I really enjoy the big pushes. Even though they are endless miles of breathing diesel fumes around white-knuckle corners, these days are what I imagined when we set off. Roaring engines, technical riding, and grease everywhere. Cali to Quito had it all.
Saturday we pulled out of Cali at 10:00am and started hauling south on the Panamerican. It was a pretty simple route given the well-signed highway and Charlie’s GPS. Ecuador is mountainous, so of course we started climbing early in the afternoon. There were a lot of magnificent views, but regrettably they were tainted by all the semis. If they aren’t running you off the road, they are going about 15mph in front of you… and they will never pull off on a straightaway to let the train of cars pass them. Instead they get as much speed as they can and then roll over on the next turn. Brilliant.
I had another drop when we pulled off for lunch. Just like all of them, I was trying to do a very simple low speed turn basically at walking speed. With my mind on lunch, I let the weight get away from me and before I knew it I was standing over the bike on its side. No big deal, I just wish all the Colombians hadn’t seen it.
I think my new boots had something to do with it. I bought them small, something I picked up when I worked at Wintersport ski shop in college. Ski boots are supposed to fit tight so every little movement is immediately transferred from your muscle to the ski. I figure the principle works in all settings. The smaller the boot, the more precisely you can place it and feel your movements. You just have to put up with some cramped toes; I’ve been buying boots small for years now so my feet feel at home when my toes are curled in on themselves like a climbing shoe. Probably doesn’t work for everyone, but I love it. The TCX’s are way better for riding; I never miss a shift, there’s no draft between the boot and my pant cuffs, and they hold onto the foot pegs better. The only drawback is that they don’t lock around my ankle as tight as a set of snug leather work boots (they also aren’t worn in yet). They’re slightly lighter and have less tread so when I put my feet down they slip a little more than I’m used to. Putting a foot down in those work boots was like dropping a cement brick anchor. They’re a little awkward now, but I’ll figure out how to walk the bike in these boots quickly.
The second half of Saturday was more intense. We climbed high into the mountains and the roads turned pretty poor. For a fifty mile stretch there were dirt patches peppering both lanes over a winding mountain range. Our tires are built to handle them, but hitting one at 60mph on a decent lean could put me on the pavement. It took a lot of concentration and some reserved riding, but we navigated them with no problems. Around 5:00pm we pulled into Pasto, CO and found Alex and Kristi at their hostel. We had a good night together, but it was pretty tame given another day of mountains would be starting in less than twelve hours.
As promised, Sunday’s mountains were just as rough. Paved roads the entire way, but we often battled ripples in the tarmac as well as high winds. Between the two, it can be terrifying coming into a turn having the handle bars wobbling back and forth at 50mph. What most people don’t expect out of motorcycles, though, is how much they want to stay up. Those wheels want to stay in line more than anything, so it takes a hell of an effort to throw that harmony off. Rest assured though, when it does happen, it’s hell to pay.
By noon Charlie, Andy, and I pulled into Ipiales, CO, the last city before the border. Feeling energetic, the three of us decided to take a half hour detour to the Sanctuary Las Lajas. I’d seen pictures of Las Lajas, and it proved to be as impressive as I hoped. Las Lajas is a Catholic cathedral built on top of a bridge that spans across a very deep gully at the bottom of a valley just outside of Ipiales. We were lucky enough to be there on a Sunday took witness the church in all its glory. The building itself is very intricate inside and out. The bridge it sits on is impressive as well. There is a waterfall that feeds the river flowing beneath it all; the surrounding environment alone is worth stopping for. Most extraordinary aspect is the rock wall behind the altar inside the church. The building only has three man-made sides with the cliff wall acting as the fourth. It’s a trip watching mass. On one hand you’re surrounded by chandeliers and intricate gold-plated mosaics, on the other it feels like it’s all taking place inside a cave. I’ll get some pictures up one of these days.
With clouds gathering we took off towards the border early afternoon. The Colombia-Ecuador border was the simplest crossing we’ve had all trip. It was well-signed, streamlined, and smooth. Within an hour we were stamped into Ecuador with imported bikes. All free of charge. I was a little bent out of shape after I lost $20 on the money exchange. I accidently hit the border with about $250 in Colombian pesos. The only way to exchange cash was with the border sherpas and they like to make a profit. I argued them down a bit, but in the end I still lost a Jackson.
We left the border around 3:00pm and finally stopped to rest two hours later in Ibarru, Ecuador. I immediately began to appreciate the prices here. Ecuador, like Panama, uses the U.S. dollar for its currency so there is no mental exchange to deal with on every purchase. Even better was the private room at a nice hotel for $16. We had hot water, Wi-Fi, a pool, cable TV, and even complimentary shampoo. After a quick wash we all headed down the street for a huge steak and a beer for $7. A very rewarding night after two hard days of riding.
With Quito just sixty miles away, we got up late Monday morning and got packed at a leisurely pace. The ride in was pretty simple and somewhere along the way we crossed the equator. I was pretty disappointed that somehow we managed to miss the photo-op at the center of the world monument, so I may have to go back and find it on the way out of town. Anyway, I’m in the southern hemisphere now. Upon arriving in Quito proper we hired a taxi to guide us through town to the hostel district. Quito starts in a basin between several mountains and its favelas spread up the hills in every direction. The elevation is somewhere around 2,400 meters and it gets plenty cold at night.
After three days of intense riding the first thing Andy, Charlie, and I did was open a tab at our hostel (around 4:00pm). We piled beers onto it until the hostel bar closed at 10:30pm. At that point there are two options: go out or go to bed. None of us wanted to go out. The first thing the staff told us when we arrived is that Quito is one of the most dangerous cities on the gringo trail. Apparently, it is common for thieves to throw human feces on tourists from the roofs. Then a second thief comes up and pretends to help clean you up as he cleans out your pockets. I was tired and I didn’t smell like shit; a status quo sounded just fine.
Today, Tuesday, I’m lounging. I’m considering finding the Suzuki dealership in town here to continue my search for spare parts. The clutch cable never came through in Cali so that’s still on my list. So is the throttle cable. I’d also be interested in finding some spare clutch plates. I’ve been hard on mine lately and having them burn out on some dirt road in Peru would be a buzz kill. They’re doing fine right now, though, so I if I’m careful they should hold out a while. Whether I find them or not, it’s not the end of the world. It wouldn’t be the same trip if I weren’t worrying about something every mile of the way.