Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Adam flew home at last on Friday, August 21st and stepped off the plane into a social madhouse! From family reunions, to his cousin's beautiful wedding, to wake boarding on lake washington, to my sister Bethany's amazing graduation from the Univeristy of Washington Physician's Assistant program, it was a busy week! In between diversions I was working on finishing up five bridesmaids' dresses which I'd flown back early to sew, and which turned out beautifully!

Wednesday afternoon we picked up Peter the Girl from the Continental Airlines Cargo Bay at Sea-Tac airport, once again reassured in our understanding that, when you act like you know what you're talking about, officials just about everywhere tend to believe you;
"Do you have a Carnet for bringing this bike into the country?"
"Actually Sir, through my research I came to understand that we did not need a Carnet due to our Trans-Immigration status and to the fact that we were not selling the vehicle but rather shipping it home to ourselves."
"Uhhh... OK Ma'am, that sounds right I guess, here's your paperwork :-)"
(We actually did Not need a Carnet, but he seemed a little confused for a moment.)

Pete is looking great, and after a rather nerve-wracking ride from the airport (still in pieces on a pallet in the back of the truck) Adam managed to get the front wheel mounted and the bike rolled off and back onto solid ground. A few laps around the neighborhood to check her over and all was well.

After seven months, 12 countries, two coasts, several bouts of illness, many new friends, unforgettable feats and wonderful memories we slide back into life. What comes next? We have no jobs, no home, but prospects. We look forward to what comes, busy now with all the little details that waited while we were away (for starters, six months of unopened mail).
I can't help but wonder when our next trip will be, to where, and with who.

Thus end the adventures of Adam, Grace, and Peter the Girl.
For now...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Travel safe Sweet Girl, and don't talk to strangers...

I arrived at Dakar Motos and had all of 20 minutes to go over my packing list and confirm that I had everything I needed before heading to the airport. The plan was to get Pete all checked out and packed onto the pallet by midday (Tuesday) and she'd be on her way to Seattle on a Wednesday flight. It was approximately $150 US additional to send her to Seattle rather than LA and I ultimately decided that the added expense was worth it. All told the final price came out to be $1228.34 US! (Seeing that number written down again just hurt me a little bit in the stomach)

I arrived at the airport on time and met the shipping company contact, Franco, waiting for me out front with a big smile. First things first, I needed to take my passport, motorcycle title, and temporary import paperwork to the Aduana Office for processing. An incredibly easy procedure that thus far in the trip has not caused the slightest of problems. I suppose the small difference this time was that I had somehow misplaced the import permit. Ohhhh Bubba noooo....

At this point I would like to be the first to say that I am a complete ass for forgetting/misplacing/disposing of the aforementioned document and in all likelihood, I deserved the punishment.

Franco and I tore through every baggy, box, and pocket we could find in search of this paper, all to no avail. It sunk in that this was more than a minor hiccup when he came to me for a THIRD time and begged me to go through everything again, and this time do it really REALLY thoroughly.
"Thanks Franky, but I now know for a fact that it is not here, so what's our next move?" Over the next 8 hours I found it very helpful to reflect on the past 7 months of dealing with extremely inefficient systems, which comforted me (somewhat) as the day began to unfold.
At first, the head of the Aduana at the airport told me that my only option was to return to the location that I had initially received the paperwork in order to get a certified copy of the original, and oh yeah, you can't ride the bike because it's not allowed to be on the roadway without it.
"whaaaaattt... Actually Bossman, I've got a flight back to the States in 2 days and I'm not about to travel 24 hours to the Chilean border for this. So, how about we work out something else?" I tried to be polite, but firm. He threw his hands up in the air and went into the back room pouting.
I turned back to the solemn looking Franco, "OK, now what Amigo?"
We returned to the bike to search some more for the paperwork. After another thirty minutes had passed I once again turned to my helper, searching his eyes for a sign of understanding.
At this point I was left to wait with the bike for about 2 hours while the team of hairless monkeys attempted to tackle the issue on their own. I say this with a slight hint of disgust because the next time I was able to talk to anyone about the status of the situation, I was told that the reason the issue couldn't be resolved is that no one was able to find out the NAME of the Aduana that I had entered the country through. If they could just find the name, they could call them and have a copy sent down to Buenos Aires. I showed them on a map, I gave them GPS coordinates, and yet all seemed hopeless. The bike would have to stay in Buenos Aires. I was so pissed off.

Five hours after arriving at the airport I was finally told to just get on the bike and go downtown to the Central Aduana and see if they could help because it just wasn't gonna happen here. In fact, they strongly hinted at the fact that it probably wasn't going to happen at all. Ahhhhhh!!!!
Before going downtown I stopped by a separate Aduana at the airport in search of help, but they agreed that my best bet would be to just go downtown and cross my fingers. A phone call was out of the question, they said. You can't get anything done over the phone, they said. I CAN'T GET ANYTHING DONE IN PERSON! Ahhhhh!!!

The first Aduana I went to downtown turned out not to be the right place and they directed me to another one a little ways down the road. Maybe they can help you there... maybe.
And so... at my Fourth Aduana of the day I FINALLY found someone who could actually help. Woohooo!!! It turned out that this guy was able to pull up my record of entry from a DIGITAL ARCHIVE (what a novel idea) and gave me specific written instructions for what I needed to do. When I told him about the crazy request for me to return to the border he just smiled and said, "the guys at the airport Aduana don't know about this system."
I wanted to grab him around the neck and yell, "Why the hell not!! Aren't you people working for the same damn team!!! What kind of cockamamy organization is this!!!" but I didn't, because he was being helpful. I found out later that this guy was "THE BOSS" of the whole system and was likely the only person in the city with the authority to take care of this on such short notice. I also later learned that he is slightly less than heterosexual and that my deep voice and boyish good looks ultimately may have been my ticket to freedom. In any case, he made it happen and I am forever in his debt. It was around 7:30pm when I called Franco back to let him know we were a go for Wednesday.

I woke up early the next day, drove to the airport cargo area (which at this point I was intimately familiar with) and got to work. It took about an hour to break down the bike and another hour to package it up nicely and get it checked out by the airline agent. A 30 minute bus ride into the city to pay for it all and I sit here now with an Airway Bill in my possession and a really good chance of being reunited with my sweet baby 7,000 miles from now.

I think I learned an important lesson from this experience. I mean, other than "don't loose important documents!" I'm not sure exactly what the lesson is, but I know it's important.

The final measurements after packaging were; 190 x 90 x 112 cm, 247Kg.

Fly safe Pete!

Rolling Solo

Grace pointed out to me the other day that our final blog update, posted 2 weeks ago, seems to have left a bit of a void with regards to the continuing misadventures of the lesser half of our unambiguously heterosexual duo.
So here's what I've been up to since my Sweet Pea left...

Prior to the trip, Grace had committed to sewing bridesmaid dresses for a friend, due at the end of September, requiring that she return home early. I however had made no such commitments and likely would just prove a distraction if I accompanied her, so I decided to stick around for a bit longer and continue my Spanish classes. I ended up taking 3 weeks of intensive Spanish thanks to which I can now properly locate a preposition and pronoun relative to a conjugated verb (yeah baby!) Other than the classes, my daily life has consisted of touring the city, working on Pete, lounging at the apartment, and dinner with friends.

For my final weekend in South America I decided to take a little trip, and on Friday of last week I caught an overnight bus from Buenos Aires to the Brazilian border at Iguazu Falls. An awe-inspiring tourist destination, Iguazu has been recommended by a number of travelers as an incredible and unmissable spectacle of nature. (FYI: the nicer bus seats that are sold as "Full Bed" I think would have been absolutely perfect, had I been 4 inches shorter!!!)
The town of Puerto Iguazu, located at the intersections of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, is small but well developed and when I arrived on Saturday afternoon I found no trouble settling into Hostel Iguazu Falls (awesome name) and laying out a game plan for the following day.
I was up early Sunday in order to get to the park before it opened at 8am and I spent the entire day roaming the acreage and taking in the sights. The main attraction consists of what appears to be the single longest waterfall in the world, winding it's way along a jagged crack in the earth, eventually leading to the spectacular confluence, aptly named "La Garganta del Diablo" or The Devil's Throat. Broken up into smaller, individually named spillways the park is laid out nicely with brick paths and iron walkways allowing visitors to walk right up to the edge of the action. I had a wonderful time and even the massive tourist hordes didn't seem to bother me too much (I did have a moment at the very start of the day when I couldn't get away from a loud couple that would not just shut the hell up, forcing me to take a few deep breaths.)

Back at the hostel I went straight to bed for a much needed 2 hour nap, and then was invited for dinner with my dorm companions. We enjoyed a few mediocre take-out pizzas and engaged in deep and thoughtful conversation that mainly involved pestering the only local in the group for details as to the correct pronunciation and etymology behind the nastiest dirty words of the language. Later that night he asked me in private if he had acted inappropriately at the dinner table by answering everyone's questions and saying such awful things. I told him he had.

An overnight bus ride back to Buenos Aires the following day, once again in the slightly bent knee'd seat of mis-comfort (and death!), and it was time for me to get back to Dakar Motos and prep Pete for shipping.

Photos of Iguazu!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Welcome Home Grace!!!

After an unforgettable 6 month and 12 country adventure, Grace's family welcomes her home at Sea-Tac airport.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

We Speak English Here

As the sun sets on Argentina, I prepare to leave.  My bags are by the door, my confirmation codes are written down, my passport ready, and all my fluids are in a plastic bag.  Aside from the typical items such as clothing, shoes, and toiletries, I've packed a mosquito net, bed liners, my broken camera, and leftover malaria medications.  It's funny to imagine having to answer any questions about the anatomically correct male baby doll with the pouting face. 

It's a little surreal to imagine drinkable tap water, power-flushing toilets, summer air and people speaking English.  I even dreamed last night that I was speaking Spanish to someone and they replied, "Um, yeah, we speak English here."
I'll miss strolling around the city, lyrical Castellano accents, and all the eating and the drinking.  On the other hand I look forward to warm August days, blackberry picking, eating sushi and getting some exercise.  Three weeks of eating and drinking and walking around for sport will do that to you.

Goodbye South America.  Hello 25 hours of travel to fly what took us 5 1/2 months to ride.  Goodbye Peter the Girl.  Until next time...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Art and Scribbles

Palermo, Buenos Aires

Traipsing around the city of Buenos Aires is a daily activity. There are errands to run and new parts of town to discover, cafes to try and window shopping to amuse us as we wander.
We wake up late (around 11am) and take our time making tea, oatmeal with apples, or eggs with toast. We leave the house around one and walk around for hours before finally heading home as the sun goes down and the air gets cold. By "we" I mean Rachel and I, as Lily flew home on Monday and Adam wakes up early (before 8am) to head downtown for his Spanish classes. He spends four hours a day on Spanish grammar and conversation while we drink cappuccinos and play.

Our little one-bedroom apartment is perfect. Full of light, comfortable and in a great part of town. We can walk to anything, or just walk the few blocks to the Subte (subway). Adam and I are still enamored with the hot water in the shower, and are enjoying not having to repack our things. Rachel brought me a suitcase of "city clothing" which I packed before I left. I had her remove half of it before she left, but it is wonderful to have a few more options including my pretty boots and pink coat.

Woody headed out last week, and his last night he came back from a long day at the shipping office (getting his motorcycle packed up and off to the States) with a few bottles of wine and all the fixin's for his famous beef and ginger dish. We had several conversations on our Bolivia trek talking about our favourite foods (longingly) and he had promised to fix the beef and ginger if I made apple crisp. Unfortunately, I didn't get to take part as Woody, Adam, and Lily enjoyed the wine and the food. I had food poisoning (I think) and was dry heaving and laying on the bed feeling miserable. Blech.

Woody left Wednesday, and Rachel came in on Thursday morning. We had a fun weekend, and Sunday went out to a late lunch with a couple of friends Lily had made. We started out with champagne at Cecily's apartment and after Rob showed up, the six of us headed to a lovely restaurant to enjoy three course meals, drink wine and act silly. It was a good day.

Rachel's cousin Amos and his friend Ariel are visiting the city from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel and Wednesday night the three of us met up with them for dinner and drinks in Las Canitas, a little sub-neighborhood of Palermo. We ate an amazing dinner at Las Cholas, whose candlelit tables and friendly staff set the tone for a long, luxurious dinner discussing Israeli politics, the California budget problem which includes cutting up to $4 billion from Education (and that's just the start). Yikes.
Adam headed home just after midnight, and the four of us crossed the street to share stories at bar Mona, a pretty place playing bad 80's music (shockingly, it does exist) and with fun, chatty bartenders. We came home around 3am, early by this city's standards.

Last night Rachel and I met Ariel at a local live venue called La Cigale, where we had read about some fun local bands who were to play. The bands didn't start till nearly 1am, but we had fun sitting at the teal-tiled bar sipping beer and watcing the local hipsters with their pretty hair and lyrical accents. We watched Agustina Paz and then Rosaria Ortega whose voice was reminiscent of Feist and whose band played cover songs with some serious pizazz. If you visit, check out this bar. The sound is beautiful, and it is a great, low-key place to hang out. We plan on returning.

Tonight we will go out to dinner with Amos and Ariel, and after the last place they took us I am pretty sure the food will be fantastic. Tomorrow we take a bus ride to Colonia, Uruguay for a fun day trip to wander the markets and add a stamp to our passports!

Yesterday was three years since our first date, a Manu Chau concert at the San Diego Embarcadero. It was the night of our first kiss, and the beginning of great things.

Grace and Adam

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


For those who are interested, we kept a detailed account of each expense over the last 6 months and I have attached a graphical summary by country and expense type below. If anyone has a more specific inquiry please feel free to e-mail us for details. Enjoy.

A few notes about the graphs:
1) We only spent 48 hours in Hondurus and paid $70 USD to enter (due in part to corrupt border officials). This is why the average daily expense is inflated.
2) Guatemala was surprisingly expensive.
3) The "Adult Beverages" category only includes when we went out to a bar for drinks. In the numerous cases that we picked up our Firewater at a market the expense was rolled in to "Groceries."
4) The Transportation category includes all of our taxis, buses, boats and trains. The vast majority of this category was the $1050 we spent to cross from Panama to Cartegena on the Stahlratte (www.stahlratte.de).
5) Before putting together the expenses we both would have readily told you that Mexico was the cheapest country to travel in Central America and Bolivia the cheapest in the South. Costa Rica the most expensive in Central and Chile/Argentina in the South.

Two for the Road Expenses

Cameras and Comments

Buenos Aires, Argentina

There is a massive thunderstorm raging outside, lightning flashing, rain pouring down.  We are keeping cozy indoors and trying to think up a plan for the day.  Most days we spend hours walking around to different parts of the city, exploring.  Today each time I look outside or see the flashes of electricity light up the apartment I am less and less tempted to rouse myself and head out.

One of my sisters who has commented many times on our stories and photos told another sister (who hasn't) that she should make some comments because we like them so much.  I would like to add that, yes, we really really do appreciate all the comments people have left, the little notes via email, and the overall enthusiasm for our trip.  It's so nice to know that you were there along the way, peeking in on the outcome of our hours uploading photos and typing out adventures.  We literally spent 3-4 hours side by side working on each update, often on unbearably slow computers.  Not that I'm asking for pity or anything.

I've just been perusing our photo library on Picasa 3 and thought I'd give a little nod to our cameras for all they've been through.  Mine finally died when it got slammed face first into the sands of the Bolivian South.  It's been difficult not to have it in my pocket as we walk around the city, so many photo opportunities passing by!  For anyone who's interested, my camera is a Canon SD1100 Powershot 8.0.  She's been lovely, takes great photos, great video, and fits snugly into almost any pocket.  Adam's camera is a Nikon D40X with a Nikor lense, 18-55 mm.  Not small, but takes beautiful photos and definitely worth bringing along for many of the grander vistas and photogenic moments.  I won't tell you which photos came from which, because that would be crazy.

Until next time,
Grace and Adam

Saturday, July 18, 2009


(San Pedro de Atacama, Chile - Buenos Aires, Argentina)

We made it! After 5 1/2 months, 12 countries, several bouts of illness, many long days and many fantastic adventures, we have arrived at our destination. Buenos Aires, inspiration for our trip in the first place, the eventual goal. Our last couple of weeks have been incredible, a bit strange knowing we were nearing the end and honestly not sure if we liked that or not. As we've become accustomed to living with very little, having our goals be a distance and our hours our own, I can only imagine that the transition back into life with apartments and bills may be a bit of a struggle. Someone suggested we get rid all of our things in storage and just start fresh. I must say that simple living, one pair of jeans and no thought needed about what to wear has been pretty nice.

Perhaps inevitably we feel ourselves pulled to do more trips and see more of the world. There is so much to see, and even with twelve countries under our belt (if one can even count our one day in Chile) the curiosity button has been activated.

After spending just one night in Chile, we headed towards the Argentinian border. There is nothing out between the border posts except for a few lonely border guards who seemed to take an especially long time on purpose just for the company. As we waited for them to do their thing, two young, bearded French guys came walking out of the wilderness wearing backpacks and using high tech walking sticks. They are apparently using their six months of vacation to walk their way around South America, --about 25-30 km a day- because (as we overheard them tell the border officials) "It's a much better way to travel."
At some point in the afternoon we finished up at the Frontera and entered Argentina. Excited, we headed toward the nearest town as the sun dropped ever lower in the sky and the air chilled. Adam tried to keep his hands warm-ish by holding them against the engine as we drove, but I'm pretty sure it didn't work well enough. After a few hours we ran out of gas in our main tank and Adam switched to the reserve. The furthest we've ever rode after switching to reserve was around 30 miles (50 km). Not knowing how much further it was to our destination we began driving slower and trying to conserve our fuel. Five minutes later we saw a sign marking the next town at 68 km. I groaned inside. The road turned from long and straight to switchbacks down a steep mountain. As the sun disappeared we strained our eyes to see as the headlight dimly flickered the way ahead. It was very cold. I was wearing two pair of wool socks but as I curled my toes in to try and warm them up a bit I could feel ice breaking between them. Sitting behind Adam I definitely enjoy some respite from the wind, so if ice was forming in my boots I can only imagine how cold he must have been. Luckily, Argentina has a stronger government infrastructure than many of the other countries we've visited, so every 5 miles or so there were SOS stations with phones to call for help. This didn't exactly make the situation any better, but at least there existed the potential for rescue. We were both sure we'd end up out in the frozen waste with no shelter, but luckily for us around 7pm we finally made it into town. Adam laid down on the bed and went to sleep immediately, as I took off his boots and socks and held them against the heater trying to get him warmed up a little. He then slept for 15 hours straight.

Our ride across Argentina was quick. After San Antonio de Los Cobres we headed toward Salta, the road winding out of the mountains on a beautiful stretch of asphalt and out onto the plains. Four days of grazing lands, cane fields, and cows. The land is amazingly flat and wide. We stayed one night in Salta which was a neat city with fun restaurants and pretty shops. We found ourselves at Hostal Tierra Oculta, which was cheap-ish, heated, and had wireless internet. It also had hot showers with gas heat! By cheap-ish I mean it was only $20 a night, but after Bolivia which was typically about $8/night for the two of us it seemed extravagantly priced, and even now we are trying to adjust.
The next night we stayed in Santiago de Estero where we had our first gas station sit-down cappuccino breakfast at an Esso station. They have wifi and espresso machines, fresh croissants and it is strange.
Our fourth night we arrived at Dakar Motos in Buenos Aires, which we've been hearing about since before our trip began. They offer a machine shop and expertise on motorcycles for travelers with a couple of bunkbeds in the back with a kitchen. We knocked at the unmarked grey door, heard keys in the latch, and when it opened, there was our friend Woody who we'd left in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile! He'd decided to save Southern Chile for another trip, and had arrived a few minutes before us. There was also an Australian couple there, Hannah and Owen, who had bought a KLR 650 from a friend we'd met on the Stahlratte from Panama to Colombia, and were gearing up for a 1 year trip around South America. It was fun to hear about their preparations and share a little of what we've learned along the way.
Two nights there, and then we got up early to get the keys for our little apartment! Woody came along to see it, and after moving our stuff in we met him down the street at a little cafe for cafe con leche (cappuccinos) and fresh pastries.
The next two days we filled the cupboards with food, I cooked three meals a day and we settled in. We also did laundry and wandered around the city learning our way around the neighborhood. We have a great place with a lovely view and easy access to the Subte (subway lines), the Train, and an amazing network of buses.
We spent two lazy evenings drinking Malbec and enjoying home cooked food. We turned the heater up and took long, hot showers. I enjoyed several containers of small, crunchy pickles and Adam made himself comfy on the couch taking naps and curling up with blankets. It was a good start to our stay.

Lily arrived on Wednesday, and we headed out to Recoleta Cemetery. We've filled the last couple of days with city walks, sitting at cafes, and cooking dinner while sipping wine and listening to music. Woody joined us last night, and I made chicken stroganoff with rice and apple crisp. A bottle of decent wine is about 5 pesos (less than $2) and that's fun.

There are street markets and tango shows on the weekends, and we're planning on taking some more Spanish classes. As for the hours in between, I'm sure we'll find something to do.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Willy the Penguin

(Uyuni, Bolivia - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)

Well, it took Willy the mechanic about an hour and a half to remove and disassemble the carburator, identify and fix the problem, and put it all back together again, all while Grace waited for us in the temperature controlled comfort of the Salt bar. It turned out that the carb float plunger needed to be slightly adjusted because it was overflowing the float chamber and fouling the spark plug. He charged me $6 for his time. Awesome.
After closely examining our intended route to the South we decided that both of the bikes were gonna need to re-fuel about halfway to Chile, and as far as anyone knew there was no place to purchase gas on the way. We decided to buy two 30 liter jerry cans and send them ahead of us with one of the tour groups to be dropped off at a predetermined meeting point. We had already made friends with the tour organizer at "Ripley's Tours" just off the main plaza and the guy spoke good english and appeared to understand our instructions, so we decided to try our luck with them. We filled up the cans and dropped them off at the office with plans to rendesvous with them at a Hostel on the edge of Laguna Hedionda, 2 days out of Uyuni.
We paid him $10 per can for the transport and honestly gave ourselves about a 50/50 chance of ever seeing the gas again. Although very friendly, we started to question his ability to make it all happen when he started to explain how GPS is useless in the Salar because it's some sort of Bermuda Triangle of cosmic forces. (FYI: Our GPS worked just fine.) We later found that there was a little store in Laguna Colorada that had gas for sale for 5 Bolivianos per liter. We wouldn't have made it that far before running out, but it was nice to know that we wouldn't have been entirely on our own if the drop-off hadn't worked.

The following morning, on our 3rd attempt to leave Uyuni we finally met with success and sped out across the salt flat towards the Isla del Pescado, a cactus covered land mass that stands out of the salt as a marker in the sea. It took about an hour of high speed riding to reach the rock and by the time we pulled over for a break we were chilled to the bone. Woody pulled out his camping stove (which later proved to be the most indispensable item on "our" packing list) and heated up some tea. Meanwhile, Grace and I ventured out into the barren expanse of white to have a little fun with some perspective photography.
We had been anticipating this opportunity ever since arriving in Bolivia and hearing stories from other travelers. We even picked up a couple props at a toy store in Potosi which we planned to incorporate in our fun. Have a look at our photos to see how they turned out.
It cost 50 bolivianos to hike around on the island so we decided we were plenty happy to just hang around and relax out front. When we arrived around 11:30 there were only a few jeeps lined up out front, but by departure time an hour and a half later the island was surrounded by 4 wheel drive tour groups clamoring over the rocks and joking around in various languages at their lunch tables.

We headed South towards the edge of the Salar, this time following the tour company route. It's marked very clearly by the bits of rubber that over time have been ground into the salt by a thousand land cruisers passing the same way each day. This black road led us to a well worn dirt and sand road at the edge of the Salar that wound it's way into the red and brown hills. Thus began the misery.
For the remainder of the day we were either riding in deep, unpredictable sand or chattering our way along spine compacting washboard. Honestly, you may think that these two conditions wouldn't happily coexist considering their difference in consistencies, but they turned out to be truly spectacular bed mates. We pulled into San Juan after a dusty and tiring afternoon ride and settled in for the night at Alojamiento Sol de Mañana for 30 Bolivianos. Woody whipped up some rice and tuna with asparagus sauce for dinner on the camp stove and we crashed out.

The next morning took us South, once again fighting our way through sandy ruts and rocky hillsides. The tour companies generally spend a 12 hour day driving all the way down to Laguna Colorada from San Juan but we had decided to divide up the trip and stop for the night at Laguna Hedionda. We were planning on meeting up with our reserve gas tanks at the hostel there and we decided we would spend the night as well.
The beginning of the day was slow going and resulted in a couple low speed wipe outs in the sand before reaching a wide and flat East-West roadway that had the appearance of asphalt highway ground work. We picked up the pace and drove East through some incredible rock piles that Grace claimed looked like giant prehistoric remains. After a short time, at the suggestion of our GPS, we turned off the highway onto what would be the most violent road we had yet to ride. The unavoidable rocks embedded throughout the roadway were a true test of our suspensions and caused more than one headache.
As we reached a particularly tough section, Woody realized that his camera was missing from it's case strapped to the gas tank. The camera had all of his photos from Peru and Bolivia and would be a tragic loss. Luckily, after walking 20 minutes back down the road with his eyes peeled, he found it on the roadside at the start of the rocky section. The lens was filled with dust and didn't want to open, but at least all the pictures were there. Another 3km down the road I noticed that our GPS had fallen off as well! I backtracked on Pete while Woody walked the trail on foot and luckily I found it upside down on the trail. Two close calls in a row that would have been major downers for the day.

After one or two more minor crashes, one of which tore a sizable hole in our side case, we pulled into the Laguna Hedionda hostal with about an hour or two of daylight remaining. We were thrilled to find our gas tanks waiting for us in the corner of the restaurant, but were thoroughly dismayed to hear that the rate for staying at the hostal was FIFTY US DOLLARS PER PERSON! Now, this may not sound like the craziest number in the world, but considering we hadn't been paying more than 3 to 5 dollars per person in Bolivia thus far, we found it absolutely outrageous. Thus began the bargaining. We begged them to work out something more reasonable and we eventually agreed to pay $7 per person to sleep (with the bikes) on the floor of their restaurant. They provided some cheap cushions and Grace and I shared a sleeping bag. We did not get a good nights' sleep. The hostal owner locked us in for the night and told us to wake him up if we needed to use the restroom or get outside. This knowledge did NOT sit well with Grace and I ended up peeing in a plastic bottle at 1am.
Before heading out the next day we traded our fuel jugs for a few snickers and some processed donuts. We made a quick pace on wide open deserts, bouncing in and out of the tour jeep ruts trying to stay upright. We learned it was far easier to ride at an angle than trying to ride down a single groove. The mountains rose up in amazing shades of orange and red that reminded me of the glass sand swirl artwork on my grandma's mantle piece that would create beautiful shapes in black and white when turned over in my hands.
We slipped into the national park at Laguna Colorada without paying the 50 boliviano entrance fee and skirted the edge of the lake to take pictures of the flamingos strutting about in the bright red waters. With a little help from one of the tour guides that was parked at the lake's edge we were pointed in the direction of Huallajara where we spent the night.

One final cold night in the mountains and we were on our way to Chile. We dropped off our paperwork at the Bolivian Aduana about 2 hours north of the border and headed for a natural hot spring to soak our weary muscles. The water was spectacular and the timing couldn't have been better. We had lunch at the little restaurant there and set our sights on the border. We already had our passports stamped in Uyuni so we didn't have to do a thing as we entered our 11th country. About 5km in we hit a smooth asphalt highway that we followed 40km West and 2000m down into the warmth of San Pedro de Atacama.
Checking into Chile was a piece of cake and, just as we were getting ready to search the town for a place to stay, we ran into a fellow biker named Eric on a KTM 950 Adventure who showed us down the road to the cheapest Hostal around. Twenty-seven US dollars (Booooo!!!) got us a double room and we settled in for the night, happy to be out of the mountains safe and sound.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Beautiful Nothing

Before we post photos and tell stories, this last week deserves a little posting all its own. We have been challenged and frustrated, awed and thrilled. I am listening to Madeleine Peyroux, thinking of the frozen wilderness of the Salar de Uyuni and the way South toward the Chile border. The roads are a dismal combination of washboard and sand that tossed both of the bikes over several times a day, and bouldery rocks that shook bones and rattled bolts. Truly the most challenging few days of riding on our trip, and the most satisfying to have come through. I'll never forget the mountains with their vibrant colours, the high desert landscape like nothing I've ever seen. We crossed frozen rivers and ancient seabeds and saw hardly a soul for four days.

That said, yes, there will be photos. And yes, we might have starved without Woody and his little stove. Thanks Woody, for an incredible ride.
Just beginning to warm up,
Grace and Adam

Friday, July 3, 2009

Below Zero, Wow.

(Potosi, Bolivia - Uyuni, Bolivia)

Well, gee. We are spending our third night in Uyuni (nights composed of sub-zero temperatures, literally) due to some unforeseen and not-quite-understood engine problems with Peter the Girl. Poor little motorcycle.
We arrived on Wednesday and as we hit the central road into town, there was Woody coming back from a little jaunt out onto the Salt Flats of the Salar de Uyuni! Dinner was burgers at a local pub whose floors are 5 inches thick with salt and fun to crunch around on. Also, their walls are covered with photos from other visitors to the Flats, taking surreal and funny shots, playing with perspective.
The next morning we had a list of things to take care of, including washing the bikes and covering them in WD40 to help shield their parts from the highly corrosive Bike Killer Salt. Woody was having anti-freeze issues (due to a sneaky mechanic in Colombia) which meant taking apart his KTM 950 and draining then re-draining the fluids, and replacing them with a proper ratio of water to anti-freeze. I feel like we had some problems with Peter, too, but I can 't remember what they were. More on that later, I guess. Finally, around 3pm, we headed out to see the Train Graveyard just outside of town. We ate sandwiches on top of an old cargo car, and then headed out toward the white. It is amazing. You can see things far off in the distance as if they are rather close. Driving toward the Salt Hotel (made nearly entirely out of blocks of salt) we could see it from the moment our tires hit the salt, but it would be another 45 minutes before we 'd reach it. Woody camped out in the freezingness, testing his hardiness. We were very impressed, but chose to return to Uyuni to sleep at the hotel.

This morning we woke up around 7am, packed the bike, ordered some takeout egg sandwiches for our breakfast (and Woody 's) and planned to head to the little town of Colchani about 40 minutes away meeting Woody at 9am. The bike 's been having a hard time starting in the freezing cold air of morning, so Adam parked her out in the sunshine hoping it would warm her up. Nope. Trying and trying to start her ended in a dead battery, and apparently no one in town has jumper cables. Finally a guy rolled up, took out his battery and held it up to our so we could try and charge it. Unfortunately, his battery went dead too. Two hours after we were meant to meet Woody, he came rolling up. Just as his tire went flat, having been pierced by a FOUR inch nail. Crazy! Adam changed our spark plug, charged up the battery at a nearby mechanic shop (which took 1 1/2 hours), Woody changed his tire, and it was 3pm. Finally, we loaded up and put our helmets on, ready at last. It was then that we found out Woody 's battery had died. Sadly, his bike won 't jumpstart going less than 15-20 miles an hour, and his battery was now strapped in under a whole lot of gear. They tried to push with Peter, then by just running behind and pushing, and finally he unloaded all of his gear and they jumped it. Woody has jumper cables.
So! After all of this we were at last under way. We headed along a little sandy road and were within about 1/2 a mile of the salt 's edge, when Peter 's engine shut down. We couldn 't get it started. Luckily, we were only 9km from town, but after about an hour of trying everything they could think of (I watched and took photos, of course) and with the sun heading downward we decided to head back to Uyuni. Again. Woody had a few lengths of rope and straps and towed us back to the hotel.

Now they are outside on a sidewalk somewhere, getting help from a mechanic who thinks it has something to do with the carborator. It is after 7pm, dark, really extremely cold, and getting colder. Night temperatures are below zero, and I just hope they figure it out soon!

As for me, I am heading to the pub with the salt floor. They have heaters and boozie beverages, and since I can 't help with the motorcycle stuff, it sounds like the best place for me.

If all goes well we 'll finally head out tomorrow and continue South. It 'll be an exciting and rugged road, as we head for the border with Chile at San Pedro de Atacama. I 'll let you know how it works out.

Cheers! Grace (and Adam from his icy little workspace on the sidewalk)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tricksey Bolivians

(La Paz - Rurrenabaque - Potosi, Bolivia)

We have managed to fill the last 10 days with more dust, mud, rain, and adventure than expected. From alligators to un-controlled intersections, icy roads and piranhas, it's been some kind of fun. Let me tell you our tale.

We left La Paz and headed Northwest toward Rurrenabaque and the wild rivers and jungles that awaited us there. It was two days of driving on unbelievably dusty roads, twisting and turning their way through the continuously warmer mountains. By dusty, I mean two inches of silt that filled the air and coated every part of us, the bike, our ridng gear, and everything underneath. We had dirt circles where our sunglasses had been. Each bus we passed caused such a stir that we couldn't see past the front tire. We decided to leave the main road to explore the downward slopes of "The Most Dangerous Road in the World," but I think we both agree it didn't hold up to it's name compared to some of the roads we've come across in Peru, nor the road that came a bit later in the day. Suddenly the buses and loaded semi-trucks are driving toward you in the wrong lane! Turns out, fully loaded cargo trucks come up from the lowlands to La Paz, and due to the narrow roads and perilous dropoffs they hug the mountain side of the road. No problem, but they don't provide signs. By the afternoon we were stripping off our multiple layers of clothing, and spent a lovely, warm night in Palos Blancos.

The next day we arrived in Rurrenabaque in the afternoon and found ourselves a comfy room at Hospedaje Santa Ana and signed up for a tour with the Amazonicas Tour Company for a three day, two night excursion into the Pampas starting the following day. We were prepared for tropical air, swimming, hiking, boating and nature watching. The next day our group of eight loaded up in the safari-style jeep and rode four hours on dusty roads to the river bank where we loaded our gear, the guide, the chef, and the food into a long lancha (open wooden boat) for our four hour ride to the campsite. Dry season means the water is lower, exposing muddy banks where alligators and caimans (three times the size of alligators) sunbathe on the shore and beautiful birds (such as cranes, fishing eagles, and loons) decorate the trees. Pink dolphins crest the surface with soft exhalations, and are gone again before a proper photo can be attained.
We arrived at camp, ate our dinner at the long picnic tables, sat around a bonfire, and settled into our comfy cots with our mosquito nets draped around us.
At five AM the rain started. It pounded on the tin roof, thundered on the leaves, and turned the clay ground into muddy goo. We awoke and ate breakfast, hopped across little rounds of wood to get to the toilets, watched The Italian stand in one of the water-filled boats to fish for piranhas, and stood around on the narrow porch waiting for the rain to stop. It didn't.
Finally, at a loss, the guides (there were two, one for each group of eight) decided that we should proceed with at least a part of the plan. They had us pick out rubber boots (several people ended up with two Lefts, and the rest of us just dealt with the holes), layer up with whatever rain gear we had (I used a black plastic bag) and eighteen booted folk tromped out through the jungle and the wild marshes of the Pampas to see what they could see.
We had hardly begun before we were soaking wet from head to toe, our boots had begun to fill with water, and four of us had fallen behind. The rest of the group was soon out of sight, but we were with our guide Domingo (who was actively searching for Anacondas among the trees). Soon we saw him heading off into the forest, so we stopped and waited. Fifteen minutes passed, and we realized he wasn't coming back so we decided to try and catch up with the others. Adam and I were in the company of Gíl from Israel, and The Italian. The four of us happily tracked boot prints and followed muddy puddles, to no avail. At last, the rain coming down with fervor, we realized we'd been "tracking" for nearly 1 1/2 hours, and as the hike was supposed to
take about 3 hours we decided to give up and try to find our way back to the camp on our own. Easier said than done.
The rain had by now washed away any boot prints (even ours) and the muddy puddles had settled to look like the hundreds around them. At one point The Italian picked up a long stick, flung it into the air and declared that wherever it pointed when it fell would be our course. It did not point the way we wanted to go. Due to our incredible skills, we managed the last hour and a half through the jungle, guided by familiar looking trees and mushrooms to the edge of the Pampas where we were a bit stumped. The high grasses stretched out before us to more jungle on the other side of about two football fields. We couldn't remember where we'd come from, although I thought I recognized a white-ish tree across the rainy expanse. We headed out into the black mud, our feet sinking, our boots filled with muddy water, and soon discovered that the trail we'd followed was a cow path. Hoofprints, not bootprints. It was then that the rain started coming down with renewed strength, and the wind started up. I decided to try and intersect the path I hoped was heading for the white-ish tree. It was! We sloshed the rest of the way to camp, arriving just 10 minutes before the other group. The guides were quite irritated at our disappearance, although I have to say I disagree that they had the right considering it was they who lost us in the alligator/anaconda/cobra infested wilds. Domingo asked Adam, "Didn't you hear that bird?"
"I heard a bird," Adam replied.
"Yes, that was me," said Domingo, shaking his head in irritation that we hadn't known to listen for wild bird calls in the jungle. Just a thought, Mr Guide Sir: When searching for lost turistas in the jungle, it might be a bit more productive to call out in a human voice or yell Like A Human. There are a lot of birds out there, we might not know it's you.
We poured the black water out of our boots, hung our soaking clothes out to dry, and scrapped together what clothing we could to keep warm in the chilly evening air. Everyone went to bed early except for the Irish who sang pub songs and eventually lulled us to sleep with their renditions of Van Morrison songs.

The next day as we took the boat ride back. Adam jumped into the river to swim with timid pink dolphins as alligators slipped from the shore into the water nearby. At last we were back in Rurrenabaque, where we found out Michael Jackson had died. We met up at the popular Monkeys Bar for Cuba Libres and Caipirinas and with the rest of the group listened to the DJ spin out MJ classics. It would be one more day before a Bolivian metal worker would ask me why Michael Jackson hadn't recorded any Spanish music. All I could think to say was, "Because he couldn't speak Spanish?"

It took two days to get back to La Paz, and after all the rain the once-dusty roads were now slick with silty mud. It was nearing the end of our first day of riding when we lost control on a particularly slick corner and the bike slid out from underneath us, leaving us splayed out on our backs in the middle of the wet and rocky road. No harm was done although we were a bit sore the next day. We took a short break to gather ourselves and clean off the mud and got back on the road.
The following day we came upon an accident which included a cattle truck-turned-bus fully loaded with people charging off a cliff and dropping into the jungle below. Children with bloody faces were sitting along the road as men with ropes worked to haul up the rest of the passengers. Needless to say we were a bit shaken up, and more than happy to offer some of our water to a man bloodied from the fall. Taxis were being loaded with the most seriously injured, and we raced ahead to get help from the nearest Puesto de Control.

Back in La Paz, we had new brake rubber bits (Pastillas) added to our bare brake pads as a parade of wildly dressed women and men danced by in glittering costumes with bands following behind and playing enthusiastically. Later that night we were downtown and noticed bright rainbow flags decorating the main street. I thought they looked a lot like Gay Pride flags, but we've come across Peruvian and Bolivian rainbow flags before than represent different Indigenous groups so I was surprised to find that the parade winding by was filled with beautifully costumed Transvestites! They looked impressively like the women we'd seen earlier in the day, and were even accompanied by bands playing the same music. Bravo, Bolivia. I wouldn't have thunk it.

Adam got The Bug, and from La Paz we ended up in Oruro splurging on a $14 (100 Bolivianos) room at Hotel Bernal with hot hot water and cable TV. I tucked him into bed and weathered the freezing air to fetch dinner and sprite for his tummy. He's feeling much better but not quite 100%. In other news, the weather is cold. Icy cold. We've both had to purchase extra layers, new gloves, scarves, a poncho, and I even got some sweat pants. Yesterday I realized I was wearing six layers of pants, and I was still cold. Yarggggh!
We arrived yesterday here in Potosí, where, amazingly enough our room has a heater in it, and our shower water is gas heated (which means hot water). Today we took the Cerro Rico Mine Tour, purchasing Coca leaves, cigarettes, soda, and dynamite for the miners (who were hard at work as we wandered through their dark domain in our ridiculous yellow outfits and construction helmets with lamps). Adam helped put together a nice little stick of dynamite, and we were up close and personal when our guide, Johnny, lit the fuse. Two minutes (and a safe distance) later, the explosion made us all jump.
Then we toured the Museo de Moneda, where Bolivian money was minted on incredible machines using horses and pulleys and wheelie things that were very impressive. Potosí was the silver capital of the world, and the richest city in all of the Americas (and some say the world) in the mid-1700's.

Now for a bit of motorcycle information: Things have gotten interesting.
After passing 20,000 mileson her odometer, pretty Peter has started to fuss a bit. Adam has been hard at work repairing a broken tail light wire, a crack in the air box (on top under the seat) that he has sealed with silicon, reattached a severed starter cable, and shortened the chain (new as of Cali, Colombia) which had stretched about two inches.

Okay, I'm done. My fingers are sore and I need some dinner. Tomorrow we head down to Uyuni to meet up with Woody for our ride through the incredible salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni. We've purchased an extra gas can for the vast expanses ahead as gas stations are few and far between and are often out of gas anyway. Just two weeks to fill up before we reach Buenos Aires, and we're doing our best to do it right.

All the best from this cold little corner of the Americas,
Grace and Adam

And thanks for the title Bethany, here are some pics!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fork Seals and Dried Lambs.

(Arequipa, Peru - La Paz, Bolivia)

I must backtrack a little bit to Arequipa where I was invited out to lunch by Rachel and Hannah, two English girls who were very sweet and fun and had some seriously ridiculous stories about ending up in a Peruvian prison after a wild night of partying and shortly thereafter waking up to a strange and large Peruvian man taking his boots off in their hotel room. Later that night we actually "went out" in Arequipa with the girls and two other guys from our hostel. We managed to stay out till 2am after dancing the night away (or at least a few hours) at a club filled with an English tour group who had managed to party it up much harder than us. It was a good night.

We headed toward Puno after Arequipa, stopping at the incredible Incan Tombs at Sillustani along the way. Three little girls approached us and offered to charge us money for letting us take a photo of them with their little lamb. We succumbed, and paid 1 Sol (about 33cents). The view was amazing, and we sat around on the rocks appreciating it for a bit.
From the ruins, we headed into Puno where we met up with Woodie, again. His motorcycle was parked right outside our hotel when we came back from dinner. He´d had his own adventures with the roadblocks from Cusco to Puno but luckily hadn´t been riding the bus! He had some Danish friends who´d had to get off their bus in the middle of the night, walk with 60 or so other white tourists through the roadblock pretending to ignore ugly stares from the disgruntled protesters, and after an hour or so (carrying their gigantic packs) they were picked up by a cattle truck that had been rented by the tour company.

We crossed the border into Bolivia pretty smoothly (other than the $135 USD per person to enter, of course) and enjoyed an evening in Copacabana on the edge of Lake Titicaca. As I mentioned before, the colours were spectacular.
Bolivia's population is 96% Indigenous and it´s wonderful to see the women in their colourful, layered skirts and little black caps. The fabric is sometimes neon pinks and bright reds that seem to glow as they tend their flocks and harvest their crops.
The road from Copacabana is smooth pavement, and eventually ends in the lake. Yes, we had to take a boat across, which cost just about $1.50 (10 Bolivianos). That´s our second riverboat crossing of the trip.

La Paz has the cleanest air I´ve ever seen in a large city. It is built into a volcanic crater, apparently by many people feeling very confident in that volcano not erupting again. Ever.
The streets are lined with people selling fruits and vegetables, dried lambs (literally small dried lambs, furry, small, lambs) bright woven fabrics and clothing, millions of potatoes, and one of my favourites, stacks and stacks of beautiful, fresh eggs. The women wear long, vintage-looking aprons to protect their pretty skirts.
We are staying in a little place called Hospedaje Jimenez, which is next door to a great cafe (tasty chicken sandwiches!). The bathrooms don´t seem to get cleaned, and there´s no toilet paper or soap, but we´ve got our own and the beds are rather comfy. I think I may save my showering for our next stop tomorrow. Is that gross? Not anymore.

We had one of our rare Quiet Nights last night, ate silently and got into our separate twin beds to read. Sometimes, it´s just necessary to keep to yourself for a few hours, appreciating your book, giving each other a little space.

This morning we headed out to Nosiglia motors, a motorcycle shop that is renowned for being very helpful to travelers. They helped Adam fix the front Fork Seal, by stretching then cutting the spring to tighten it. We hope that will be the end of the red fork oil spraying out of the shock.
Then we came back to our little street where Adam parked in the shade and started to work again on the electrical problems we´ve been having. He discovered a wire that had broken, and as far as I know he fixed the problem. We´ll see. The fuse keeps blowing, and we´re not sure why. By "we" I am including myself due to my being very supportive and interested, though absolutely clueless.
I think I could probably change a fork seal, now, though.

While Adam was working on the motorcycle, he had some young helpers, including a little girl who was very excited to help clean up the lights with a little orange rag. She came into the internet/tour company (where I was slaving away at our update) to tell her mother "Mama, él dame una tela y yo limpié las lúces! Estoy ayudando!" I absolutely apologize if that is completely mis-spelled. (Basically, "Mom! He gave me a rag and I cleaned the lights! I´m helping!"

Tonight is a huge fiesta at the ruins about an hour west of here that consists of freezing temperatures, lots of booze, and all night live music and fireworks. They don´t suggest that you get a hotel, but just take a nap in the bus if you need to. I think we´re gonna miss out on this party. Instead we´re going to have some dinner and try and figure out our exciting Bolivian jungle trip. It will most likely include pink freshwater dolphins, piranhas (hopefully not at the same time), searching for anacondas, and staying in a lodge. We´ll be taking a nature hike, and trying to spot exotic things hiding in the foliage. Sounds fun, huh?

As always,
Grace and Adam

More Photos!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bolivia We Salute You.

(Sicuani, Peru - Copacabana, Bolivia)

We just crossed the border into Bolivia today, and with our friend Woodie who turned up at our hotel last night.
We are in Copacabana on the shores of Lago de Titicaca, which is a fantastic blue surrounded with shimmering golden wheat fields.
We need to figure out what to do with our time here, but are thinking of exploring the mine shafts in Potosí, then heading into the Bolivian Amazon, and seeing if we can find a few parts for the motorcycle in La Paz. We have about 2-3 weeks here before heading across Argentina. It´s strange to feel like we´re short on time, and yet we still have two months!
The air is COOOOOLD. We´ve decided to ride only between the hours of 10am and 4pm due to the fact that the alternative hours are so cold. We´ve discovered Maté de Coca (tea made from the Coca Leaf) is quite tasty, and we´ve been trying to keep warm with that. It supposedly offers alleviation from altitude sickness symptoms, too.
Nowhere has heating. I sleep in thermal pants and a wool pullover. Sometimes wool socks, too. Removing any layers just seems silly, let alone removing all layers for a shower. The tile bathroom floors hurt to walk on, and it becomes a race to see how warm you can get in how quick a time (before the hot water runs out as it seems to do with me), then towel off and get your clothes back on before you´re freezing again.
The border crossing went pretty smoothly, although this was the first country to ask for our immunization records, copies of those, and oh, yeah, the $135 US per person for entering the country. I believe it´s reciprocal, as our country requires the same of Bolivian citizens. As the boys got all the paperwork put together for the motorcycles, I chatted with the local police on duty who were asking about the bikes and what repairs we´ve had to do along the way. Can I just say that I´m pretty excited to be able to have that conversation in Spanish!?! They were also curious to know which countries had been our favourites, and when I didn´t include Bolivia they wanted to know why. Well, we haven´t seen it yet!
Now to find out...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The trip has now Officially gone South.

(Sicuani, Peru - Arequipa, Peru)

So much for the good times...

Two days ago our morning began on a bit of a sour note. A loud and angry mob was blocking our route to the South with a 3 foot pile of rocks spanning the width of the road. There was no getting around it and, as is generally the case with angry mobs, there were a few bad seeds in the crowd. In this case the ¨Bad Seeds¨ were a small group of women brandishing 4 inch safety pins who kept taking quick steps towards us, arms extended, threatening to poke holes in our tires. In retrospect I couldn´t really say if their wide eyes, crooked toothed smiles and maniacal laughter were more comforting or scary. In any case we quickly made it clear that we had no intention of crossing their blockade.
Not an altogether unpleasant experience, we made friends with a number of drunk men and were eventually cheered over the wall and on our way after I hefted a couple big rocks from the ravine out onto the road and added to their pile.

Riding was smooth for a few hours... and then we ran over a dog. We were cruising around 50mph when the little mut darted out from the road side and dove head first into our front tire. It did not survive and we were both pretty shook up, to say the least. We decided not to turn around and investigate. In general you do NOT want to put yourself in a position where you have to apologize and compensate an angry and armed farmer for the death of his beloved pet.
It was a surreal event to say the least. We have encountered somewhere on the order of 10,000 anxious dogs on the road sides throughout our travels, many of which enjoy running up to us and barking at our boots. It´s to be expected. In this bizzare case however, the dog had absolutely no intention of changing course and clearly wanted to either tackle us or commit suicide. He did not tackle us.

The next morning we discovered that the dog had broken off our PVC tool carrier and highway foot pegs which are mounted just behind the front tire. We drove back up the road to try and find it and found nothing but a cute brown puppy soundly sleeping on the roadside.

We had a generally pleasant start to the following day driving through the Cañon del Colca (arguably the deepest in the world) and watching a family of Condors glide overhead from a well known lookout. We stopped for lunch in the central cobblestone plaza of Cabanaconde and made friendly with a couple of locals when... the bike suddenly, and without explanation, lost balance and crashed down onto its side! My helmet visor was scratched up, the wire to the helmet cam was severed, and the aluminum knuckle guard was bent inward, preventing operation of the brake lever.
Fortunately I was able to bend the handle back into place and we were back on the road after only a short delay.

We were running slightly behind schedule as we headed down the woefully pot holed road towards Arequipa when tragedy struck YET AGAIN... flat rear tire!
We were an hour out of the city and we had an hour and a half of daylight left. I had the tools and the spare but not the time. I pulled a two inch nail out of the tire and swapped out the tube but by the time we were finally back on our wheels and ready to go, darkness had arrived.

As a rule we try to avoid driving in the dark, we were not however prepared to spend the night on the side of the highway at 13,000 feet so we climbed aboard and prepared for a slow ride into town. That´s when... the headlight stopped working!
You think I´m kidding don´t you. I wish I was kidding. We´ve been having some intermittent electrical problems which I honestly thought had been resolved. Apparantly not. It turned out we had blown a fuse, which I quickly replaced, only to find it blown again. It was getting cold out and I was in no position to troubleshoot an electrical short so we set off in search of the nearest hospitable accomodations sin headlight. Our brake light was still working, which I felt would adequately indicate our location to vehicles approaching from the rear, and our blinkers were able to provide a surprisingly acceptable yellow strobe to light our way ahead.
At 10 mph we had no intention of driving all the way to the city and neither of us were sure just how far we would have to go before finding a place to stay. Luckily, it only took about 15 minutes. We pulled up to a remote truck stop where we were waved to the side of the road by the police officer on duty. He started out by telling us how unsafe it was for us to ride without a headlight (Thanks) and asked us a bunch of questions about what we were up to. It turned out that there wasn´t a hotel for many miles and, after conferring with his partner, he invited us to park the bike inside the police station and sleep in the dorms by candlelight.
They provided a stack of blankets and showed us around the place. My favorite part of the tour was when they opened the door to show us the bathroom. Turns out it was also the rear entrance to the building. In any case, we were warm and safe and I gave them $10 for generator gas before leaving. We slept until 6am and hit the road to Arequipa. It was unbearably cold outside and we were thrilled when we finally pulled into town and stopped at the first cafe we could find to warm up with coffee and hot chocolate.
We subsequently found a hostel, got cleaned up, dropped off our laundry, and are now working on a plan to get the electronics and fork seal fixed before heading on to Bolivia.

For those of you who don´t have the attention span to digest the entire post, allow me to recap. In the last two days we have dealt with; an angry mob, a dead dog, a lost tool carrier, a broken helmet cam, a bent handle bar, a flat tire, a leaking front fork seal, malfunctioning electronics, being stranded in the mountains, and riding on the brink of frost bite.

Stay tuned for a (surely) more positive update.

Some of the photos are sad...

description of the photo

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Conquering Machu Picchu

(Cusco - Machu Picchu - Sicuani, Peru)

The night before departing Cusco for Machu Picchu we wandered into the main Plaza in search of a restaurant and were treated to an impressive firework display on the Cathedral steps. A band was loudly trumpeting Andean music as a team of drunken ¨technicians¨ carried 4 enormous firework laden bamboo structures out onto the steps and set them ablaze. It was quite a spectacle to behold, sparks and flaming pieces of bamboo showering the crowd in what surely would not have been permitted in such a responsible country as the USA. Booooo!
At one point Grace screamed, ¨lookout!¨ as one of the towers began to collapse just behind me, and with the reflexes of a frightened possum I screamed like a girl and ran for cover. No harm was done, and the locals had a good laugh.
Afterwards we enjoyed a couple tasty beverages and an incredible shepherd's pie at Paddys Pub just off the square. A bit spendy, but in our opinion, well worth it.

The following day took us over the hill from Cusco to the tiny Incan village of Pisac where we were lucky to visit on a Sunday which is market day. We wandered along the cobblestone streets and through the colorful bamboo stalls for a couple of hours and picked up a few souvenirs, which I´m sure Grace can´t wait to share with you all, and then enjoyed a wonderful food cart lunch of chicken, stuffed peppers and pasta for somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 dollars.
From there we headed to Ollantaytambo where we intended to stay the night. On a tip from Grace´s Auntie Palma, we stopped in at El Albergue Hotel to say hi to a distant acquaintance and what a fantastic stop this turned out to be. The incredibly generous hotel manager and son of the owner, Juaquin, invited us to stay, not at the hotel, but in his home, free of charge. He also joined us for dinner and filled us in on a lot of the local flavor, as well as let us play with his awesome doggies. A couple Pisco Sours, a bottle of wine, an incredible Alpaca steak and homemade Asparagus soup for dinner and we called it a night.
Thanks again Juaquin!

Getting to Machu Picchu on the cheap!
It costs $100 per person for a round trip train ticket from Cusco to Machu Picchu. From Ollantytambo, the half way point to which you can drive, the round trip train ticket costs $62 per person. This is in addition to the $40 per person entrance fee into the actual ruins that you pay once you arrive. Not surprisingly things can get pretty expensive and that´s why we decided to save some dough and have a little adventure.
It turns out that it´s actually possible in 4 1/2 hours to drive from Ollantaytambo, over the hill and around the bend to the tiny village of Santa Theresa. From there it´s a mere 2 1/2 hour hike down a set of active train tracks to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.
The trip is fantastic and I recommend it for anyone with the means. Unfortunately for us, after a somewhat heavy night of drinking (not really, but considering we are averaging a beer a week, it doesn´t take much) and a long motorcycle ride, by the time we stumbled into Aguas Calientes we were seriously pooped and Grace was NOT feeling well. It took an hour longer than our return trip, and it was dark by the time we arrived. We were welcomed by the twinkle of thousands of lightning bugs as we finished. We stayed in the fantastic Hostal Chokra and set our watches for an early wake up call. Grace didn´t get much sleep that night.

It´s hard to put into words our experience at the Ruins of Machu Picchu so I´ll let the photos do most of the talking. We were in line for the bus at 5am and passed through the entrance gate to the Ruins within an hour, plenty of time to see the sun crest the nearby peaks and light up the ancient city. The day began with the city shrouded in a thick and fast moving fog, but as the hours passed the sky cleared and the air became warm and comfortable. Due to Grace´s low energy we decided not to summit Wuayna Picchu and instead enjoyed a full 4 1/2 hours of wandering about the stones and listening to random tour guides explain the details. We were back at the hostal by Noon and ready for a nap. We stayed the night and headed out in the morning, once again along the train tracks. It wasn´t easy, but we had conquered Machu Picchu and it was spectacular!

We re-traced our route back to Ollantaytambo and then on to Cusco, a full 10 hours of travel. It was at lunch that day on the side of the highway that I met the pepper that nearly ended my life. You should understand that I´m not in the habit of biting into Serrano or Habañero peppers and so am not accustomed to the body's reaction to this type of event, but when I picked up what I thought was a seemingly harmless appetizer and sunk my teeth in I swear I almost threw up out of fear that the feeling wouldn´t pass. The pepper had been spat, drink had been drunk, and the burn went on for what seemed like an eternity. Grace got a good laugh and some fun photos of the experience. Suffice to say I eventually got over it but it´s certainly a lesson I won´t soon forget.
On the way home we also ran into our friend Woodie who was heading in the opposite direction, on his way to Machu Picchu. We traded stories from the last time we met in Ecuador and made plans to meet again in Bolivia.
After a long day we pulled into Cusco just as darkness settled in. They had a room for us back at the Pompawasi Inn where all of our gear was stored and we got ready for a restful night. A light meal at a nearby cafe and a little ¨Anger Management¨ on the Teli and we were out cold.

Grace was still low on energy this morning, so we had a late breakfast and I cleaned out the air filter while she kicked back. We left Cusco around 12:30 with the modest goal of spending the night in Sicuani, only 2 hours away. This turned out to be surprisingly optimistic as we soon learned upon arriving at the first of many road blocks. Three years ago Matt and I spent the night on a bus on this same road due to similar road blocks. The locals in this area are apparently often upset with government actions and decide to carry massive stones out into the street and make their point by blocking traffic in both directions, generally for a period of 24 hours.
We politely parked the bike and inquired as to the cause of the discontent as well as the expected duration of the blockade. For the most part everyone was very friendly and we were allowed to pass through the first 2 blockades without delay. The next two, however, required a bit more persuasion. On both occasions Grace waited with the bike and I went and made friends. About 20 minutes of talking with a group of surprisingly drunken protesters and answering all of their questions about our adventure, we were let through. What should have been a 2 hour drive became 4 hours and we were happy to make it into town and settle into our hostal for the night. Two twin beds with a shared bathroom and no shower for $5. What a steal.
We later learned that, as a rule, motorcycles are allowed to pass without delay, yet another reason to travel on 2 wheels.

**Grace´s Note:
I would just like to thank Adam for trying to be gentle in regards to my general state of being over these last few days. I can´t recall ever feeling so sick and yet accomplishing so much (3 hours of railroads, 5 hours on Machu Picchu, 2 1/2 hours back on the railroads). He´s been a great nurse, and let me sleep this morning while he cleaned the air filter. The night before Machu Picchu I was literally awake every 45 minutes or so till 4:30a when we woke up to head out. Monty´s Revenge, indeed.


FYI: All future photos will be loaded into a new Picasa Web Album, Two for the Road Two. This means that if you want to view any earlier photos you need click on the link for Album #1 at the top left hand side of the blog :-)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Piggies! Part Two

(Huancayo, Peru - Cusco, Peru)

At last we have a chance to post those baby pig photos I promised. I am starting to seriously contemplate procuring one when I get home and having it for a pet. Is there anything cuter?

Two more big days of riding, stopping one night at Hostal Los Libertadores in the town of Ayacucho. We made a dramatic entrance by ramming the motorcycle´s steel underbelly into their doorstep leaving a large dent in the shiny metal step protector. Though the young men working there tried to knock it out with a hammer, it was to no avail. We left our mark in Ayacucho.
It was a fantastic place for $10 (30 soles), except that we shared a single bed for the night. Tiny, tiny blankets! After cleaning off the dust from the road (but not changing out of our riding/travel clothes) we wandered down some great walking streets and found a restaurant that served up some delicious lomo saltado and chicharron de pollo. These are two very popular dishes, the first being fried potatoes with vegetables (mainly tomatoes) and beef strips sauteed in a tasty sauce, served with rice. The second is breaded pieces of chicken, fried and served with fries and three types of sauce that taste vaguely like mustard, mayonnaise, and spicey ketchup.

The next day we hit the road at about 9:00am, waving farewell to our hosts who had kindly washed and dried the motorcycle which ended up very clean on one side. I even spied one of them attempting to polish the spokes!
It was a long day. It ended at last in Andahuaylas where we promptly ate dinner downstairs and went straight to bed.
Again we were up and out the door by 9:30am. Breakfast was Pan Comón (common bread) which is a tasty, hollow roll. We bought 8 for 1 sol, which is about 33cents.
Our ride started with three rugged hours on mountainous, silty, dusty roads looping up and down canyons and heading toward the turnoff where we were excited to finally hit the autopista (paved two-lane highway!). From there it was another four or so hours to Cusco, where we found a room at Hostal Pompawasi for $17/ night just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas and a whole lot of restaurants, clubs, bars, and shopping options for the hordes of travelers. The city´s population is about 600,000 and as you walk around you can spot Inca foundations on which the Spanish conquerors built their huge (and rather pretty) churches.
Arriving on Friday night, the city was alive. The plazas were filled with people, stages with live Andean music, busy restaurants, and fun people watching. It was also very cold. We are both pretty well adjusted to the altitude after our time in and out of the mountains but still can get pretty winded after walking up a long hill. I also noticed that after only about 3 ounces of wine (possibly less) I was feeling pretty loopy.
We had a rockin´good Friday night, and were in bed by 8:30p with our books. I have to add that I am very pleased with our blanket situation in that they are warm and soft and drapey, and large enough that they hang over the edges with no room for icy air to creep in.

Today we ate breakfast at a fantastic little place called Jack´s Café Bar. Adam and his brother Matt ate there three years ago when they came to Peru to hike Macchu Piccu, and though Adam usually likes to try out new places we headed there anyway. The food was great, but I have to say that it was the first place we´ve been in a long time that was pushing for turnover! There was a line out the door which made eating quickly seem like a good idea.
After breakfast we headed to Moto Row, where we managed to find a new rear tire and have it replaced within about two hours. Now we´re ready for the road South!
We also visited the ruins close to town, wandering around looking at the huge rocks which are perfectly fitted together and, well, amazing. There are lots and lots of tour groups wandering around, and we chatted with one couple who were also counting edges to see if they could find one with more than twelve. The famous one with twelve is down near the plaza. We took photos of ourselves next to it.

From here we head to Macchu Piccu, South to Arequipa, on to Lake Titicaca, and then to Bolivia! We have so much to see still, it is a bit strange. Our trip has been so full of sights and new places, and there are so many more ahead.

Happy Birthday to Kyle, Sandra, and Mum.
Happy Graduation to Kevin!!

Much love,
Grace and Adam

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Two Part Pig Heaven

(Huaraz, Peru - Huancayo, Peru)

It is apparently baby pig season in Peru, and I have spotted several little troops of the cute and tiny piglets from my back seat view. I couldn't help but wish that I could hop down off the motorcycle, plop myself in the middle of them, and play! Sort of like in Guatemala when a young mother handed over her baby boy, and in Panama when I was suddenly surrounded with little Wuonan children. Once I get excited about something it can get a bit ridiculous. For example, the squeals that escaped from my mouth yesterday when we rounded a corner high in the mountains and there were SEVEN tiny baby piggies trying to hide in the bushes. No Mama Pig around, and they were being very smart staying all together and running off the road when they heard engine sounds. What followed is definitely a highlight of my trip so far, and to understand I bid you wait for Part Two, which has to wait till I can get access to a computer (I'm using the iPod right now). In the meantime, I will add a bit about our last couple of days.

We officially rode very very high, 4,720 meters or 15,486 feet!!! We've been all layered up, trying to figure out the best distribution of clothing, and managing pretty well. We haven't had to pull out all the long underwear yet, but we did find ourselves shopping for outerwear. A new scarf for Adam and a fleece jacket for me. Because the road takes us up and down continuously, at least a few times a day we pull over to add or remove layers. It can be impressively cold up high. We left Huaraz and made it to Huanaco where we stayed in the Hostal Las Vegas. Tiny sheets that exposed the mattress weren't our favourite part. Dinner was grilled chicken with fries for me (I am loving the thyme-flavoured mayonnaise!) and Mollijas for Adam. We don't know which part of the animal it was, but aside from a bit of cartelage, was quite tasty and the texture was like a less squishy scallop. Hard to describe. Today took us South along a lovely if slightly less interesting paved road to Huancayo. Let me just say that trying to tell people where we've been lately and where we're headed has been a bit difficult considering this: Huallanca, Huaraz, Huanaco, Huancayo. Try keeping those straight! Also, each has a very specific vowel emphasis. Anyway, we are staying in a big lovely old house called La Casa de La Abuela (Grandmother's House) which seems to be empty of other guests. We have bunk beds in the dorm room tonight, and are settling in after a scary movie at the Cine Planet. Shockingly, we ate Pizza Hut and Burger King, and liked it. We should be in Cuzco in the next couple of days, looking forward to it! Check back soon for photos of little piggies. Oh, and besides a little bruise my foot is doing just fine.

Sweet dreams,
Grace and Adam

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Riding the Ride

(Chachapoyas, Peru - Huaraz, Peru)

On route from Chachapoyas we took a few hours to ride out to Kuèlap, a mountain top fortress that outdates the Incas (who came in and booted the original owners and took it over themselves for a while, till they were conquered by the Spanish). My foot was a bit tender and bruised, so we took it easy up the rocky path and wandered through the circular stone spaces/houses where thousands of people once lived. The road up, or rather up, around, down, back and then up again (in other words truly the most in-direct route I´ve seen in a while) was beautiful, narrow and just plain fun. Clouds loomed as we headed back down and toward Leymebamba, which we now call Lame-Bamba and besides a quick night´s sleep wasn´t much to talk about. We had separate single beds, and I fell asleep at about 9pm.

We have truly been riding on some seriously out of the way roads, hardly shown on the map, rocky, dirty, muddy, bumpy, with views that take your breath away. The road has been so distracting that I have had a hard time recalling where we´ve stayed. Every evening we are wiped out from riding on what are basically narrow, one-lane tracks on the side of steep precipices. So far, we´ve stayed off the beaten track, well worth it for the photos. I´ve taken to keeping the camera up my jacket sleeve for easier access. You never know when you´re going to make a turn and have the perfect opportunity for a great shot of the mountains, a tunnel, waterfalls, or a small Peruvian woman in her full skirts and large straw hat. I´ve learned that your first chance is usually your best one, as you come around a corner. If you hesitate, you miss it. And that just sucks.

We visited Celendìn, and arrived in the pouring rain. We found a little pizzeria and watched the Champions League soccer finals while warming up with hot chocolate as mud and water pooled around our boots on their white floor. We stayed at Hostal Loyers, where we were able to park the motorcycle in their large, open courtyard under the eaves. Adam changed the front brakes and I cleaned the air filter. I also watched a little bit of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit show. Seriously.
Just down the street from the hotel we found a little comedor called Doña Danny, where a very kind family chatted with us a bit as we picked up some snacks, and where we returned for a tasty breakfast of cafè con leche and tamales the next morning.

From Celendìn we had a relatively short day riding to Cajamarca, a large colonial town with a nice lookout over the city. Adam was struggling with a little bit of a stomach bug, but we managed to hike to the top of the lookout, and then walk back to the hotel (slightly faster on the way back). We stayed at Las Lejas Hotel for a whopping $5 (15 Soles) in a room where someone had broken their presumably full glass bottle of perfume. Needless to say we didn´t walk around barefoot, and the room smelled awfully "nice." After a bit of a rest, Adam felt better and we headed out to dinner. I have to admit that Adam is definitely the more adventurous eater of the two of us, and he decided he was up for the famous Peru delicacy, Cuy. If you´re not familiar with this one, let me just describe it as cute and cuddly previous to its demise. It´s guinea pig. Although he tried to order the 1/4 serving they only had 1/2 servings available. No problem. Rice and saucy potatoes accompanied the little fried guy, who´s ribs, teeth, and claws were, well, still there. See our photos for an up close and personal look. I would like to add that it tasted delicious. Rather like duck confit...

Riding on, we headed toward the coastal town of Trujillo, the biggest city in Northern Peru. We had heard from other riders that the coastal Pan-American highway in Peru is not fun and generally something to avoid, but our pace had been a bit slow on the windy mountain roads and so we decided to make up a bit of time as well as see a bit of the coast. Although we did end up making good time South this way the roads were truly miserable and worth thinking twice about if you find yourself in a similar situation.
As we descended out of the green mountains along a busy and bone rattling road we entered endless sand dunes and straightaways that gave us the impression of riding at the bottom of a dry sea bed. Winds have created incredible undulating dunes that pile themselves at the foot of rocky mountains, their peaks lost in a haze from the whipped sand. It is an understatement to say that it was a bit different than the past three months of riding we´ve done. Not since Northern Mexico have we spent so much time riding through sand and cacti.

We found a simple, comfy room at Hostal Encanto in Trujillo, one block away from a classy, artistic place called Muséo Bar and Restaurant. There we enjoyed some rather pricey cocktails ($5 each, it´s what we spent on a hotel room!) and tasty treats surrounded with photos of music and artist greats, strange live piano music, and beautifully painted dark terra cotta walls.
On the way out of town we stopped at the Chan Chan ruins long enough to take a few photos of the massive walls of sand and mud that stretch out across the sand dunes. There were 35,000 people who lived in these huge complexes, some reserved for kings, others for peasants. The Incas eventually came and chased them out, not bothering to use the structures for themselves.
Yesterday, we headed out on what became a lonnnnnnnng day through spectacular canyons, tunnel after tunnel, tiny towns out in the middle of nothingness. We´ve lived on salty crackers for our lunches this past week, thank goodness for Salticas!
All I can say about the ride, is "wait till you see the photos!" I actually got sick of taking them, but the opportunities were endless and I couldn´t pass them up. We limped into Huallanca where the one hostal in town (Hostal Koki) let us park in the entry, served us a delicious dinner, and even let us watch my bootleg Ecuadorian version of Twilight! Adam was thrilled. Our bed was a bit more than uncomfortable, and there was only one pillow. Bloodsucker mosquitoes were stalking me in the night (I discovered a bloody smear on the sheet in the morning from where it got my hand), and our neighbors were up wrestling in the hallway at 3:36am. Ah, well. Life on the road.

We haven´t spent more than one night anywhere in a week, riding long days and trying to make tracks through this incredible area, Cordilleras Blanca and the base town of Huaraz. People come from all over the world to hike and camp, the peaks and canyons the steepest and highest in the world next to the Himalayas. We can see the white peaks from our hostel, where I managed to trip on a rogue shoe and drop my camera on the cement floor. The camera was on, the lense out, and I smashed one side into crookedness. Adam worked on fixing it, and at one point had all the little screws in separate piles, and pieces of this and that scattered across the bed. It now takes photos, the lense moves in and out; it is also held together with a zip-tie and the screen is fried. Really, the most important thing is that I can still take photos off the back of the motorcycle. I know I wouldn´t be able to handle the Nikon and the potholes at the same time!

Tonight we ate a great dinner downtown at Pachamama, (I had a vegetarian lasagna and a glass of red wine, Adam had chicken curry and a strawberry shake), then grabbed a bite of chocolate on the way back, and took some beautiful photos of the snow-capped mountains from our rooftop terrace.

Ah, Life.

Grace and Adam

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Andean Grooves

(Cuenca, Ecuador - Chachapoyas, Peru)

What an amazing stretch of riding we`ve had these last few days!!!

After a wonderfully recuperative stay with Lyria and Gabe (during which time we mostly just lounged around surfing the net and watching contraband DVDs on Gabe´s hi definition projector) we took to the pavement once again and headed East into the mountains. As Grace told you in the previous post, the road was an absolute nightmare of fog and cold and after a long and stressful ride we finally broke free of the clouds and entered Cajas National Park. Interestingly there is a steep fee of $10 per person to enter the park, but you can pass through for free as long as you spend no more than 30 minutes within the park´s borders. It was a fantastic 15 minute stretch of road that gave us a taste of the park´s unique and picturesque terrain. It really was a different world up there of rolling brown mountain tops and desolate stretches of earth, sporadically dotted with brightly colored algae pools. We would have loved to stay and explore further but it was cold enough that we quickly moved on our way down to the warmer temperatures within the colonial walls of Cuenca.

A beautiful and relaxing city, we spent two days at ¨El Cafecito¨ in the historic district and wandered about with our camera taking photos and sampling the local fare. On our day off I spent a few hours sewing patches over the holes in my backpack (from Volcano Bording in Nicaragua) and Grace kicked back with her book. It was at this time that a wild eyed British hombre named Ulysses came strolling into the Dorm room looking for his bed, soaking wet and clearly put out. He threw down his bag and guitar case, kicked off his sneakers (under which he was wearing plastic shopping bags over his socks) and flopped down onto the bed. He then indulged us with the humorous tale of his previous 48 hours.
He had been told by one of his tour group contacts in town that for $70 it would be well worth his time and money to take a scenic and sun filled 2-day horseback trek through the mountains outside of Cuenca with a private tour guide and porter. Unfortunately this turned out to be one of the poorer decisions of his year long world tour. It turned out that the ¨tour guide¨ was nothing more than an extra set of hands, the weather was miserably wet and cold the entire time, and the porter was a sickly donkey. Our new friend went on and on about how uncomfortable he had been the entire time riding on the back of a less than sure footed horse, attempting to help the unprepared girl who had accompanied him and didn´t bring a rain coat or sleeping bag. After camping out on a wet hillside and eating a pitiful dinner and breakfast, the gallant trio packed up and headed home. As they made their way along the path Ulysses continued to grow more and more uneasy at the steadyness of, not only his own horse, but also that of the donkey that was carrying all of his gear. The path was narrow and the hillside steep when all of a sudden, to his unpleasant surprise, the donkey lost it´s footing directly in front of him and went tumbling over the edge of a muddy cliff. As he tells this part of the story his mouth hangs open and his wide eyes stare down at the floor boards as if begging for help. It was hilarious.
It turns out the the donkey did not die but was only severely banged up at the bottom of the hill. His guitar however, was dead. He helped the guide get the animal back on it´s feet and they finished the trek home, walking at times, and returned to the hotel exhilerated, wet, and depressed.
I love the stories we get to hear.

From Cuenca the ride South to Loja was uneventful and quick. From there however the road leading into the hills towards Vilcabama and the land of longevity became more windy and fresh and the scenery greeted us with a big smile. The brilliance of the green hillsides became especially stunning as the sun moved into it´s final quarter of the sky, and we pulled into our destination feeling fantastic. A short stop to drop our things off at Hostal Mandanga and we walked over to the ¨Otro Restaurant¨ for a bite to eat. The French couple that ran the place was super nice and the food was delicious. At one point, just before we were served, the power throughout the entire town shut off for about 5 minutes leaving the crowds in the plaza and the patrons on the restaurant porch in total darkness. Apparantly nothing out of the ordinary in this small hillside getaway, as the owners quickly produced candles for each table and a pair of headlamps by which they went on with their food prep. At that moment it became clear to me that I fully intend to live in a place that is completely unfazed by a power outage. It was really nice to be around a group of people that wasn´t bothered by it but rather simply pulled out the candles and move right along without a seconds thought.

We knew we had a long day ahead of us when we woke up at 7:30 and packed the bike. We were told it was 6 hours to the Peruvian border at La Balsa and an additional 2 hours from there to the first town that would provide suitable lodging. A brief breakfast of bread and yogurt and we were on our way. We were looking at 200km of dirt road, and the cloud cover was less than encouraging. Up the winding road we went and soon found ourselves in the midst of a sizeable downpour. The muddy road and ongoing heavy machinery road construction kept me on my toes and we found the time pass nicely as we marvelled at the remote mountain sides and swerved to avoid the random suspension killing pothole or stray chicken. We arrived at the border after only 4 hours and proceeded with the necessary paperwork. Both leaving Ecuador and Entering Peru was a piece of cake, the only issue being that we had to wait half an hour for a grumpy Peruvian immigration official that smelled disturbingly like an outhouse to finish lunch and stamp us in.

The short ride down to San Ignacio, Peru would have been a pleasant end to the day if it wasn´t for a bone-headed mishap that left us splayed out in the roadway with Grace´s foot pinned beneath the bike. Listening to music and chatting about the beautiful hillsides, we rounded a 90 degree right hand corner and I lost the back end of the bike in a patch of loose rocks. We fish tailed to the left and went down in the middle of the road. Luckily we weren´t going more than 10 or 15 mph, but as we went down the bike pinched Grace´s left foot under the side case which left her gritting her teeth in pain. I felt terrible. I mean, I still feel terrible. Luckily she´s a tough girl and we were back on the bike after only a short break. The ankle was unharmed but the side of her foot is slightly swollen and is a bit painful for her to put weight on. She sounds confident that it´s likely only a deep bruise and that she should be as good as new in a few days. From now on I will add yet another layer of caution to the heaping mound of care I already take with my precious cargo to ensure we don´t have any further mishaps :-)

We had a nice evening at Hostal la Posada in San Ignacio watching ¨Sean of the Dead¨ in Spanish and eating fried chicken with fries (Grace liked the chicken so much she insisted she have some more today for lunch. I decided to experiment and got something that I didn´t recognize off the menu. It was dark brown, chewy and a bit fibrous :-( The ride today was really incredible. There´s something wonderful about winding along a mountain road with spectacular vistas on all sides and knowing that there wasn´t a guidebook or trail map that recommended it for you. We´re just making our way from one out of the way place to another and are treated time and again with amazing sights.
We arrived in the hilltop town of Chachapoyas and quickly found that Hostal Revash suited us perfectly. We rolled the bike into the fourier and unloaded the gear before taking a stroll around. There´s nothing particularly fascinating about the streets or the shops, but we both feel very comfortable and welcome here and are glad to have made it a stop on our route.
From here we continue South to the ruins of Kuelap where we will learn about the 2000 year old ruins and the history of the pre-Incan culture of the ¨Cloud People.¨ From there we make our way towards the mountain enthusiast´s wonderland Huarez, and then on towards Cusco and Macchu Pichu.
Hope this finds you all well. Much Peace and Much Love,

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