I craved the action and nightlife only a larger city can provide.  Now, after a few days of being in a city, I yearn to throw a leg over the bike and get the hell out, which usually takes at least an hour (what is it about LatAm cities and trying to exit?!?!).  

Quito itself is nice, and there are plenty of sights and activities to explore.  Interestingly, it was one of the more dangerous places (from a petty theft/robbery/assault perspective) that I've been in quite sometime.  Then again, I had no issue, but kept hearing people tell me not to go here, not to walk here, not to ride this bus, etc.  As referenced above, Mariscal Sucre (Plaza Fuch specifically) is the area to be if you want to get hammered, see a blend of incredibly overpriced/incredibly cheap food options, sing karaoke, dance, hook up with a gringo and/or a local, or generally cause a raucous throughout the night.  The old town, a short taxi ride from Mariscal, houses the majority of Quito's historic/famous architecture and sights, and also provides a path to explore El Panecillo, which is an ever-present hill to the south topped by the overpowering statue of La Virgen de Quito.  You can grab a map of the old town and check off the sights one by one (i.e. Cathedral, etc), or you can throw it away, grab a cup of coffee, and get lost for hours strolling around, which is what I recommend.  It really is a beautiful old city with a fair amount of charm.  However, I'm not sure I would want to spend more than a few days there (maybe that's just my recently discovered distaste of larger cities).  

After three nights/days exploring Quito, I pointed the front wheel of the F8 southwest.  I was drawn to get out of the city and back to the coast.  I ended up in the incredibly sleepy fishing/surfing village of Mompiche.  I rolled up to Hotel Gabeal after a long, but beautiful day of riding through the mountains out of Quito and then blasting out down through the coastal roads.  Ok, now here is where you might call me hypocritical (probably not the first time!), but Mompiche was too sleepy.  Yeah yeah, I know, I just called Quito too busy...  I'm not sure if I was there during some sort of 'off week', but there was literally nobody around and nothing going on.  Don't get me wrong, it was nice for a day or so, but I literally explored the whole town, and essentially knew everyone after half a day.  There are a couple of good restaurants in town, and a few places to grab a drink, but other than that, not much going on.  If you inquire with the locals however, there are several options for day trips around Mompiche.  For example, one afternoon I took a 1hr hike over to Playa Negra, which is a very secluded beach with the blackest, silkiest, mud-like, unique sand that I've ever seen (and pasted all over myself). There are also severel small caves and waterfalls surrounding the beach to explore.  It's definitely a very nice way to spend an exploratory day.  

Along my journey I have been hearing a lot about a website called WorkAway.  It's a site set up to promote fair exchange between budget travelers, language learners, and/or culture seekers, in an effort to match them with families, individuals, and/or organizations who are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities.  In summary, a traveler can provide a few hours of honest help per day in exchange for food and accommodation and an opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community, with friendly hosts in varying situations and surroundings.  The 'aims' are to...  
  • Promote cultural understanding between different peoples and lands
  • Enable people traveling on a budget to fully appreciate living in a foreign environment
  • Promote cultural exchange, and give a chance for volunteers to contribute to a cause
  • Enable language learners to experience different countries and language immersion
  • Give opportunity to projects to receive skilled support and real immediate impact
After researching the site a bit, I figured worst case it would be an interesting way to receive room/board for a few hours of work per day.  Interestingly, after doing a search I found several properties/projects in Canoa, which was where I was targeting next.  There was one that stood out specifically.  Canoa Beach Hotel, which is a beautiful high-end (high-end for Canoa), 21 room hotel nestled directly on the beach just south of town.  On the 11th I sent them a message outlining my marketing/sales/management background, and told them about my current journey.  On the 12th I received a response saying that Greg, the owner/manager, was very interested in having me help out, but I would need to be there on the 14th.  So, I didn't hesitate, packed the bike, and headed south for Canoa.  

I arrived in Canoa on the 13th, and ended up camping on a beach just south of the hotel.  The next morning I arrived and was immediately greeted, warmly welcomed, and shown to my own private apartment, where I've been living since.  I've since fallen in love with this place (both Canoa Beach Hotel and the surrounding area).  Canoa is an amazingly beautiful place, with a very special feeling/vibe.  The surf is good year round, and it's not too busy.  The town has a fair amount of bars, restaurants, hostels, and plenty of nightlife to keep busy.  A five minute walk south of town provides instant refuge from the crowds, and a five minute walk north provides isolated beaches, cliffs, and caves to explore (along with additional surf breaks all up/down the coast).  In the 10+ days that I've been here, I already feel like I've made several friends and contacts for life.  I've been helping out in the bar here at the hotel, and also assisting with marketing/business/sales ideas for the property and their web presence.  I've also been piecing together a report that I'll present to the owner upon my departure, which can hopefully outline some opportunities that I see to drive additional business, and close up some existing gaps/problem areas.  In return, I've been given a beautiful home to live in, and am surrounded by paradise, great people, and VERY good food.  

Something I'm also very excited about is that Nina is coming to visit for a week beginning the 26th.  She and her friend Helena will stay with me in the apartment, which will give us an opportunity to hang out, get to know each other further, and explore an amazing area together.  She and I have continued to grow closer during my travels.  We've now hung out for quite some time in paradise on the boat from Panama to Cartagena, in Cartagena for a week, lived together within the bustle of Bogota for a couple of weeks, and will now spend another week together in Ecuador.  I guess this will be our final 'trial week' together in person to see how serious we are about each other, and if we want to pursue things further upon the completion of my trip.  This is a very public forum, so I'm hesitant to discuss, but from where I stand now, my initial answer to that question would be 'yes'.  We'll see how the next weeks unfold.  I never thought I'd meet someone on this trip that means so much to me, especially after one of the main drivers being a split with another.  Long story short, Nina is incredible...  one of a kind, beautiful, kind, caring, gentle, and fun.  And, she likes me, for me... a lot, which is obviously quite important!  Anyway, as with everything else, I'm gonna go with the flow to see where things land.

As for other important things in life, like a future career, I'm still a bit 'lost'.  I leave here on the 2nd to head south to meet my buddy Sam for some riding through Peru.  The initial plan was to continue the journey after that through Bolivia, Chile, then Argentina.  However, there has already been some discussion about a permanent position for me here at the hotel...  something I've been seriously considering.  In addition, a global motorcycle tour company, whose name I'll keep reserved for now, has reached out to gauge interest in me possibly becoming a lead rider/tour guide for one of their long term LatAm tours.  That would be a real dream come true for me.  Imagine, doing something you absolutely LOVE to do and getting paid for it!  Problem is, while both of those are fantastic opportunities, the pay really would be just enough to live/sustain (*edit* - to be fair, you certainly can't compare take home pay on an even country/country basis - I know that).  On the flip, the alternative is to move 'home', grab a gig doing what I was doing before, make a $hit load of money, get caught up in the American consumerist lifestyle, and be miserable.  Sounds like a no-brainer, but at some point I want to settle, have a family, and create a life, which certainly requires a bit of stability from a financial perspective.  I feel like I've made real progress, but it is REALLY difficult to pull away from the concept that money is what equals happiness and/or security in life.  So...  all 'that' will require several more long solo walks on the beach, books like Everything That Remains (again, highly recommend that one), and isolated rides on the motorcycle to think and figure out.  

Speaking of great food here at CBH (Canoa Beach Hotel) and long walks on the beach, I'm getting fat and out of shape.  Well not really, but I'm certainly not as fit as I was when I left.  So, I made a commitment to get back into an exercise routine.  My new daily routine is a 3 mile run on the beach, followed by 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, then a short swim in the ocean.  I think it's time to flip the laptop closed and get out there...  Otherwise Nina may not be quite as 'interested' when she arrives.  :)  

Chat with everyone soon...  

~ D

PS...  Here is my agenda for the next few weeks for those wondering:
  • May 2nd:  Leave for Cuenca where I'll stay for two nights w/ a friend who I met here
  • May 4th:  Head for Huaquillas at the Ecuador/Peru border
  • May 5th:  Cross border and ride northern coast south
  • May 7th:  Head inland to Cajamarca
  • May 8th:  Huamachuco
  • May 10th:  Canyon del Pato to Caraz
  • May 11th:  Huaraz
  • May 12th:  Huanuco, via La Union, where I'll be meeting my buddy Sam

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Colombian Crashes, Death Defying Roads, and Flash Floods!!!

Sunday, 6 April...  

After a couple of nice evenings in Popayán, I decided to leave as planned for Mocoa two days ago. I slept longer than expected, which was nice, but gave me a bit of a late start. Due to the long distance and terrain that I expected to cover, I had wanted to leave early. I thought I'd have a nice, brisk ride from Popa down to Pasto. From there, I expected it to be smooth tarmac all the way to San Francisco (just east of Sibundoy), which it was, for the most part. From San Fran, I thought there were two routes to Mocoa. I was very wrong about that part, which I'll discuss in a bit. Before I get too far, let me recap what was to be my first (and hopefully last) high speed, and very dangerous crash of the trip... 

Everything was running smoothly after leaving Popa. Per usual, it took a bit of time to navigate my way out of the city, but after hopping on the main road south I was making good time. An hour or so into the ride, the road had several construction stops (obra en la via). These have become commonplace during my travels in Colombia, and they are a huge f'ing pain in the arse. It's basically where there is one lane to pass, so they post workers on either side to stop traffic in turns. I've waited anywhere from <1min - 2hrs at these. Unfortunately, due to the stops I was even farther behind schedule for the day.  

I was about an hour outside of Popa and just setting off after a construction stop. I kicked the bike into gear, and waved to the construction worker. As I was getting back up to speed through the turns I came up behind a six wheel truck. The road was very twisty and tight, so I couldn't get around him as quickly as I'd wanted. As we were approaching a sweeping left, I was looking ahead to see if I could get around. Before I knew it, the truck hit a bump and a huge jug of black aceite (oil) flew out of the back and exploded directly in front of me. It was like I had been Spyhunter'ed by the bastard! Even though the racing background kicked in and everything slowed to a crawl, there was little time to react. I knew the only thing to do was to look farther through the turn, hold my line, keep the throttle open, and hope for the best. Unfortunately, the best didn't happen. As soon as my front wheel hit the oil, it washed and then gradually tucked. It was a typical low side, and I was gently on the ground and sliding before I knew it.  

It's funny, crashing is an art... a skill that one can get better at. I remember thinking as the front was pushing, "hmmm, I rarely crash on the left side, this should be interesting" (apparently I'm the Zoolander of crashing). Then as I hit the ground, I looked ahead and pointed the then sliding bike towards the apex of the turn before throwing it up the road. I pulled my arms in, allowed the rest of my body to go limp, and gracefully slid like a baseball player into second base (if second base was a metal guardrail about 75ft away!). As I came to a stop, I patted the ground to make sure I was in fact stopped, something you learn to do after race crashes. I wiggled fingers and toes, patted my body down, and quickly jumped up to survey the damage.  

Now this is where it gets quite funny. As I was getting up and pulling the helmet off, I knew I had gotten away very, very lucky, so found myself laughing. There was a small tienda just on the outside of the turn, and about 15 people came running up. As they approached, I saw their expressions gradually go from total panic, to less concerned as I was standing at that point, to total confusion because I was laughing and giving them a thumbs up. One older woman almost had a heart attack and was screaming "ay Dios mio!" over and over. After realizing that I was fine, we all shifted our attention to her, and had to sit her down and feed her water until she calmed down. Apparently when there is a moto crash in Colombia, the results, and reaction from the rider is much different usually (due to a lack of proper safety equipment I'm assuming).  

After getting the bike up and out of the way, I checked over it and all of my gear for damage. The bars were bent slightly, but a quick jerk to the right fixed that issue. My left (Wolfman Expedition) pannier/bag was a bit scuffed and now has a small hole in the bottom, which I'm sure a bit of stitching and/or duct tape will fix. My Held gloves 'held' up quite well after a 45mph slide, but both have very minor breaks in the stitching (not a big enough deal to worry about - for now). The jacket did just fine, but my Klim pants have some rash and three small holes around the left hip area, which again is something that can be stitched up quite easily. All in all, I got very, very, incredibly lucky. First off, it was a left hand turn, which didn't put me sliding directly into oncoming traffic. Second, there was enough room for the slide to run its course, without danger of obstacles and/or cliffs, which there were plenty of just before and after this particular left.  

After helping to clean up the oil spill, and chatting with everyone for a bit, I slid the helmet back on and headed on my way. At this point I was well behind schedule and knew that I would be hard pressed to make Mocoa. I decided I would stop in Pasto for the night, then make my way onward the next morning, which I did (note, there is nothing in Pasto worth stopping for unless you need a place to rest your head for a night - IMO). Yesterday morning I woke up refreshed and excited for the ride, which was surprising due to the mishap the day prior. Since I had the whole day to ride to Mocoa, I decided that I would take the rough route to the south, as opposed to what I thought would be the smooth hwy route to the north. Turns out, Google Maps is a bit overzealous and has mapped a road that doesn't exist yet. SR10 is a construction project that is currently underway, but won't be complete and/or rideable for another year or so.  

The 'rough' route to the south after San Francisco is just that... ROUGH! However, the ride is amazing and proves that it really is much more about the journey itself than the destination. Known as the Devil's Trampoline (aka adios mi vida - goodbye my life), the narrow dirt road is perched precariously on the side of steep mountainsides for the most part. The majority of the pass is one lane (at best), which makes it difficult to pass, and downright scary when truckers come barreling towards you. Add in a torrential downpour, and you have the makings of my thrilling six hour ride to Mocoa! The first half was fairly uneventful, stunning vistas aside, as I made my way to the radio towers at the top. The second half was a full on, balls out thrill ride all the way down to Mocoa. The rain started to dump, which bloated the rivers and waterfalls, and made the road all but impassable. There was water falling, shooting, and spraying on me from all directions. I think the videos here and here will do a better job of showing the road/ride than I ever could, so I'll leave it at that. However, I will say that the road is a must for any ADVrider. Disregard any comments about security issues in the area. There is heavy police and national military presence the entire route, and Mocoa is filled with smiling and friendly faces.  

Upon arriving in Mocoa, I made my way to Hostel Casa del Rio, where I decided to camp for a couple of nights (7k COP - $3.50 USD). The hostel is nice, clean, and filled with great people. There is a beautiful garden out back with adequate safe parking for the bike, along with a lovely stream running through. Out front Rio Mocoa, a beautiful and popular swimming spot for locals, flows loudly as it winds its way through rock beds. There are a handful of waterfalls nearby, which is a big draw. However, it turns out the main draw for tourists coming to Mocoa is to sample the local medicine called Ayahuasca. Here is the Wikipedia definition... 

"Ayahuasca, is a psychedelic brew of various plant infusions prepared with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine.  It is either mixed with the leaves of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) containing species of shrubs from the genus Psychotria or with the leaves of the Justicia pectoralis plant which does not contain DMT.  The brew, first described academically in the early 50's by a Harvard ethnobotanist, who found it employed for divinatory and healing purposes by the native peoples of Amazonian Peru, is known by a number of different names."  

Long story short, for $40k COP you can have a shaman prepare some medicine for you, and after throwing up your guts into a beautiful 'vomcano', trip your balls off for around 6 - 8 hours... Ayahuasca is used largely as a religious sacrament, but has caught on amongst the backpacking crowd over the years. The psychedelic effects include visual and auditory stimulation, the mixing of sensory modalities, and psychological introspection that may lead to great elation, fear, or illumination. Known as 'the purge', the intense vomiting (and occasional diarrhea) before 'the trip' can clear the body of worms and other tropical parasites. Bonus! I won't say whether I did or didn't partake, as this is a family blog.

Tomorrow I plan to wake up very early to make the trip back up and out of Mocoa, via the Devil's Trampoline. I'm equal parts happy/excited, and pissed that I get to (have to) do the road again. I'll make my way back to Pasto, and then south to Ipiales for a night before crossing into Ecuador. Ever since seeing a picture as a child in an encyclopedia, I've always wanted to see Santuario de las Lajas in person, so it will be a nice point in the journey. I've also heard you can sleep in the monastery above the church, so that's where I'll try to sleep for the night. The internet is spotty here in Mocoa, so this might not make it's way online until Ipiales. Then again, I can't imagine that a monastery has the quickest interwebs connection, so it might even be a few days into Ecuador.  

Regardless, that's it for now. Hope everyone is well back home...  

Much love, 

~ D

PS... While in Mocoa, I ran into a nice couple named Yves and Francois riding an old Honda XR. Apparently, this is Yves sixth trip. He leaves the bike in cities/countries along the way, and then continues the trip when he can get back out of France for several months. You can check his/their website here. They are great, and I've invited them to Colorado for some riding if I end up back there. In return, they've graciously invited me into their beautiful mountain home if/when I find my way to France. I love the people you meet on motorbikes along the way! One of my favorite parts of the adventure thus far...  

Monday, 7 April 

So… I definitely find it necessary to add to this post after the last 24 hours. After writing last night, I nestled into the tent for an early night. Not sure why, I had a lazy day that consisted of some light bike maintenance, lunch in an open air grill nestled on the bank of Rio Mocoa, and falling asleep while reading in a hammock. It rained off and on all day, but as I was zipping up around 9pm it really started to pour. I was happy about it as I enjoy sleeping to the sounds of rain. However, this was rain that I’m not used to. It was coming down in sheets, and the drops were massive and heavy. It was relentless with no signs of letting up. The sound was amazing and I finally dozed off sometime just past 10pm.  

Boom! Around midnight I woke up to what I thought was a freight train directly outside the tent. It startled me and I was really confused. It was still raining incredibly hard and it only took a minute for me to put it together. That ’tranquil stream’ mentioned in the post above, well the rain had caused a flash flood and it had turned into a full blown raging river. Keep in mind, I had set up about 10ft from the edge. Not only that, but Rio Mocoa, which sits just on the other side of the property, was roaring in the distance. In just my underwear, I grabbed my headlamp and some flip flops, and unzipped the tent. I was absolutely terrified by what I saw and heard. The stream, which normally flows about 1 - 2ft deep, was only a few inches from breaching the lip of the small canyon that it runs through, which I’d guesstimate at 12 - 15ft deep!  

I walked over to a covered area about 20 feet away, which also sits at the edge, and was in shock. I don’t know if shock is even the right word. The sound was deafening and one of the scariest things I’ve ever heard. Couple that with the pouring rain and pitch black, and it’s safe to say I was petrified. I walked closer still, and became even more concerned. Did I mention the sound? I can’t describe it, but it was probably the meanest, darkest, most alarming thing I’ve heard. Even still, I could hear Rio Mocoa behind me, which sounded like the ocean during a storm. Seriously, it was wild. I was too scared to even walk over to see Mocoa. Normally it runs approx 3 - 7ft deep, and 20 - 30ft in width. By the sound of it, I’d say it had doubled in size (at least).  

I stood there for what seemed like an hour, not sure what to do. I started to think to myself, “surely this happens frequently here”, and “certainly they wouldn’t tell me to camp here if it was dangerous”. Well, my thoughts were wrong, and fears confirmed when people came walking out to greet me (still wearing only underwear, flip flops, and a headlamp). They took one look at the river and became very alarmed. In a panic, they told me that I "must move all of my stuff to higher ground". I didn’t waste any time. I went back to the tent, threw some shorts on, and started the process of uncovering and moving the motorcycle, and transporting my belongings and the tent. After I moved everything I was a whopping 20ft from the edge of the river, as opposed to 10ft. 

After battening down the hatches on the moto and tent both, I zipped myself inside. The rain had lessened slightly, but the sound of the river(s) continued to scare the living $hit out of me! Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep. I was up and out of the tent pretty much every 20mins checking the water level, which seemed to start decreasing around 2:30AM. This morning the alarm blasted off at 5:45AM and I flipped it off. Because of my terrifying and wet night, I was in no mood to get up and at em’. However, I needed to ride that damn Devil’s Trampoline route yet again to make my way back to Pasto, and then south to Ipiales. A route I guesstimated would take around seven hours. After hitting snooze three or four times I finally pulled myself from the (non) comforts of my soggy sleeping bag. After two cups of coffee, I started to think about the night before. I realized that it is the first time that I’ve been really, truly scared during the trip. I felt incredibly helpless and vulnerable, and sensed the real strength of nature. Call me a pansy, but it really shook me.  

After surveying the damage from the night before from both rivers (there was a lot), and a third cup of coffee, I was off and on my way. I rode quickly out of Mocoa and unfortunately promised myself to never return. If so, I’ll certainly sleep well enough away from any of the numerous rivers. After riding the Devil’s Trampoline a couple days prior in a rainstorm, I was concerned that the waterfalls, and river crossings would be even more bloated and deep due to the rain. To my surprise, the road was actually much better today. The sun was out for the most part, which gave me an opportunity to light up the back wheel and make good time up the first half of the ride. The second half of the route was an entirely different story. There were three major landslides from the rains last night, all of which blocked the entire road. Luckily, the crews are accustomed to this and were up at the ass crack of dawn with their tractors and plows to clear a path. I was stopped at all three however. The first for approx 15mins, the second for an hour, and the third for around 45mins. Because of that, I was behind schedule. Imagine that… it seems being behind schedule has started to be a theme of my trip unfortunately. 

Don’t get me wrong, even with all that drama (rain, landslides, etc), the Devil’s Trampoline is still one of the most incredible routes I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding. The views are stunning, the bottomless drops keep the adrenaline pumping, and the dirt is varied and fun. Not to mention the countless crisp and refreshing water crossings! After ripping it up for a second time, I finally made it to Pasto at 3:20pm. I stopped for a brief pit stop (think Formula 1 fast) to take a leak, hydrate, and to throw on some driving indie rock to keep me going all the way to Ipiales. Turns out I didn’t need much to stay awake as the scenery gets more and more stunning the closer you get. The Andes start to uncover their size, and provide amazing views in all directions. Before I knew it, I was in Ipiales. Then just as quick, I stopped the bike and was staring at something I’ve wanted to see in person ever since randomly opening an encyclopedia to a photo of it at a young age, Santuario de las Lajas.  

Without thinking, I rode straight through a gate and all the way down to the church itself (not sure if I was supposed to do that, as I was the ONLY vehicle). I let out a huge sigh of relief as all the stress from the past few days escaped and fell into the valley below. After staring in awe at the church for some time, I made my way to the monastery just up the hill to see if I could sleep there. Sure enough, a nice priest invited me in, allowed me to park the bike in one of the conference rooms, showed me to a small/basic private room w/ bath ($7 USD), and then offered me some hot tea. And that’s where I’m writing this update from.  

Tomorrow I plan to wake up relatively early for the border crossing into Ecuador and then make my way to either Ibarra or Quito (probably Ibarra). I’m getting much more comfortable without having a plan. In my old life, I had to plan every single detail of every single thing. Even when I started on this trip, I refused to leave a city without having a hostel, hotel, or CouchSurf request booked. Then I would make sure I had the exact address mapped perfectly in my GPS, so I didn’t need to worry at all… about anything. Lately I’ve started to enjoy the opposite. I’m getting a kick out of not having to be anywhere at any given time. I’m starting to enjoy the thrill of having to seek out shelter. And I’m proud of myself for being more calm and able to go with the flow.  

So that's that for now... Sorry for the longwinded post this round, but I felt like I had a lot to write about. Hope to chat with some of you soon, 

~ D

Devil's Trampoline Part I from David Mobley on Vimeo.
The Devil's Trampoline - Part II from David Mobley on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Travel / Adventure Update From Popayán...

I've gotten a lot of questions lately about how the trip is going.  So, I figured I'd put together a Q&A recap/update below...  If there are other questions shoot me a note and I'm happy to answer.  

Also, I get a lot of budget questions, but I haven't prepared that info quite yet.  I'll work on piecing that together soon. 

Here is a map showing the journey thus far...  

Date:  Thursday, 3 April 2014

Days on road:  137
Miles traveled:  ~ 10,201

Countries:  9
  • United States
  • Mexico
  • Guatemala
  • El Salvador
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Costa Rica
  • Panama
  • Colombia

Highs:  Waaaay too many to list
Lows:  Leaving behind new friends along the way & occasional loneliness
Current mood:  Happy, excited, adventurous, changed, and thirsty for more!!!  

Best food:  Molé infused street chicken tamales in Oaxaca, Mexico
Worst food:  Crickets/chapulinas & chicken foot soup in Huila, Colombia

Security concerns:
  • Needing to pull my knife on a VERY drunk guy in a very small town in southern Mexico
  • Being run off the road by a truck and elbowing/breaking his mirror in Bogota, Colombia
  • Dropping the bike into a parked car in Antigua, Guatemala
  • Brushing against numerous cars/trucks in city traffic throughout Central America
*** Note, everything/everyone else has been warm, inviting, and full of smiles...  

Number of crashes/offs/mishaps:  6

Number of new friends:  Waaaay too many to count
Number of new 'female friends':  Ummm...  I'll leave that alone

Number of waves surfed:  Exactly 5
Favorite beach:  Costeño Beach (just east of Tayrona on Colombian Caribbean coast)

Most expensive country:  Costly Rica, and fuel in Colombia is surprisingly expensive
Cheapest country:  Guatemala and El Salvador thus far

Number of hammocks slept in:  6
Number of nights tent camping:  12
Hostel / Couchsurfing / Hotel split:  75% / 5% / 20%

Cervezas, bottles of ron & Aguardiente consumed:  Ashamed to say way too many!!!
Favorite drink:  Club Colombia 
Least favorite drink:  Guaro!!!  Only because I love it...  until the next day.  :(  
Favorite non-alcoholic drink:  Blend of fresh fresa, maracuya, and mandarin juice
Least favorite non-alcoholic drink:  Agua de panela

A sampling of recent memorable songs that have kept me smiling on the bike:
  • Bill Withers - Lovely Day
  • Sigur Ros - Hoppipola
  • Radiohead - Separator 
  • Jose Gonzalez - Stay Alive
  • Little Dragon - Crystalfilm / Scribbled Paper
  • BadBadNotGood - Can't Leave the Night
  • Alt J - Tesselate 
  • Spoon - Underdog
  • Portugal. The Man - The Sun
  • The Stones - Wild Horses / Gimme Shelter
  • Jungle - Drops
  • Tom Odell - Another Love (Zwette Edit)
  • The War On Drugs - Red Eyes
  • St. Lucia - Wait For Love
  • Ray Charles - What I'd Say
  • Hot Chip - Look At Where We Are
  • Julian Casablancas - I'll Try Anything Once
  • Jimi Hendrix - Little Wing
  • Sebastien Tellier - Le Long De La Riviere Tendre
  • Van Morrison - Into the Mystic
  • The Heavy - Short Change Hero
  • The Hives - Tick Tick Boom
  • Underworld - To Heal
  • Metric - Gold Guns Girls
  • Keane - Spiralling
  • Finley Quaye - Even After All
  • Kings of Convenience - 24/25
  • Cinematic Orchestra - To Build a Home
  • Daft Punk - Something About Us
  • Tycho - Hours / Dive
  • Chairlift - Sidewalk Safari
  • Crystal Fighters - Champion Sound / Xtatic Truth
  • LCD Soundsystem - Home 
  • Zero 7 - On My Own
  • Nils Frahm - Journey For a Traveller 
  • Gustavo Santaolalla - Apertura / Sendero / La Partida
Favorite town/puebla:  Barichara (Colombia - near San Gil)
Favorite big city:  None.  I've grown to dislike large cities, which is surprising for me
Favorite road:  Venao/Las Tablas in Panama or San Agustin/Popayán in Colombia

Run-ins w/ police:  Pulled over four times, stopped at road blocks approx five
Bribes paid:  Zero!  

Hottest temp:  105F somewhere in southern Central America
Coldest temp:  30F in northern Mexico - San Luis Potosi state 

The pics above and below are from the past few days.  San Agustin was nice, and the archeological park there definitely did not disappoint. 

The road from San Agustin to Popayán was rough, intense, but amazing.  I left around 8am and didn't arrive until around 4pm.  That's a long time for just under 100 miles.  However, when 75% is rough and rocky dirt w/ several landslides and delays, I guess it's understandable.  I'd highly recommend this route if anyone is doing a similar trip.  There are stretches that go on for miles and miles without another soul to be seen.  Several times I parked the bike, took off my helmet and just sat there listening to the rotation between, and combination of absolute silence, breeze, and birds chirping.  

It is beautiful here, just like everyone says.  Known as the 'white city' because of its beautiful colonial buildings and houses, Popayán was founded in 1537.  It has played a major role in Colombia's history dating back to the early days of the Spanish conquest and into the twentieth century.  

I'm staying at Hostel Caldas, which I found on Hostel World.  It is easy to search and filter for places with parking.  This popped up as the only one and I'm happy with it.  They allowed me to roll the bike right inside the entrance hall.  The dorms and bathrooms are clean, and they have basic services like lockers, coffee, etc.  It is located directly next to the city center, so you'd be hard pressed to find a better location. 

Early in the evening yesterday I went out and explored the city streets, sights, sounds, local restaurants, and everything in between.  Popa is very easy to navigate and you can get from one end to the other in under 20 minutes walking.  When the sun settled I randomly stumbled into a smoky dive bar called El Sotareño.  I quickly started chatting with the owner, and bartender.  The owner is a short, nice man who opened the lively mainstay 53 years ago.  Apparently the moody bartender has been there for the entire time as well.  The decor is very old school inside.  The minute you walk through the saloon style swinging doors, it feels like you've stepped back in time.  The two guys stand behind the bar and take turns throwing on scratchy old salsa and bolero vinyl records.  They argue continuously about which songs and artists are better than others.  It really is a unique and special place. We ended up talking and laughing for hours.  I showed them pictures from the trip and they were fascinated.  The owner brought out a bottle of Colombian ron, and kept feeding it to me, along with beer chasers.  I ended up getting pretty sauced with these two and am really glad I happened upon the place.  If you are a music/culture/dive bar fan, this place is a must. 

Tomorrow I'll wake up early and head out.  I've decided to ride south to Pasto and then northeast to Mocoa.  I think it will take 7 - 8 hours without issue (i.e. heavy rain, roadblocks, landslides, etc).  I'll explore Mocoa for two nights I think.  Until recently, the area was a hotbed for drugs, narcos, and FARC presence.  However, about 70% of the people/locals that I speak with say that it is a perfectly fine place to visit.  It borders the mountains and rainforest, so there are tons of waterfalls, hikes, rivers, and wildlife to explore and see.  From Mocoa, I'll take the road called the Devil's Trampoline, aka Adios mi Vida (goodbye my life) back to Pasto, and then south to Ipiales for a day/night exploring Santuario de las Lajas, and sleeping in a monastery.  After all that, it's into Ecuador!  

It looks like it will be a busy few days!  Because of that, I have a few things to prepare (camping gear, bike prep, route planning, etc).  So, I'll sign off for now and will write more when I get back online after my adventure to Mocoa and through Colombia's 'Death Road'. 

Chat soon, 

~ D