Friday, November 9th to Saturday, November 17th – A few highlights from a week in Buenos Aires: On Saturday evening we went to a Primera Division football (soccer) game featuring the local team from Buenos Aires, River Plate, playing Union from Santa Fe, Argentina in the largest stadium in the country. The few hundred (or maybe thousand) Union fans occupied only a single isolated section of the stadium, which was cordoned off with chain link fencing topped with razor wire ostensibly for their own protection. The rival crowds chanted songs virtually throughout the entire match, with the fans of both teams trying to out-do each other with their boisterous singing and almost continuous beating on large bass and snare drums. At the end of the game, the River Plate fans (i.e., most of the stadium) were not allowed to leave for half an hour to allow the Union fans time to make good their escape! The stadium is located near the final approach path to BAs domestic airport, so every few minutes a large jetliner would pass over low at the north end of the stadium, adding to the entertainment value. It was a great cultural experience, and River Plate won the game 2 – 0.
By happy coincidence two of Dogcow’s business partners – Rob Burkart, Fraser Ross and Fraser’s better half, Maureen – were attending a conference in Buenos Aires when we arrived in the City. We enjoyed a nice meal and the River Plate game with them, and separately Dogcow caught up on some business issues and did some touring with them.
On Tuesday evening the Gang of Four went to Tango Porteño, one of the first-rate venues that showcase what may be the most sensual art form around. It’s located next to the Teatro Colon, a massive neoclassical edifice on Avenida 9 de Julio, which at 110 meters is the widest boulevard in the world, requiring at least two green lights for pedestrians to make it across. The Teatro is reputed to be the second-largest performing arts venue in the southern hemisphere after the Sydney Opera House. And not far away is the iconic Obelisk of Buenos Aires, built in 1936 to commemorate 400 years since the City’s founding less than fifty years after Columbus’ first voyage of discovery.
While visiting the fine Metropolitan Cathedral in the Centro, I was impressed to see that more than 200 years after the May Revolution started Argentina on its path to independence from Spain, the tomb of El Libertado Jose de San Martin, a national hero of the ensuing War of Argentine Independence, is being given a perpetual honour guard with soldiers in ceremonial uniform marching neatly up from the nearby presidential palace every few hours to relieve the current guard detail.
In the City’s fashionable Recoleta district there is a massively beautiful neoclassical structure not referenced on any of the tourist maps. I couldn’t believe my eyes when told it housed the Law School of the University of Buenos Aires, a post-secondary institution with more than 300,000 students and free tuition, apparently even for foreign students!
Nearby I visited the Museo de Bellas Artes which featured many fine paintings by European and South American masters, including the French impressionists, and a visiting display of works by Carravaggio, including his haunting Medusa. Admission was free!
Buenos Aires, a metropolis of 13 million people, bills itself as the Paris of South America, a claim I was initially skeptical of after seeing significant under-development in other parts of Argentina. But after a week of visiting different parts of the City, and seeing the many beautiful public spaces, magnificent buildings, expansive boulevards, innumerable al fresco dining establishments, and extensive and diverse shopping areas, I’m convinced. Part of the reason can be found in the the GDP data. At more than $34,000 the GDP per capita in Buenos Aires is the second highest of any province in the country, and about two-and-a-half times the $12,926 average for the country as a whole. Only Santa Cruz, which has oil and a sparse population, has a higher measure than Buenos Aires. For comparison, Canada’s GDP per capita is just over $50,000. So that helps explain why Buenos Aires is visibly more developed than other parts of the country, several provinces of which have GDP per capita only in the $3,000 to $6,000 range.
While in Buenos Aires I stayed at the modern OWN Hotel in the City’s trendy Palermo-Hollywood District. Due to lack of room availability, Hector, Space Cowboy and Dogcow stayed first at the equally nice Be Hollywood Hotel about two blocks away on Humbolt, then relocated to other cool hotels in both Palermo-Hollywood and the adjacent but equally trendy Palermo-SOHO District. We each mostly did our own thing during the day but reunited for Happy Hour and dinner together each evening including an excellent final meal together on Thursday at the celebrated La Cabrera Argentinian steak house in SOHO. The others returned on flights home to Canada the following day, but I stayed on for another night so as to rendezvous with my better half, Mary, in Miami, from where we will fly to Jamaica for a week before returning to Vancouver. BA is magical, folks!
Tuesday, November 6th to Friday, November 9th – we passed three days and four nights in Punta Arenas in southern Chile before flying to Buenos Aires, Argentina via Santiago, Chile. The main purpose of our stay in Punta Arenas was to get the bikes cleaned up and ready for shipping, and establish contact with our shipping agent, Juan Carlos Waech, to whom we will deliver the bikes for shipping. They will travel first by truck to Santiago, and then together with three bikes belonging to other adventure riders (i.e., not Gang of Four) will be loaded into a container for transport by ship to Seattle, from where we will collect ours probably sometime in February. All this activity is being coordinated by our trusty shipping specialist, Gaston Etchart, out of Miami. We delivered the bikes without incident to Carlos who stored them in an enclosed garage, then kindly took us on a short driving tour of Punta Arenas before delivering us back to the Carpa Manzana Hotel. The Hotel turned out to be very well suited for our needs while in Punta Arenas, particularly the very helpful front desk staff, and we all thought highly of the City which had a number of good restaurants and other amenities to make our stay there convenient and comfortable. With everything in good order, we awoke at 3:30 am on the Friday to make our way by taxi to the international airport to catch a 5:45 am flight to Santiago, connecting onward to Buenos Aires.
Monday, November 5th – we left Ushuaia by 7:30 am facing a long ride to get to Punta Arenas in Chile from where we plan to ship the bikes. We had originally intended to take a ferry to Punta Arenas from Porvenir on the west coast of Tierra del Fuego, but it turns out the only day of the week that ferry doesn’t run is today. As a result, we were obliged to return all the way back up to the north end of the island to Puerto Espora, to the same ferry across the Straits of Magellan on which we came over to the island. The R1200 GSA comes equipped with an on-board computer and visual display that provides real-time readouts of ambient temperature, estimated remaining range in kilometers based on available fuel and the current the rate of fuel consumption, fuel efficiency measures, etc. When the temperature falls below three degrees C., the display starts flashing to warn that there may be ice on the road. As we climbed up over the Darwin Cordillera, my display started flashing 2.5 degrees C. – the first time it has done so since I’ve owned the bike. Upon reaching the mainland, we headed southwest on Highway 255 to Punta Arenas, stopping to dip the toe of our boots in the Strait of Magellan. Along the side of the road I saw one of the large flightless Rhea birds with about 15 chicks, which because of the size of the species stood 8″-10″ tall (20 – 25 cms). After a long day of riding, we arrived safely at the Carpa Manzana (“Apple Tent”) Hotel in Punta Arenas, a comfortable mid-market establishment with a secure parking compound for the bikes. 633 kms.
Saturday, November 3rd and Sunday, November 4th – we left Hotel Atlantida in Rio Grande in search of fuel. We had drawn a bead on a station the night before but by morning it was inexplicably closed with orange traffic cones blocking access to all of the pumps. We continued our search to the very outskirts of Rio Grande before being obliged to turn back into town in our quest for fuel. We finally got started on our relatively short ride to Ushuaia (just over 200 kms), a key destination for adventure motorcyclists since it bills itself as the southernmost city in the world and is situated near the end of Argentina’s 3,079-kilometer long Ruta 3, which runs from Buenos Aires to Tierra del Fuego National Park. The scenery on the road to Ushuaia was possibly the best of the whole trip: coastal scenes, rolling hills, Magellanic forests, and a climb up the Garibaldi Pass through the eastern reaches of the Darwin Cordillera, the southeasternmost rump of the Andes. Visually, it seemed like a blend of Haida Gwaii with Glacier National Park. Along the route I spotted a beaver dam and resulting pond. The Argentinian government imported fifty beavers from Canada in 1945 hoping to establish a successful fur trade. While the new industry failed to take off, the beavers certainly did. With no natural predators the population mushroomed to more than 200,00; Chile and Argentina are now endeavoring to eradicate the pests before they spread even further. Ushuaia is a handsome coastal town of 60,000 backdropped by rugged snow-capped mountains and reflecting a Scandinavian character. We booked into the attractive and comfortable
Hotel Lennox, parking our bikes out front of the hotel on a street full of tourist shops, restaurants and other hotels. At dinner, we celebrated our arrival at the “fin del mundo” (end of the world) with a bottle of champagne. On Sunday morning we enjoyed breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant which offers spectacular views of the City and its harbour. We then rode our bikes the 25 kilometers out to Tierra del Fuego National Park, most of which was gravel or dirt track road, to the very end of Argentina’s colossal Ruta 3. 223 kms., then 56 kms. to the Park on Sunday.
Friday, November 2nd – left Rio Gallegos to continue south on Highway 3. On the outskirts of the City, we were subjected to another police check, but this one was different: after waving us over they signaled us to go into the comisaria (the roadside police station). This we did with some trepidation, but our concerns proved unfounded as all they wanted was our passports from which they entered pertinent information by hand in a large ledger, then sent us on our way. The borders get convoluted as one approaches the island of Tierra del Fuego from the northeast to go to the southernmost city on the continent, Ushiaia: first one must cross from Argentina into Chile on the mainland, then part of the island of Tierra del Fuego is under Chilean jurisdiction and the rest under that of Argentina. Effectively that means two separate border crossings in the space of a few hundred kilometers to get to Ushuaia. Fortunately, given the number of travelers making this particular journey, the two national bureaucracies have worked together to streamline the paperwork requirements, including in one case using a shared physical location, so the process is not nearly as burdensome as one might first apprehend. On the way to the ferry, Argentinian Highway 3 becomes Chilean Highway 255 at the mainland border crossing, then we turned onto Hwy 257 which took us the short distance to the ferry across the Straits of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego. We caught the ferry just as it was almost finished loading, so our timing was perfect, albeit unplanned. The ferry ride is short, only a half hour or so. On arriving at the Island, we made sure we took advantage of a photo op featuring our honoured UNICEF banner, which we have carried faithfully since departing Canada. Shortly thereafter we were traveling on a hundred kilometers or so of rough gravel road on the Chilean side of the border. Upon crossing back into Argentina, the road becomes paved again, which struck me as something of a role reversal since Chile typically has better roads than Argentina. (I suspect there is some kind of on-going bureaucratic bun-fight between the two countries over this stretch of unpaved road since although it would probably benefit Argentina disproportionately to have it paved, giving it improved access to its southern ports, Chile controls the land on which it’s situated.) Some rain fell while we were riding the gravel road which meant that a fair amount of mud and dirt got kicked up onto both bikes and riders, necessitating some cleaning upon arrival at our destination. Throughout the day we saw much fauna, including a flock of about two dozen pink flamingos in a shallow lake some distance from the road; about a dozen of the flightless Rhea birds; perhaps 200 guanacos, some of them alone, some of them in pairs or triplets, and then small and larger herds of up to about 30 individuals; thousands of sheep; and a zorro, or “South American fox” – which evidently isn’t really a fox but rather a type of wild dog! Riding through deteriorating weather with moderate rainfall and temperatures in the high single digits Celsius, we arrived cold and, in my case at least, shivering at the city of Rio Grande on Tierra del Fuego’s east coast. The first two hotels we checked were either sold out or didn’t have appropriate rooms available, but the Hotel Atlantida came through for us with suitable rooms, hot water for the showers, a secure parquero for the bikes, and good WiFi connectivity – but at $140 Cdn per room per night, it didn’t come cheap. 375 kms.
Thursday, November 1st – after Dogcow picked up his iPhone from the bus terminal we left Puerto San Julian and continued heading south on Highway 3. A short distance southwest of Puerto Santa Cruz is a junction where Highway 9 peels off westward back toward the Andes, Lago Argentino and some scenic mountain views including glaciers. We considered this option but felt that with the high winds the riding was becoming more of a chore than a pleasure and opted instead to continue south on Highway 3 to avoid adding another day or two of perilous riding in the high winds. To my surprise, in the afternoon I spotted two pink flamingos in a shallow lake not far off the road. I also saw two or three dozen wild llamas called guanacos, a few alone but the bulk in a small herds ranging from about six to a dozen members each. We entered Rio Gallegos and found our way to the Hotel Santa Cruz, a comfortable mid-range establishment with a secure parquero for the bikes. We expect to reach Tierra del Fuego tomorrow, my principal objective for the expedition. 373 kms.
Wednesday, October 31st – from Comodoro Rivadavia we made our way south on Highway 3 toward the coastal town of Puerto San Julian. We battled heavy cross-winds throughout the day but most particularly in the morning when the winds we encountered were the strongest with which we’ve ever had to contend. A few times the gusts were so strong as to knock you out of your lane, but by concentrating intently when an oncoming vehicle was approaching, especially large trucks, and endeavoring to stay just to the right of centre in your own lane – but not so far right as to risk being blown onto the soft gravel median – one was able to avert tragedy. Not far out of Comodoro Rivadavia, a lone policeman manned a check stop on the highway. As I was leading at the time, I tried to discern what his interest was and which documents the others should prepare to provide – International drivers license? Insurance? Passport? Vehicle import papers? He wanted no documents, but rather seemed fixated on the country stickers I had on my panniers. Through the language barrier, I eventually came to understand that he was interested to know if we had any more and I seemed to recall still having one in my tank bag – my Chilean flag sticker that I had not yet gotten around to putting on. I offered it up to him and he quietly put it in his breast pocket. I will let the fair reader decide if this was a gift or a shakedown, but if the latter it was one of only two attempts – and the first successful one – of the expedition to date. About halfway through the day, after riding more than 200 kilometers through heavy cross-winds, we stopped at a wayside station to pick up some drinks and a snack. It was at this juncture that Dogcow realized he had left his indispensable iPhone back in his room at the Hotel Victoria in Comodoro Rivadavia. Not wanting to ride back through the heavy winds, we pondered what to do and a veritable phalanx of helpful locals weighed in to help solve the problem, including one who telephoned the Hotel to confirm that the iPhone was there. Eventually a workable solution emerged: the proprietor at the Victoria Hotel would put the iPhone on a bus headed for Puerto San Julian, our next destination, where Dogcow could pick it up at the terminal later that night. Not surprisingly, it didn’t arrive that night but to our relief was available for pick-up the following morning. Back on the road I noticed three large birds that looked like Emus. Further research revealed that they were Darwin’s Rhea, also known as Lesser Rhea, a flightless bird similar to the Emu. I also saw two llamas which appeared to be wild. At Puerto San Julian we checked in at the Hosteria Miramar which provided good basic accommodation across the street from the ocean. There was no fenced parquero, but sufficient privacy to suggest the bikes would not be tampered with and this proved to be the case. 428 kms.
Tuesday, October 30th – we continued southeast on Ruta 40 out of Esquel. Today was decision day: do we contine south on Ruta 40 through stretches of dirt and gravel road but closer to the scenic Andes, or head southeast on Highways 20 and 26 toward the warmer climes of the Atlantic Coast to pick up the paved Highway 3 to Tierra del Fuego. The majority of the group preferred the latter option, in my case motivated by a seriously blocked nasal and sinus passage whose condition would be exacerbated by the dust on Ruta 40. Throughout the day we battled strong winds on the mostly flat Patagonian plains. At the junction where Ruta 40 peels off to the south and 20 to the southeast, we stopped to pay homage to the famed route. As it turns out, at the junction there were a number of ornate, make-shift shrines to the folk-saints Gauchito Gil and Disfunta Correa, with many offerings of wine (vino), soda pop, water (agua), cigarette butts, and even shoes! While we were there snapping some photos of the site, an Argentinian family pulled up in a car, got out, and proceeded to make their religious observances to one of the shrines for Disfunta Correa. Along the plains we spotted some cattle and sheep, but not much else. Even the highway itself was largely vacant, but when a large truck did come along it created a small adventure as the momentary wind vacuum it created threw the motorcycle sharply to the left after it passed, an artifact of the ongoing “crabbing” action necessitated by the high winds. As we moved closer to the coast there was a giant oil field adjacent to the highway with hundreds of pumpjacks pumping oil up from deep below. Upon arriving at our destination for the day, the City of Comodoro Rivadavia on the Atlantic Coast, a helpful truck driver who was himself a motorcyclist, offered to help us find a hotel for the night. He then led us a few blocks away to an impressive but expensive establishment near the ocean, and in broken English told us of a second but cheaper hotel, Hotel Victoria, about five blocks away, which we chose. It didn’t disappoint except that the lone, middle-aged female hotel clerk commanded the place like a veteran salty-dog captain of the merchant marine; I think we were all a bit intimidated by her! Hector and Dogcow decided to do for an afternoon stroll to take in the sights and sounds of the City, and in doing so came across a park with a small group of 8 – 10 dogs lounging the day away. Dogcow decided to snap a picture of them and as he raised his camera two of the larger dogs stood up and started viciously growling and barking, quickly joined by the other dogs in the pack. Dogcow and Hector moved on and fortunately for them the dogs’ attention turned momentarily toward a different pedestrian, but then returned again to the hapless Gang of Two as the dog pack started following them up the block, still barking and growling ferociously but thankfully not biting. In trying to contend with my sinus problem, I made my way to a local Farmacia just before closing time to follow up on a recommendation by Dogcow’s better half, Jamie, who is a pharmacist. As I am allergic to NSAIDs, I needed a treatment containing none of those, and her recommendation was Sudafed. Although this is a widely known brand in North America, it is not available here in Argentina and the young female Spanish-speaking pharmacist was clearly having difficulty trying to find something that had the same active ingredient as Sudafed but no NSAIDs. As I was becoming concerned that I would be unsuccessful in my quest, by happenstance a seasoned Argentinian doctor who spoke some decent English appeared at the shop door and proceeded to guide the young pharmacist toward the correct prescription for my situation, including keenly and adeptly reviewing a large phone book-sized drug catalogue to identify the correct formulation. I left with a suitable product in hand but also wondering what modality of divine intervention had just made that happen? 575 kms.
Monday, October 29th – as I was checking out of the Hotel Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche, I noticed my bank card was missing. I quickly deduced that I must have left it in the bank machine (cajero automatico) when I withdrew cash the previous evening, just as Space Cowboy had done earlier in the trip. I hurried down to the BancoPatagonia about a block away, sending a text to the Gang of Three letting them know my whereabouts, since they were in the process of mounting up. To my amazement, the bank had my card, and after a 20-minute delay I showed them my ATM receipt and my passport, signed some papers, and was on my way card in hand. Phew! We continued south on Ruta 40 over beautiful hills with lakes and snow-covered mountains as a backdrop before reaching the Patagonian plains, the Andes now to our west. Space Cowboy commented that the scenery reminded him of the Canadian Rockies, an assessment I share, with perhaps a dash of Bavarian Alps thrown in. We stopped for a coffee at the small town of El Maitén, where again I noticed a large, noisy bird that we had been seeing since southern Chile. This turned out to be the attractive and distinctively coloured grey, black and brown Bandurria, or Black-Faced Ibis. We reached our destination of Esquel, known for its skiing at a nearby mountain plus The Old Patagonian Express, a local narrow-gauge tourist railroad. We booked in at the centrally-located Sol del Sur Hotel whose credible outward appearances belied its aging, lower quality beds in the rooms. 302 kms.
Sunday, October 28th – under Dogcow’s capable stewardship, Carmen effectively guided us out of Orsono to Chilean Highway 215 heading east toward the Argentine frontier. After traveling the mighty four-lane Pan-American (Highway 5) the past several days, the 215 seemed a quiet country road even though it is a respectable two-lane highway in its own right. The scenery was impressive as we moved closer to the Mount Fuji-like Osorno Volcano to the east as well as a second volcano with a jutting basalt peak. Except for the volcanoes, one seemed to be traveling through the verdant rolling hills of the County of Surrey in southeast England. And as we approached the town of Entre Lagos in the Los Lagos region (the Chilean lake district), the landscape began to to look more like mountain-encircled pasturelands in Switzerland. As we commenced our climb up the Andes, the landscape was overtaken by a lush vegetation unlike any I’ve seen before – dense, dark green, mostly deciduous trees, which I subsequently learned is the uncommon Valdivian temperate rain forest. We exited the Chilean border zone much more expeditiously than we entered the country, and the Argentinian border crossing a few miles down the road was similarly efficient. The Cardenal Antonio Samore pass marks the official borderline between Chile and Argentina and we stopped to take a few pictures at this high mountain pass where crusted snow packs still linger off the road following the Andean winter. Entering Argentina also meant that we had entered Nahuel Huapi National Park that surrounds a large lake of the same name. It means “Jaguar Island” in Madupungun, the language of the indigenous Mapuche people, many of whom still speak it. The park was established in 1934, is the oldest national park in Argentina, and is the largest of national parks in the region, preserving a beautiful stretch of the Patagonian foothills. Not long after crossing the border we came across San Martin de los Andes, an attractive alpine ski village reminiscent of Whistler before it became a global venue. Eventually we rounded the far southeastern end of Nahuel Huapi Lake, joined up with the legendary Ruta 40 heading south, and followed it around the southern reaches of the lake to the city of (San Carlos de) Bariloche, a passable facsimile of Lucerne, Switzerland save for the absence of an ancient wooden covered bridge. We checked into Hotel Nahuel Huapi, an Argentinian four-star that even offers hot running water if you are patient enough to wait for it to flow. We arrived mid-afternoon but both Space Cowboy and I are still under the weather so we spent most of our afternoon and evening quietly ensconced in our hotel room trying to recover our health. Dogcow and Hector on the other hand, enjoyed a fine Argentinean steak at El Boliche de Alberto, situated about a block away from the hotel. 242 kms.
Saturday, October 27th – space Cowboy bounced back from whatever it was that ailed him and like a Honey Badger led the Gang of Four on the 600+ km ride from Villa Alegre south on Highway 5 to Orsono. Along the way we traveled through countryside that at times seemed like north-central British Columbia (say, the Cariboo region) and at others like the countryside of France somewhere south of Paris. Along the way we passed some nice volcanoes on the southeast horizon (think Mount Hood or Baker) including a particularly nice Mount Fuji look-alike on our approach into Osorno. This country is an enigma. On the one hand it has many of the characteristics of a First World country…excellent highways and public infrastructure, large commercial vehicle fleet, mostly modern passenger cars, a large and impressive array of commercial and industrial establishments, modern shopping malls, surprisingly large and modern refueling stations, etc. But when one catches a glimpse of the private housing stock, the bountiful facade seems to slip away: row upon row of small, single-family detached residences measuring perhaps 300 to 600 square feet in usable space! A strange sight indeed in a country that in almost every other visible manifestation is of First World stature. Upon arriving Osorno we made our way to an outdoor adventure retailer in the modern local shopping mall where we bought some additional clothing to contend with the increasingly frigid temperatures we are encountering as we move south, then enjoyed Italian food at a restaurant located in the town’s large, modern casino complex situated several blocks west of our hotel, which is the Rucaitue, a passable three-star in the City’s downtown core (or “Centro”). 640 kms.
Friday, October 26th – we left the fine city of Santiago, Chile and the equally fine Loreta Hotel, taking with us a complementary bottle of red wine that the Hotel gave us as a gift. Space Cowboy was feeling under the weather and as we headed south on Highway 5 we had to make several stops as he did his best to recover from his ailment. At one of these roadside stops, Hector pulled his camera out of his tank bag to snap some photos, forgot to close the bag properly before departing, and promptly lost his passport as the wind dragged it out of the tank bag and deposited it somewhere on the Highway. Hector rode the wrong way down the margin of the four-lane highway in search of it, and I followed shortly on foot. About two kilometers back I finally found it and we rejoiced. Meanwhile, Dogcow, sensing that the stars were not aligning for us as they should that day, approached a teller at a nearby highway toll booth to enquire if there were any hotels in the area. To our good fortune there was one six kilometers off the Highway at the nearby town of Villa Alegre, the country estate-like Colonial Hotel. We arrived at the hotel reception where an attractive young bilingual woman from Ohio translated for us as we arranged our rooms. Turns out the translator and her husband-to-be were in the midst of discussing plans for thier upcoming wedding when we arrived. Space Cowboy went straight to bed and the rest of us enjoyed an exquisite dinner prepared by a Peruvian chef in the hotel dining room, which this being the low season was almost vacant. As we travelled south along Highway 5 today, I was struck by how modern and developed this country appears to be: an excellent highway with extensive agricultural, commercial and industrial undertakings in evidence. At times I felt like I was traveling through British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, except for the presence of the vast vineyards of Chile’s wine-making districts. 315 kms.
Wednesday, October 24th and Thursday, October 25th – after enjoying a good breakfast in the hotel, which was included in the cost for the night (a common practice in South America), we made our way to Moto Adventura on Avenida Kennedy, about 12 kilometers north from our hotel. There we met the proprietor, Matias Parada, and his mechanical technician Philipe, and left the bikes in their care overnight for oil changes, new air filters, and a thorough cleaning. In my case, I also had to order a new front tire given that my existing one had been so quickly worn as a result of being installed backward for almost 11,000 kms. We returned to the hotel by taxi and then split up to attend to our respective needs and interests. I walked through the local shopping district then across the Mapocho River to the Plaza of Armas, where I visited the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago and the Chilean National History Museum. We rendezvoused for Happy Hour on the belvedere and the walked a few blocks to the entertainment district for dinner. Thursday was spent cleaning Space Cowboy’s tent. We had each purchased some fuel treatment in Miami and unfortunately the plastic bottle leaked in his dry bag as a result of pressure changes, contaminating his tent and poles with an oily residue. Later in the afternoon we returned to Moto Avnentura to pick up the bikes. All was in good order and the cleaning job was immaculate – weeks of accumulated mud, dirt, bugs and grime all washed away to leave some fine-looking machines indeed. Dogcow says it’s the cleanest his bike has ever been, since he bought his used and dirty and has never washed it since. While we were waiting for our bikes at the dealership, Dogcow’s new helmet arrived via Fedex from Miami (just in time too, since we had been contemplating the need to stay another night in Santiago to wait for it). We rode the bikes back to the hotel, parked them in the secure parking lot, repaired to the belvedere for Happy Hour, then made our way to the entertainment district for another good al fresco dinner.
Tuesday, October 23rd – from La Serena we continued south on Highway 5 which travels along the coast for much of the distance to Santiago, the Chilean capital. At Serena the Highway broadens out into a modern four-lane affair with speed limits up to 120 kph, which allowed us to make some good time. As we moved south, the vegetation became progressively denser, first with low-lying shrubs akin to sagebrush, then eventually those plus deciduous trees and even a few evergreens, but with cacti becoming increasingly scarce. About 100 kilometers north of Santiago the Highway turns inland in a southeasterly direction for the final leg to the capital, a city with a population of 6.8 million. To our surprise, we made it to our hotel on the first attempt, the product of a joint effort by Carmen and Hector, who has a nose for these things. We booked into the Hotel Loreto on a street with the same name, a modern 3-star boutique establishment situated about a 20-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas in the downtown core, located to our southwest. Four blocks to the east is San Sebastian University and an adjacent upmarket entertainment district featuring numerous eating and drinking establishments, and small stores catering to tourists. Atop the hotel is an attractively-appointed belvedere, the perfect venue for late afternoon “happy hours”. We plan to spend several nights in Santiago in order to get some maintenance completed on the bikes, and to recharge our internal batteries before heading off into the increasingly remote parts of southern South America. 466 kms.
Digression on Climate Dynamics – Since arriving in South America – at least from the north coast of Peru south – the Gang of Four has been taken aback by the moderate – even cool – temperatures along the coastal areas of Peru and Chile. Coming from Vancouver on the west coast of Canada, we associate proximity to the Pacific Ocean with fair weather, warming and offsetting what would otherwise be a frigid clime in winter. Conversely, being close to the Equator, we expected the Pacific Ocean to have a cooling effect as is the case in Hawaii, where average summer temperatures rarely exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 C.). But here in South America it’s different. Even in the deserts of Peru and the Atacama desert of Chile, temperatures most often range between 13 and 22 degrees C., and rarely climb to the high 20s or into the 30s. On a motorcycle moving at speed, the windchill factor means anything below a few degrees above room temperature becomes uncomfortable, and requires the use of thermal liners, lined gloves, and built-in electric handgrip warmers. What accounts for these unexpected temperature conditions so close to the Equator? In the 1990s, I spent some years working to develop something called the Canadian Institute for Climate Studies. It was relatively early days for the climate change file and the Institute’s purpose was to advance scientific and public understanding of climate change, its risks and probable impacts. On the scientific side we funded research intended to “build out” Canada’s Global Climate Model (GCM), a complex numerical computer program run on supercomputers intended to model the climate’s response to various “drivers”, such as a doubling of CO2 and its equivalents over the next one hundred years. But a key priority at that time was to improve the ocean-climate “interface” in the model. In other words, while it was understood that the oceans have a major impact on climate behavior – for example, periodic El Nino – Southern Oscillation events taking place in the South Pacific have a significant impact on seasonal temperature and precipitation outcomes in Western Canada – the numerical modeling of these relationships was not yet well-developed. Returning to South America, the answer to why large tracts of the western part of the Continent are so cool lies in the so-called Humbolt Current, a massive counter-clockwise current up to a thousand kilometers across that brings cold water from the southern reaches of the Pacific and draws it up the west coast of South America. This in turn cools the air mass above the current which then moves over the adjacent continental land mass. But not only does the Humbolt Current cause cool temperatures from Ecuador south, it also accounts for the arid conditions in these countries, since the cool air coming in off the Pacific is unable to retain much moisture. And while air above the tropical Amazon Basin may have lots of moisture, it can’t move westward because of the blocking effect of the high Andes. So especially in Peru and Chile, one witnesses a strange phenomenon: mile upon endless mile of beautiful sand beaches with fabulous Pacific breakers coming ashore, but minimal human habitation and relatively modest tourism industry investment due to the shortness of the warm season, which only runs from December through March. So this is a good example, I think, of how oceans can have a profound impact on climates over continental land masses.
Monday, October 22nd – from Chanaral we continued on Highway 5 south along the coast. At Caldara the road turns inland toward Copiapo, then south again eventually returning to the coast just north of La Serena, another beautiful Chilean beach resort town where we checked in at the Mar de Ensueno, a solid three-star even by First World standards. We enjoyed a fine dinner at La Mia Pizza, whose quality culinary output belied the prosaic appellation of the place. The road through the desert had many long straight stretches today, allowing us to chalk up some good speed and mileage. Around Copiapo, the barren Atacama starts to yield some modest signs of life in the form of small patches of what seems like a native grass scattered periodically through the desert. Twenty kilometers outside Serena, the vegetation starts to intensify further to yield semi-desert conditions similar to Greece’s Peloponnese Peninsula. It is clear that Chile is the richest of the South American countries we have visited so far, with a GDP per capita level almost twice that of Ecuador. While there are still pockets of obvious abject poverty, they are not nearly as frequent or sustained as what we saw in the other countries. 495 kms.
Sunday, October 21st – Hector, Dogcow and I rode the 90 kms into Antofagasta to meet up with Space Cowboy at the Radisson, where we quickly took advantage of the opportunity to wash up before Dogcow checked out. From Antogagasta, we rejoined Highway 5 heading inland and south through the Atacama Desert. During our travels I started to notice the large number of roadside shrines along the highway. They vary widely in size and complexity and their shear numbers prompted me to find out more about them, which you can also discover here if interested:
As we approached our destination for the day, the small coastal town of Chanaral, high winds swept through the desert causing a dust and sand storm. We arrived at Chanaral and checked in at the modest but bright and functional Hotel Agua Lunes. Following dinner at a restaurant a short walk away, we enjoyed after dinner drinks in the Hotel’s atrium. 526 kms.
Saturday, October 20th – From Iquique we took Highway 1 south along a rocky coastline punctuated by sandy beaches. Some of these rocky outcroppings had turned a whitish colour and we wondered if there might be an unusual mineral or something to account for it. As we rounded a bend in the road we discovered the answer: a large flock of pelicans was encamped on one of these seaside outcroppings and substantial deposits of white guano lay beneath them. Further down the road, a pair of large hawks or eagles (perhaps vultures) took off from the high embankment to the left of the highway, one of them flying in a path that intersected my line of travel. At the last moment, I ducked my head to avoid a potential collision. Dogcow, who was riding behind me, said he thought the bird of prey may have been hunting and was attracted to my wine-red helmet; for my part, I thought it was simply a random chance encounter that ended well for all concerned. At Tocopilla we pulled into the local market and high street to pick up some water and food for camping. As I wandered through the ramshackle market building, a brawny 30-something year-old with long black hair pulled back into a pony tail asked, “Que pais?”. “Soy de Canada”, I replied, which prompted him to stand up, shake my hand firmly, and in heavily-accented English say, “Canada good!”. Then he continued, “Americanos?”, he asked rhetorically…then using his angled hand he made a slitting motion across his throat. We pulled into Hornitos where we found a cute resort town and beautiful long, almost vacant crescent beach several kilometers in length. Hector, Dogcow and I set up the tents while Space Cowboy, still nursing a cold, continued on 90 kms into Antofagasta where he stayed at the well-appointed Radisson Hotel overlooking the beach on Bahia Moreno in this attractive Chilean resort city. Back in Hornitos, we shared the beach with a flock of several thousand noisy seabirds at the water’s edge, possibly some kind of petrel. 344 kms.
Friday, October 19th – Left Tacna in southern Peru heading for the border crossing into Chile at Arica, about 40 kilometers distant. Had a little trouble picking up the correct highway south out of the City, but eventually Carmin combined with advice from some friendly locals helped us identify a dirt-sand track road that took us to the proper highway. We passed through giant dunes and wind-scoured desert mountains en route to the border. At Arica, we endured even more bureaucratic border procedures than the Colombians have developed (something I didn’t think possible), interrupted by a tsunami evacuation drill since the border station is only a couple of hundred meters from the Pacific. In all, it took almost two hours to complete the crossing. Once in Chile, the Pan-American becomes Highway 5 which turns inland through the majestic and mountainous north Chilean Atacama Desert. As we came around on wide curve in the road we found ourselves atop and running parallel to a mammoth desert canyon which looked to be approaching the scale of the Grand Canyon. Oddly, there are few services on this stretch of road and Hector, whose bike’s gas tank is smaller than those of the other bikes by a couple of liters, began running low on fuel. We pulled into one of the few towns that was large enough to have a gas station. It didn’t. After making enquiries with some locals, we eventually made our way to the last street of the town about seven blocks off the Highway where from the wooden door of a non-descript building a curmudgeonly-looking man emerged carrying a green glass gallon jug of gasoline and a funnel to refill Hector’s tank. He put in several liters – enough to get Hector to our destination for the day – and we continued onward. Upon reaching the junction with Chilean Highway 16, we turned westward toward the Pacific. As we moved along through high winds, my bike intercepted the path of a dust devil crossing the road. While I was in no danger of being dislodged from the road, nor even of being swept into oncoming traffic, I was surprised by the wallop it packed and had to make a sudden and significant steering correction to counter it. We finally made our way down off the desert plateau into the large, beautiful coastal resort city of Iquique. By this time we were all running on fumes, so our first stop was at a gas station for a fill-up. A helpful stranger provided us with directions toward the City’s tourist hotels and we found our way to the five-star (a first for the Gang of Four) Gavina Hotel overlooking the beach. After washing up, we enjoyed complementary Pisco Sours in the Hotel bar followed by an excellent dinner in the adjoining restaurant. For reasons not entirely clear to us, we lost two hours off the clock on entering Chile, which meant it was quite late by the time we finished dinner. 396 kms.
Thursday, October 18th – after a great breakfast (best since arriving South America), I left the comfortable confines of the Puno Eco Inn on Lake Titcaca and made my way to meet up with the other members of the Gang of Four at the pre-arranged rendezvous point, Chilligua, some 185 kms distant. I would be traveling southwest on Peruvian Highway 36B, one of three Interoceanic Highways Peru and Brazil have jointly developed to facilitate international trade and the movement of goods. Meanwhile, the other members of the Gang of Four would be traveling a more westerly direction on Highway 36A from Desaguadero on the Peru-Bolivian border, following their overnight stay in Copacabana, Bolivia. I have run out of superlatives to describe the Peruvian Highlands, and so won’t belabor the point here save to say that my run down to Chilligua on a nearly vacant highway through a mountain-encircled plateau was visually inspiring. Highlights included reaching the 4,592-meter summit of the Ojelaca Pass, a roadside geyser that continuously spewed hot, sulfur-odoured water, and an accompanying grotto caked in mineral deposits. Chilligua is a grotty little junction hamlet and I arrived more than an hour earlier than our agreed mid-day rendezvous time, half expecting to find the other Gang of Four members already there since I had determined from the map the distance they would be traveling and they are faster riders than me. When they didn’t arrive by the appointed time, I began to wonder if they might perhaps have come and gone before I had even arrived, having tired of waiting in the visually and sanitorally unappealing Chilligua. I wouldn’t have blamed them. As a precaution, I made out a note for the Gang explaining the situation and my intended onward direction and left it with a street vendor, one of about five human souls in the place. I left Chilligua uncertain as to when I might next encounter the other members of the Gang of Four. About twenty minutes west of Chilligua I looked in my rear view mirror to see three motorcyclists following, the lead one of which was Hector as I could discern from his distinctive yellow dry bag. I slowed with a view to greeting them but without fanfare they each rode past and silently acknowledged my presence with a friendly hand gesture, so I pulled into the anchor position at the back of the pack and we continued onward. We stopped for gas at the next town and exchanged pleasantries and news of our respective travels over the past two-and-a-half days. It turns out that at Chilligua, the rendezvous point, we had missed each other by three minutes, but fortunately they had received the message I left and had continued onward. We completed our decent out of the Peruvian Highlands and entered the deserts of southern Peru, passing through the regional capital of Moquegua before rejoining the Pan-American Highway which we rode through massive dunes and dry, wind-swept hills to Tacna, the last major population centre in southern Peru before the Chilean frontier. We stayed at the Hotel Emparador inTacna, a credible Peruvian 3-star provided one remembers to turn on the small in-suite hot water tank an hour before taking a shower. We enjoyed dinner at a good restaurant located half a block from the Hotel and then retired early since both Space Cowboy and I were now both battling colds. TBE: 394 kms. Gang of Three: 518 kms.
Wednesday, October 18th – today’s ride on Highway 3S from Cusco to Puno situated on Lake Titicaca was one of the most varied, interesting and enjoyable of the trip to date. First off, there were some quite significant transitions in geography and scenery, some of which brought with them a sense of Old Home Week. For example, once I cleared suburban Cusco, it initially seemed like I was traveling through British Colombia’s Boundry Country with its rolling hills, water-carved canyons (think Rock Creek), and large flat agricultural and livestock grazing areas bound by rugged hills (think Grand Forks but much bigger). Next came a stretch that could easily have passed for the Scottish Highlands, including shepherds, herd dogs, stone fences, and the flocks of sheep they are intended to coral. This was followed by low, rolling, treeless hills backed by distant mountains, reminiscent of the approach to the Canadian Rockies from Calgary. The final stretch was flatter with more vegetation interspersed with golden-coloured wild grasses, similar to what one might encounter in British Columbia’s Cariboo-Chilcotin Region or perhaps somewhere in the Dakotas. Along the route I saw five different groups of adventure motorcyclists coming the opposite direction – each of which I saluted with a victory sign, which they reciprocated – plus about the same number of individual pedal cyclists also en route to Puno. I have mentioned in a previous update how close to the land these rural highland folk are, and today was no different. The evidence was everywhere: sheep, cattle, alpaca, herding dogs, herds-men and -women, crops, chickens, ducks – and unfortunately a majority of these things can also be found on the road! About 20 kms. short of Puno I turned west off the highway to ride the 14 kms into the necropolis of Sillustani, featuring pre-Inca cylindrical rock burial towers the tallest of which is about four stories high. As usual it seems for these Andean Highlands, the distinctive attractiveness of these ancient structures was enhanced by the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside. On the road into Sillustani, I noticed some small, quaint, unusual habitations artfully constructed in black rock including surrounding fences and out-buildings. While not quite hobbit houses, they certainly would not have been out of place in a Tolkein novel. I finally arrived at the Puno Eco Inn on the shore of Lake Titicaca and a fine establishment it is indeed: a genuine First World-level four-star with hot water on demand, soap, shampoo, hand lotion, and even bathroom tissues, the first I’ve seen in weeks. Situated at an elevation of more than 3,800 meters, the hotel even offers oxygen delivered to your room – how’s that for room service! The only deficiency I detected was that there seems to be a page or two missing from the restaurant menu. They wanted $138 for the night but agreed to take $60, which I thought was good value. 418 kms.
Monday, October 15th and Tuesday, October 16th – after the various challenges involved in getting to Machu Picchu and back, but more importantly the need to get Hector fully recovered, we decided to take a “scatter day” wherein each of us could do our own thing. The first item on the agenda was to relocate to better real estate, the Emperador Plaza Hotel, a Peruvian 3-star property located two doors up the street. Next was to arrange to get our laundry done at the new hotel, always a welcome development. I spent my afternoon at the Machu Picchu Museum which, as luck would have it, was located across the street and a few doors down from our hotel. The museum displays photos and artifacts from Hiram Bingham’s expeditions to Machu Picchu in 1911-1915. Just as Britain cotinues to hold the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Greece, Yale University continues to hold most of the artifacts found by Bingham and his team at Machu Picchu in the early 20th century – and Jose, our guide during our tour of Machu Picchu, was clearly none too pleased about it. Yale returned a quarter of the artifacts to Peru in 2011. The most interesting thing I learned at the Museum was how Chicha, or corn beer, was used to sustain and motivate the Inca civil service. Evidently it played a role similar to “grog” in the British Royal Navy, and insufficient supplies of it could lead to unrest in the rank and file – Canadian public service managers take note! As the day wore on it became apparent that the head cold I picked up the previous day was waxing serious. We decided it would be best if I stayed behind on Tuesday while they rode on to Puno, in the hope I could nip the ailment in the bud. Since the Emperador was full Tuesday night, I decamped to the Santa Cantalina Hotel, another Peruvian 3-star across the street, where I spent most of the day resting quietly, sleeping and working on blog updates.
Sunday, October 14th – we awoke early to get the bus up the hill to Machu Picchu, a 20-minute ride from Aguas Calientes. Hector was still very ill and found it impossible to join us for the trip. We arrived in time to meet our guide at the entrance gate at 6:30 am, and once the full tour group had assembled we entered the Lost City of the Incas, split into two sub-groups – Spanish-speaking and English-speaking – then were joined by our English-speaking guide, Jose. He led us on a very good two-hour tour of the various sections of the City, including the terraced agricultural areas, the residential quarter, the rock quarry, and the religious precinct with its various alters, temples and astronomical devices carved in stone. The Inca were polytheist and animist and so worshipped a variety of gods and other physical things that for them had spiritual significance, and to which they made offerings including non-human sacrifices. I was struck by our guide’s comment that the Inca considered the surrounding mountains as gods, and in a way I could see it, since with their perpetual cloud-shrouds there was an almost mystical essence about the place. It came as news to me after all those days traversing the Peruvian deserts, but Wikipedia says that Peru has a very diverse climate with 28 of the 32 world climates represented. The mountains around Machu Picchu are covered in fog forest, a biologically rare phenomenon comprising only one percent of global woodlands, wherein moisture precipitates onto the leaves of trees directly through contact with clouds or fog. The surrounding area is a transitional zone between the relatively barren highlands to the west and the tropical jungles of the Amazon Basin to the east, so all this probably explains the almost ephemeral, enigmatic setting for the place. But then there is the so-called “built environment”: the man-made works and structures of Machu Picchu are much larger and more extensive than I had anticipated based on photos I’d previously seen, and its precarious positioning atop a mountain three sides of which have precipitous cliffs running thousands of feet into the valleys below simply amplifies the stunning visual impact of the place. Our tour lasted two hours after which we climbed up to the lookout to take the classical photo of Machu Picchu, then made our way to the bus for the 20-minute ride back to Aguas Calientes, and were off the mountain by 9:30 am. We collected a barely-mobile Hector and repaired to a good restaurant overlooking the Town’s main street for a leisurely brunch, passing time until our train left at 1:30 pm for the first leg of our return journey to Cusco. After the one-hour train ride to Hidro-Electrica, we reunited with our Honey Badger mini-bus driver for the 6-hour roller coaster ride back to Cusco. During the ride up to Machu Picchu, the mini-buses’ passengers had generally tried to keep the windows closed so as to reduce the amount of road dust entering the cabin. But in the absence of air conditioning, this had the unfortunate effect of making temperatures inside the cab stifling. For the return journey, there was greater interest in keeping the windows open so as to moderate the temperature, resulting in visible clouds of road dust inside the cab of which I breathed and ate a good deal. As evening set in and ambient temperatures fell, I had a constant rush of cold air from an open window on my neck and face which eventually resulted in a nasty head cold. We finally made it back to the Casa Grande Hotel where we wanted nothing more than to rush to the shower to wash off the accumulated road dust, but the lateness of the hour meant we first had to find a restaurant to eat dinner before they all closed. Hector, still ill, went straight to bed after having suffered through the bumpy, twisting 6-hour mini-bus ride from Hidro-Electrica. Note to file: Never again.
Saturday, October 13th – as the crow flies Machu Picchu lies 80 kilometers from Cusco, but the fact that it takes a six-hour bus ride followed by a one-hour train ride followed by another 20-minute bus ride to get there should give the astute observer a clue about the nature of the roads they will encounter en route. In this case, the Gang of Four was something less than astute. Somewhere beyond Urubamba, the road begins its serpentine climb along sheer mountain slopes. The good news is that this part of the road is largely paved, making for a fair resemblance to southwest France’s exhilarating Grande Corniche, which clings to similar sheer slopes high above the Mediterranean Sea. While the views on the road to Machu Picchu may be a tad more mundane than the turquoise blue Mediterranean, they are still impressive, providing vistas of deep Highland valleys and formidable snow-capped mountains. But eventually the pavement gives way to a winding, single track gravel road clinging to high cliffs and ravines reminiscent of some poorly maintained logging road in British Columbia’s rugged Coast Mountains. Interestingly, the skilled drivers on this single track road were somehow able to turn the into two tracks as needed to accommodate oncoming vehicles, just barely squeezing past one another with significant jeopardy for their side-view mirrors. In this process, the drivers appear to follow a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) rule. which means whichever vehicle is larger gets the right-of-way irrespective of other considerations. Often this means the smaller vehicle has to back up a distance to an area of the road that will accommodate both vehicles. The driver of our 15-person Toyota mini-bus was so aggressive and skillful that we took to nick-naming him the “Honey Badger” (see previous reference), and have also nominated him for admission into The Order of the Gang of Four. Along the edge of one particularly deep ravine, we were racing toward the hairpin turn at its apex when looking ahead I noticed that crossing the chasm was what looked to be the fragile remains of an old foot bridge just wide enough to accommodate an donkey cart. Suddenly our driver veered hard left onto the foot bridge which, it turns out, is apparentlyup to Peruvian standards for use as a vehicle bridge, presumably even for the 18-wheelers we saw along this stretch of the road. As we scrambled along this poorly-maintained gravel version of the Grande Corniche, the driver listened to Spanish pop music blaring from the front speakers and engaged in continuous small-talk with the two attractive young Brazillian women seated in the front – a conversation
only interrupted when he needed to respond to calls received on his hand-held cell phone as we were heading into some particularly perilous stretches of road. The bus passengers were a diverse lot with the following four languages represented almost equally: Portugese (the Brazillians), English, French, and Spanish. After six hours we arrived shaken but still alive at the settlement of Hydro-Electrics, where we transferred onto the narrow-gauge PeruRail train that would take us on the final leg of our trip to Aguas Calientes (literally, “Waters Hot” or Hot Springs), the small town that would serve as our overnight base before our visit to Machu Picchu the following day. As we waited at the station we were engaged by an enthusiastic group of elementary school children on an outing to Machu Picchu, all dressed in school uniform, who wanted to know where we were from, where we were going, what our names were, etc. – it was a fun interlude. Upon reaching the rustic but quaint mountain resort of Aguas Calientes, we followed our guide to our appointed hotel only to find that – surprise! (sic) – there was some kind of foul-up with the bookings. Instead of the two comfortable double rooms we booked, we were promptly consigned to a quad room at a nearby hostel featuring no towels, no toilet paper, no soap, no heat and other exclusive amenities. Hector took sick in the evening and had an unsettled sleep. No kms today as the Honey Badger did the driving for us.
Friday, October 12th– we were on the road from Puquoi by 7:00 am to try to make the long ride of over 500 kms to Cusco. The ride through the Peruvian Highlands provided new insights into this interesting and complex country. I had only made my peace with the Peruvian desert during the ride to Nasca the previous day. When we entered Peru from the north I was at first intrigued by the desert landscape, then mildly perturbed by it, then increasingly alarmed, and finally outright dejected as it continued incessantly on. Only after I read up on the country’s geography on my iPhone’s National Geographic app did I come to understand that Peru is a desert nation, with deserts denominating its western half all the way to the Pacific and for the entire north-south length of the country. So once I understood this and then viewed the beautiful desert terrain on the road to Nasca, I finally “got it” and began to admire it. But the Peruvian Highlands are an entirely new geoclimatic dimension with vast, sweeping tracts of rolling, brownish-green, rock-strewn hills, punctuated with dark green, almost black-coloured cacti. These are rangelands used for grazing cattle, sheep and alpaca. Along the road are small hamlets and villages, plus a few towns, populated by the indigenous Quechua-speaking people, the language of the Inca Empire. They are short, dark-skinned people whose appearance is reminiscent of Canada’s Inuit. Traveling through their hamlets and villages, many of which are situated along the road, I felt a sense of admiration and respect for these sturdy, self-reliant people who live so close to the land: grazing herding livestock, farming crops, and raising pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys and always the ubiquitous dogs who seem more valued more for their instrumental uses – herding or catching vermin – than as pets. I was also bemused by the apparent innocence of these people, at least in relation to our modern modes of conveyance. On more than one occasion as I was entering one of these hamlets, a woman would start out to cross the road without checking for oncoming traffic. About a third the way across she would glance down the road to see my oncoming motorcycle, freeze momentarily in indecision, then scurry across the road like a frightened rabbit arriving safely to the other side well before I was anywhere near her. It seems that as children their mothers do not teach them to look left, right, and left again before crossing the road, nor do they seem to have much experience calculating the speed of oncoming traffic, something we habitual j-walking urbanites from the First World have mastered. We made it into Cusco at sunset and, desperate to find suitable accommodation before nightfall we threw in with a fast-talking street hawker selling tourism services on one of the City’s main squares. He led us to a hotel a few blocks away – the Casa Grande Hostal – with a good parquero and a fairly convenient location, but not much else to recommend it. One of our rooms appears to be a made-over dungeon situated partially underground with no windows; the other uses a brass padlock to lock the door to the room (no, I’m not kidding). Anxious to find a solution for getting to Machu Picchu soon, after dinner we met with the hawker again and settled on a low-cost package for this famous world heritage site, informed the hotel so we could continue to store our bikes and luggage while away, then returned to our rooms to re-pack our bags to take only what would be needed for a short overnight stay near Machu Picchu. We turned-in filled with anticipation about what the following two days might hold.
Thursday, October 11th – with my front tire in hand, Hector and I took one of the town’s ubiquitous moto-taxis a few blocks to the first of two dirt-floored tire repair shops we had visited the previous evening. We found an elderly gentleman who looked as though he may have been changing and repairing tires since before we were born. He painted some black sealant around both sides of the tire where it meets the rim, then removed the valve stem to ensure a rapid flow of air into the tire, and finally attached a compressor hose to inject some air. Sure enough, in short order we heard two distinctive “pops” of the tire beads properly sealing (“making a bead”) on each side of the wheel – a relief to our ears since we had been concerned that we may have inadvertently damaged either the tire or the rim in the course of removing and reinstalling the tire on the rim. He removed the hose after a few seconds and quickly put his finger over the valve stem to prevent air from escaping the tire, then moved quickly and adeptly to reinstall the valve stem, following which he injected more air to bring the tire up to full pressure. For this invaluable service he charged me four Peruvian Soles – about $1.70 Cdn. The Heidenau tires we are using on this expedition are tough, purpose-built duo-sport (on-road/off-road) tires, renowned for their long service life of up to twice as long as other popular duo-sport brands. But that same toughness proved a disadvantage when working with this tire: the four of us broke a sweat first in trying to break the bead, and then in removing and reinstalling the tire on the rim. Hector and I returned to the hotel in another moto-taxi, remounted the tire onto the bike, and we got on our way. At Lima, the Pan-American Norte turns into Pan-America Sur (South), so that is the road we joined on leaving Pisco, traveling inland toward Cusco and Machu Picchu, first through flat agricultural lands on the coastal plain, then through beautiful desert featuring the famed Nasca Line Drawings, and finally turning onto Highway 26A at the town of Nasca to begin the climb up into the Andean Highlands. At the Line Drawings we were swarmed by a busload of high school students who had just climbed up a three-story lookout at the side of the highway. Interacting with these young folks – who were keen to have their pictures taken with us and our bikes – at the side of the highway added a modicum of levity to what was otherwise a workmanlike day for the Gang of Four. In climbing up to the Highlands, it would be difficult to exaggerate just how monumental the Andes are here. We would climb for what seemed like forever, reaching what we thought must be the top of the world, only to find after each new hill or curve in the road yet another height that obliged us to climb still further, eventually achieving more than 4,000 meters of altitude. At the top is a vast plateau with cacti, sage and grasses, and even a small cluster of pine trees, possibly the first evergreen trees we’ve seen since arriving in Peru. These high grasslands are used for grazing cattle, and we also saw small herds of wild Vicuña, which are similar to llamas in appearance but smaller and reddish-brown in colour. Although the pavement was good the road became treacherous, particularly on the long descent back down into Puquio, our intended destination for the day, due to the seemingly endless switchbacks and hairpin curves which often had to be taken in second gear at slow speed. The last 65 kilometers seemed like 200. At Puquoi we found the Coralia Hotel on the town’s main square, which seemed ideal for our purposes. We unloaded our bags, hiked them up to our rooms, and then went to park the bikes in the secure parking behind the building. Unbeknownst to us, the parking area was elevated perhaps a foot-and-a-half above street level with no rock or concrete ramp. The hotel proprietor had gamefully set up a narrow wooden board as a ramp on which he intended us to ride up into the parquero, navigating around the adjacent SUV also parked in the narrow street in the process. He did not seem to understand that our 600 pound behemoths are not the same as the 250 pound street bikes with which he must normally deal. With help from the other Gang members, Dogcow managed to get his bike up the ramp and into the parquero, but the exercise was so unsettling in terms of its potential danger that the rest of us decided to park our bikes on the street in front of the hotel for the night, despite the risks that might entail. 374 kms.
Wednesday, October 10th – left Barranca and headed south on the Pan-American Norte Highway, passing through – you guessed it – more desert. About 90 kms north of Lima, the Highway became separated into double-lanes heading both ways. This substantially improved our pace. By the time we reached Lima proper, the road had expanded to three lanes each way which facilitated our passage through this major metropolis of eight million people. We completed our transit in under an hour. We turned off the Highway at Punta Hermosa on the coast and wound our way down to the resort area of Playa de Silencia where a couple of dozen outdoor eateries were strung out cookie-cutter style along a large, crescent-shaped beach. From December through February this is a summer playground for residents of Lima, but now it is largely vacant. A particularly entrepreneurial young proprietor ensured we noticed his outfit first, running out to greet us as we rolled down the hill and guide us to his restaurant. We sat at a table on the beach with our riding jackets on due to the cool weather and enjoyed calamari and some large Cuesquena-brand cervesas. Further south at Pisco, which is the last coastal town before the turn inland toward Machu Pichu, we found habitaciones at the Embassy Beach Hotel, a brightly-coloured, modern-looking affair with a good parquero (secure parking lot) for our machines. As I was unloading my bike for the evening, I stopped to inspect the tire tread wear and noticed my front tire was worn much more than the other three bikes. On closer inspection I realized that the tire had been mounted backwards at the shop back in Canada where I purchased the tires. This is a sophomoric mistake since the manufacturers actually emboss arrows on the tires pointing the direction of roll once properly mounted. I have no idea how dangerous this mistake was in terms of representing risk to life and limb, but I will be having words with the shop that did the work. It was quite the production in the hotel parking lot as the Gang of Four worked to remount the tire in the proper direction, but nightfall descended before we could “get a bead” (successfully re-inflate the tire). 426 kms.
Tuesday, October 9th – left the Tarawasi Hostal in Tortuga and took a short ride south on the Pan-American Norte to Casma. Today’s objective was to complete a circle route to Huarez, touted as one of the top ten motorcycle rides in all of South America. At Casma we picked up Highway 14A heading east through mostly dry, desert-like mountains. As we climbed the winding road to the top, we came across numerous hamlets and villages clinging clinging to the side of the road and backing onto precipitous hillsides tumbling down to the valleys, creeks and rivers below. As we neared the summit of the pass at 4,230 meters (over 14,000 feet), Dogcow and I were struck with altitude sickness – lightheadedness, an overwhelming sense of fatigue and, in his case, nausea. We also saw Quechua women, who speak the language of the Inca, in their traditional dress…ten-gallon cowboy hats, medium length skirts with leggings, either a sweater or shirt with a vest, and almost always a shawl with a preference for bright reds, pinks or purple. After reaching the summit, we dropped back down 1,100 meters into the moderate-sized town of Huaraz nestled in a high moutain valley. From there we turned south onto Highway 3N, climbing back up and then over a vast treeless pass with minimal foliage that stretched for kilometers. The winding road down was filled with hairpin curves ideal for challenging rides with our bikes which eventually led to Highway 14 which turns west to eventually rejoin the Pan-American Norte. We were running out of light when we pulled into Barranca where we stayed at the Hotel Chavin. Neither town nor hotel was notable except for the showers which had both decent water pressure and hot water – a regrettably rare combination in this part of the world! 384 kms.
Monday, October 8th – continued south from Pacasmayo on the Pan-American Highway through the relentless Peruvian desert, passing through several good-sized cities en route but fortunately bypassing the largest one, Trujillo. We have noticed a deterioration in driving standards in this part of Peru, with urban drivers adopting the chaotic, free-form driving habits of the Colombians. Just as the boredom of riding through the desert was becoming unbearable (this is our third straight day of it), nature granted us a reprieve by turning the desert rocks and sands into sublime mountains. The resulting landforms and geography are almost impossible to describe unless you have been to Elat in Israel or seen the Sinai Penninsula – desert rocks and sands running straight into the blue sea. As we neared Casma, our intended destination for the day, we noticed a road running perpendicular to the Highway down to a turquoise bay. We decided to pull in for a cerveza in what turned out to be the Peruvian resort town of Tortugas. Delighted by the unique geophysical setting of the place, we found habitaciones (rooms) at the compact, sea-facing Tarawasi Hostal where we were greeted and entertained by our Bhuddist hosts, Julian and Nalda. They ran a superb kitchen and had an extensive collection of rock and pop classics from the 1960’s and 1970’s which resonated throughout their respectable establishment from a small but powerful stereo system. Julian is from Spain and it was great to see how European first world standards imposed on this inhospitable wasteland could create a kind of physical, cultual and culinary oasis. During a walk along the town’s rustic boardwalk we were admiring a flock of large, soaring pelicans when we noticed that one of them was tangled in a fish net on the water. Space Cowboy rushed back to our Hostal to put on his bathing suit, grab his “swissie” (Swiss Army Knife), some Soles (Peruvian currency) and a US $20 bill. He engaged a local fisherman who rowed him out to the doomed bird but by the time they arrived it had extricated itself and had moved on. Nevertheless, he returned with his wallet a fair bit lighter for his efforts! 292 kms.
Sunday, October 7th – with reluctance we left the comfortabe and hospitable confines of the Playa Colan Lodge to face the northern Peruvian desert. At Paita we took Peruvian No. 2 inland to Piura where we rejoined the Pan-America Highway heading south. We battled heavy crosswinds throughout the day which necessitated a kind of “crabbing” similar to airplanes wherein both rider and bike are constantly leaning sideways into the wind to stay on course. In another similarity to flying, I had to adopt a motorcyclists version of instrument flight rules, or IFR: the noise and buffeting created by the wind was so strong that I could not tell if my engine was over-revving or lugging, so only by reference to my tachometer – which I aimed to keep at 4,000 RPM plus or minus a few hundred – could I tell if I was maintaining the right throttle and gear combination for a given speed. The withering effects of the tough riding conditions were exacerbated by the hundreds of kilometers of grinding poverty through which we rode. How and why some humans choose to settle and then stay in deserts has always been a mystery to me, and with the exception of a small part of urban Chiclayo – the major centre along the route – all was a veritable wasteland of desert, mud-brick shanties and abject poverty. About 40 kms south of Chiclayo the Pan-American turns to the coast again to arrive at the oceanside town of
Pacasmayo featuring an attractive boardwalk to which young Peruvian lovers are drawn. We took up temporary residence at the very passable Gran Hotel La Estacion, a Peruvian 3-star, then took a stroll along the boardwalk and the neighbouring streets in search of a suitable restaurant for dinner. Finding none, we returned to the Estacion to enjoy a meal on the restaurant patio overlooking the ocean. While the food was good, and they let us bring our own wine to the restaurant, the service was so poor that for the first time on our expedition we declined to leave a propina (tip). 385 kms.
Saturday, October 6th – so enjoyed the quaint and layed back ambience of the Playa Colan Lodge that we decided to stay another night before facing the 200 km stretch of desert lying immediately to the south. We ventured into the nearby port town of Paita to get some cash from the cajera automatica (ABM) at the Scotiabank branch there. As we were completing our transactions several people approached to learn about us, our bikes, where we were going, and where we were from. We had been planning to take a stroll through the town after finishing up with the cajera, but one older man indicated to us in Spanish that there were guns in the area and that it was peligroso (dangerous), perhaps even in daytime. We collected our Soles (Peruvian currency) and retreated to the relative quietude of Colan where we cooled off with cervezas at a roadside eatery and then picked up some spirits for later consumption, including a perfectly respectable 26 oz. bottle of Peruvian rum that sold for under $10. Afterwards we went to collect our laundry which we had dropped off the previous day. When we initiated that effort, we had been intending to find a coin-operated lavandaria automatica similar to those at home, but our tuk-tuk (taxi minuto) drivers instead took us to a small, turquoise blue but otherwise non-descript residence adjoining several others on each side. There we were advised by an elderly Spanish-speaking woman to leave our ropas (clothing) for pick-up the following day. Travelling by motorcycle is necessarily a lean enterprise, so leaving over half our travel wardrobe with this anonymous individual overnight required us to stretch our capacity for trust in our fellow man. What ensued during the pick-up was a delightful exercise in cross-cultural human dynamics as first the launderess’ children, then her several infant grandchildren, joined us in the small, dirt-floored workspace where she was earnestly finishing up ironing our clothes. The gathering culminated in a request from them to have us send them toys for Christmas, an undertaking Space Cowboy is keen to embrace. Since arriving on the Peruvian coast we’ve noticed a good-sized but unfamiliar bird which it turns out is the Frigate. They are unusual because of their V-shaped wings which makes them look strangely supersonic, as well as their capacity to soar in stationary position as they trim their flight dynamics to exactly offset the speed of the oncoming breeze. Locally they are called Tijereta, the Spanish word for scissors, reflecting the distinctive shape formed by their tail feathers. No kms today exept for the short trip into Paita.
Friday, October 5th
– continued inland from the coast on the Pan-Americana Norte Highway through desert, semi-desert and low, rough, wind-scowered hills. The closest cordillera is well inland and quite low, so in contrast to say British Columbia or the US Pacific Northwest, there is little to cause moisture to precipitate out of the air coming ashore from the Pacific. Temperatures reached the low thirties Celsius and we battled heavy crosswinds for a spell. Today’s ride was filled with unusual land forms and vegetation. The closest comparable I’ve seen are the deserts of North Africa. That similarity was amplified when we rounded several corners to find vast tracts of verdant green rice paddies surrounded by large palm trees with accompanying human settlements and supporting irrigation systems; not dissimilar to the sudden discontinuity – sand turning to lush vegetation – one finds on reaching the Nile from the Eastern or Western Desert in Egypt. Along the route we encountered several religious pilgrimages, large groups of mostly young people dressed in school uniforms, some carrying banners and always one carrying the almighty cross with a wheel mounted at the base to make for easier transport. Eventually we turned again to the coast to arrive at Colan, a rustic resort town on the Pacific with excellent beaches where, on the recommendation of Otto, we stayed in an attractive and comfortable beachfront cabin at the Playa Colan Lodge ($75 split four ways). 252 kms covered today which despite desert conditions and strong crosswinds proved to be an interesting and enjoyable ride.
Thursday, October 4th – from Bucay continued southwest on the E-60. As we did so we noticed that the towns and villages in this area were downmarket even by Ecuadorian standards – mean, dirty and unkempt – a clear case of regional disparity relative to the prosperous north of the country and the not-so-bad-off interior highlands. While having breakfast at a particularly grotty outdoor eatery – but the only one in evidence – on the main road of one of these towns, we were subjected to the loud and grating sounds of a metal grinder at the machine shop across the street. Overlooking this depressing scene, Space Cowboy uttered partly in dismay, partly out of intellectual curiousity, “Even if you wanted to clean this place up, where would you start?!” Having spent a good part of my professional career in the regional development game, his question occupied my mind for the balance of the morning. As we moved closer to the Pacific, the land flattened out into a coastal plane dominated by banana tree plantations. We also saw majestic desciduous trees shaped like the Acacia Thorns of East Africa, but massive – on the scale of the Lahaina Banyon but with a single large trunk. A few miles northwest of La Troncal, we left the E-60 and took secondary roads via La Troncal itself to join up with the E-25 which we rode all the way to the border crossing at Huaquillas. There we encountered two other adventure riders: David, from Kansas, who has been on the road for thirteen months and has the soiled and disheveled looks to prove it (sorry, David); and Otto, a multilingual Hungarian with an almost Germanic aspect of orderliness and professionalism, a perfect complement to the high-end 2010 BMW R1200 GSA he was riding. We completed the usual border procedures and then continued along the northern Peru coast on the Pan-Americana Norte Hwy. A few miles southwest of Zorrito we found the charming, compact resort of Punta Pico, a modern three-story affair overlooking the Pacific with crashing waves and a good beach for body-surfing, which Hector an I enjoyed immensely. Although pricey, as it was low season the proprietor was willing to give us a good deal on a good-sized room with a loft. We tossed coins to determine who got the best beds. Pulling into the hotel’s parking compound off the highway there is a moderate-sized slope with gravel on which I attempted to stop, lost my footing and was tossed from my bike, coming down hard. It feels like I may have cracked a rib. 369 kms today; 8,773 total to date.
Wednesday, October 3rd – left Cayambe heading south on E35 back into the southern hemisphere. As we approached Quito, we took secondary highways to the east to skirt this metropolis of 1.7 million people before rejoining the E-35 south of the City. Just southwest of Riobamba, for no particular reason other than a suggestion from Space Cowboy, we elected to take E-60 heading toward the coast. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision since it provided the best riding of the trip – and probably ever – through a sublime mountain pass. On the plateau at the start of our descent, we were above four thousand meters, but although it was cool it was by no means obvious that we were that high since there was little or no snow in evidence. As in southeast Utah, I felt the palpable presence of the Divine as we rode through clouds atop what seemed the edge of the world on a winding mountain road – perfect for our machines- with few other vehicles, eventually descending into the lush tropical forests of the valley below. Running short on daylight, we pulled into Bucay and got rooms at the Alexander Hotel at a cost of $12 per person. 382 kms completed today, our best performance since arriving in-continent.
Tuesday, October 2nd – from Ipiales we crossed the border into Ecuador, getting immigration stamps in our passports from the Colombian authorities to certify our departure date and an entry visa from the Ecuador authorities. But then there is a second set of similar procedures for the bikes, and we collectively spent almost an hour with a Ecuador aduana official as he dutifully completed the paperwork necessary to allow our bikes entry into the country -which must be cared for and given to an aduana official upon exit from the country to confirm that we neither bought nor sold the bikes while in-country. Upon completing these forms, we were approached outside the aduana office by two Colombian teachers who asked if their students might talk to us to practice their English. We spent 20 minutes conversing with them and it was a joy to see these youngsters all dressed in their blue and black school uniforms gamely trying to speak English with us. After clearing the border we pulled into a large but largely vacant gas station hoping to purchase a map of Ecuador. Guarding the station was a private security guard dressed in army fatigues, black leather boots, dark sunglasses with small built-in earphones, a black bullet-proof vest, and carrying a small, black Uzi-style automatic weapon. Curious about Starship Unity, he approached me to ask some questions. While doing so, as I sat astride the beast and he standing perhaps 18 inches away from me, I noticed that he was inadvertently pointing the short barrel of his weapon at my foot. This made me uncomfortable as I have something of an aversion to firearms, but before long our conversation was over and he moved on. We rode south on the Pan-American Highway (E-35) which in Ecuador is a wonderfully smooth paved road with nary a pothole or other defect. In fact, our initial impression is that Ecuador offers an
overall tighter, neater package than Colombia, with much better roads (at least in the case of the E-35) and infrastructure, safer drivers, and generally higher standards, but interestingly the comparative GDP per capita figures do not bear this out. But Ecuador does have somewhat lower income inequality than Colombia, so perhaps this is a factor that helps explain it. Ecuador also has some wonderful natural beauty. One vista I glimpsed today reminded me of the verdant green slopes of Mount Haleakala on Maui, while other stretches looked similar to the semi-desert of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. At Cayambe we visited the monument that marks the Equator and took a picture there with the UNICEF banner. We had a celebratory cerveza at the nearby restaurant and then returned back into the northern hemisphere to the town proper and found a comfortable hotel (Jatun Huasi) with an equally pleasing restaurant. At the hotel, we carried out some minor repairs to the bikes necessitated by all the shaking, rattling and rolling of the past few days.
Monday, October 1st – continued south on Hwy 25 from El Bordo to Pasto and then on to the town of Ipiales on the border with Ecuador. Road conditions were very sketchy with a large number of significant potholes that required deft handling of the bikes to avoid hitting them, plus significant rock and gravel sections that were “under repair” (Obra en la via), but one had the sense that the amount of road work required was so great that this was more or less a normal state of affairs. The terrain was largely semi-desert, but as we climbed out of the valley to the plateau above temperatures moderated to the mid- to high-20s. En route we found a make-shift roadside truck wash and pulled in to have the extensive accumulations of mud from the previous day’s traverse of the western cordillera removed from our bikes. Even after being sprayed with an industrial-strength power washer there remains noticeable accumulations of mud and road grime on our bikes. At Ipiales we booked into the fashionable-looking San Isabel Hotel in the downtown area. It had beautiful marble throughout and all the apparent trappings of finer hotels in say Italy or France. But as with most things, the devil is in the details: no hot water the day we arrived, shower doors installed backwards necessitating a gymnastic maneuver to gain entry by gingerly overstepping the toilet, no elevator, uneven Wi-Fi service, and a single tray of ice cubes for the entire five-story hotel (needless to say, we used them all). We took Dogcow out for his birthday dinner and stopped in for a nightcap at a local bar before retiring to our unheated, “Indio-style” rooms for the night. At 2,950 meters, Ipiales is the highest border crossing in the world, and space Cowboy and I became easily winded as we walked up the five flights of stairs to our room.
Sunday, September 30th – made it to El Bordo today en route to the border crossing into Ecuador at Ipiales. We only made 222 kms, but interesting kms they were; first over the Colombia’s western cordillera of the Andes and then down into the plains and yet another major valley between the Pacific Ocean and the main western cordillera where temperatures reached the high-30s Celsius. Although we were above 10,000 feet going over the Andes, there were short palm trees up there – definitely no snow. I think that comes further down in Chile and perhaps Peru, since we are so close to the Equator here. Near the wet, cool and fog-shrouded summit there was a Colombian military outpost/check point with several ominous-looking armoured vehicles painted jungle-camouflage parked alongside the road. Much of the narrow road over the Andes was appalling: 80 kms of gravel, rocks, potholes, water and mud – got stuck once but Space Cowboy helped push me out, and I came close to getting nailed by a truck coming the opposite direction around a blind corner. Hector also had a minor spill, but the offending truck driver was quick to get out and help him right his bike. Even the two-lane paved section of the highway today (Hwy 25) was very congested making progress slow and dangerous. But surprisingly the road we travelled today is considered the “good road”, as it allowed us to bypass guerilla-controlled areas further south on Hwy 45 around Mocoa as well as the “The Road of Death” over the Andes into Pasto. At our hotel in El Bordo rooms were $10 each, a cold bottle of beer was less than $1, and it was $2 for a thin but appetizing steak plus rice and beans at the diner across the highway. Our bikes and a car owned by some other hotel guests were parked inside the narrow courtyard where they were protected by a steel gate, and our rooms were equipped with both strong metal doors and steel bars on the windows, but I subsequently realized that the door was close enough to the window that if a bandito had wanted to, he could have simply reached through the bars of the window to unlock the door – doh! Today was the first time the off-road capabilities of our bikes were put to a full test.
Saturday, September 29th – we managed a straightforward exit from Neive and continued southwest beginning our climb out of the valley on Highway 45. This turned out to be the best riding day of the trip so far, with lots of curvy roads perfect for getting the most fun and challenge out of our bikes, plus a combination of vegetation and land forms unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere. Plus we are getting used to – and emulating – the free form driving habits of the native Colombians. Why wouldn’t you pass on a solid double line if it’s clear you can get past the slow truck in front of you in plenty of time before the 18-wheeler coming in the opposite direction can reach you? Likewise, a slower motorcycle in your lane? Of course you should pass them even in the face of oncoming traffic, since they will almost always move over so you can pass them in the same lane they are using. These are common driving practices in these parts. On the road south we encountered several military installations off the side of the road as well as military check points in the road. The Colombian Army soldiers are a formidable-looking force, dressed in sharp green jungle camouflage uniforms, camouflage helmets or Australian Army Digger-style hats, dark sunglasses, with automatic rifles in hand. We would always slow down at these check stops but have so far invariably been “waved on” with a thumbs-up, the preferred gesture of acknowledgement and recognition (or perhaps approval) in this part of the world. While at a stop light in Pitalito, a man pulled up in a car in the adjacent lane and said his wife wanted to take some pictures of us with their daughters. We agreed and followed them to their attractive and well-appointed house within a gated community on the outskirts of town, where we were greeted by their hyper-friendly long-haired golden retriever. They offered us cervesas which we readily accepted (surprise!); took some photos with us in their comfortable and cool living room with their cute one-year old and precocious not-yet-three-year old (who can already count to 20 – in English!); gave us a tour of their beautiful home; then took more pictures with us and our motorcycles in their sizable driveway. Our host turned out to be the Director and Principal of the local campus of Colombia’s distance education university, so it turns out we were getting a glimpse into the lifestyle of an upper-middle/professional class Colombian family. We made it to San Augustin and toured its famous archeological site – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – which features complex burial grounds dating back almost 2,000 years – think Stonehenge and Christmas Island only underground and now partially exposed by archeological excavations. We booked into the Internacional Hotel on the outskirts of town which is a gated compound with several buildings of various sizes on several acres of carefully manicured lawns and gardens – a visually impressive offering! The Gang took me for my birthday dinner, including a “tortea compleanos” (birthday cake) at a restaurant located a good walk away from our hotel. After we commenced our substantial meal including a good quality bottle of wine we learned that this particular restaurant did not accept credit cards. It was fun watching my fellow Gang members sweat as they contemplated having to ask the guest of honour for a loan – an outcome which was fortunately narrowly averted. 226 kms.
Friday, September 28th – left the Aloft hotel at 6:30 am to try to beat Bogota’s morning rush hour, but it was clear that most of Bogota was already awake and on the road, so there was little advantage. Carmen (the Garmin) was a bit unfamiliar with some of the streets of Bogota so we ended up taking a convoluted route through the backstreets of the City before finding our way onto the main road south, Autopista Sur. It took us about two hours in the morning rush simply to reach the outskirts of the City. Carmen led us onto a secondary road (Hwy 40) that would save us some time on getting to our destination for the day, the city of Neive, which is located near the southern end of the major Magdalena River valley defined by the the two main north-south cordilleras of the Andes that run through central Colombia. As we descended from the alpine mountain basin of Bogota on the winding road into the valley below, the vegetation became more tropical and eventually almost jungle like. Part way through the descent, we pulled into a small village where the school children were enjoying recess. As we ordered water and huevos for breakfast at a small and rustic roadside diner, the school children and their teachers gathered around both us and the bikes like we were rock stars…giggling, snapping pictures, trying out their English, and we our Spanish. When our breakfasts arrived, the teachers dutifully led the children away so we could enjoy our meals. As we continued our descent into the valley and joined Highway 45 south, conditions became progressively hotter and drier, eventually turning into semi-desert where the thermometer on my bike gave a reading as high as 40.5 degrees Celsius. In an effort to stay hydrated, we pulled into several more small, roadside outdoor eateries throughout the day for agua and cervesas. By the time we reached Neive, we were physically and mentally drained, but then there ensued a 90-minute search for suitable hotel accommodation through the City’s crowded, diesel fume-drenched streets, many of which were one ways that constrained navigational options. Dogcow got pulled over by a foot patrolman for running a red light which in the traffic context we were operating in was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500. It was a clear shake-down attempt, but Dogcow’s effective use of a feigned lack of understanding (“I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t understand.”) eventually led the officer to give up the effort. Finally, for a small fee a “good samaritan” on a moped agreed to lead us to a suitable hotel, which turned out to be the Hotel Plaza overlooking the town’s main square. Although we had accommodation in the best real estate Neive had to offer, we were too spent to get much enjoyment from the City. To avoid a repeat of the exercise of finding a good hotel at the end of a long day in a large city, we vowed to only stay in smaller centers for the rest of the expedition except where we have advance bookings with known addresses to which Carmen might effectively lead us. Put 350 kms on our odometers today.
strong>Thursday, September 27th – our hotel organized a quasi-limousine service for us back to Centurion Transport at the cargo terminal. We arrived shortly after opening to find that instead of the bikes arriving at 4:00 am as we had been told they would the day before, they in fact hadn’t arrived until 7:30 am. They said they still needed another 4-5 hours to unload them, so we returned to the hotel by taxi and got our Miami-based shipping agent on the case in an effort to speed things up. After his intervention, we returned to the cargo terminal about mid-day to make the requisite customs payment at a branch of Bancolombia; return to Centurion to pick up some documents (including the originals of our bike registrations) which had been carried by the pilot onboard the transport plane from Miami; then went to the third floor of the Aduana (Customs) Building across the lot where (count ’em!) three women spent 45 minutes completing the import forms for our bikes and then asking us to go down to the photocopy shop on the main floor to obtain copies of our passports, vehicle registrations, and whatever other documents they thought necessary to properly “paper the file”. At long last we were ready to go to the shipping warehouse across the lot where we were told to come back in yet another hour since not all the bikes were unloaded yet. We came back after an hour but still had to wait for a while before finally donning bright red “Visitor” vests and being allowed to enter the warehouse to collect our bikes. We cut and tore away the plastic “shrink wrap”, re-installed our windshields and mirrors, cut the metal straps and removed the wooden supports tying down our bikes to the pallets, then carefully rolled each of the 600 pound machines off their respective pallets. But now came the hard part: finding a gas station and navigating among the crazed drivers of Calle 26 – the major east-west thoroughfare through central Bogota – back to the Aloft Hotel. We survived our first direct encounter with “free form” driving and arrived safely back at the hotel, re-organized our gear and bags to resume riding the next day, then repaired to the WXYZ Bar for dinner, drinks and music videos – including Grimes’ Genesis – played on our request by a “video jockey”. A hotel employee was stationed in the parking lot to watch over our bikes and the other vehicles parked there overnight.
Wednesday, September 26th – after I finished up with my warranty work at Dentisalud, the Gang of Four went in search of the mandatory driving insurance required in Colombia – Seguro Obligatorio, or SOAT. This turned out to be an exercise in chasing our tails with numerous false starts. After several hours of searching for the appropriate venue, we finally ended up at the main offices of the state-run insurance company Seguro del Estado, in Calle 17. Columbia has evidently managed to turn bureaucracy into something of an art form, with many routine procedures such as registering at a hotel taking much longer than would normally be expected. Photocopies of passports are made and other detailed information is collected and duly recorded either by hand into ledgers or keyed into microcomputer databases. And so it was at the offices of Seguro del Estado. The long delays necessitated a late check-out which the kindly staff at Casa Platypus readily accommodated. We took a cab across town to our new base at the Aloft, a modern up-scale hotel near the airport, and then took the hotel’s shuttle several kilometers to the airpor. The driver was kind enough to make a detour for us to the cargo terminal, where our bikes were slated to arrive. Unfortunately, contrary to expectations, our bikes had not yet arrived so we returned to the hotel via taxi, befriended the exceptional bartenders Hermann and Andres at the WXYZ Bar, and then played a grudge match in pool wherein Hector and Dogcow unsuccessfully tried to equalize their loss to Space Cowboy and The Big Easy at Centralia’s Olympic Club in July 2010.
Tuesday, September 25th – walked from our hotel to the funicular up Monserrate, one of the steep mountains hemming the eastern reaches of the City. Atop is the Eglesia de Monserrate, a large white shrine which is visible from much of the City 600 meters below. Bogota sits at 8,600 feet, an altitude well above the Mile High City of Denver, and each of us has experienced some mild manifestation of altitude sickness, in my own case breathing more deeply to try to “catch my breath”. After descending from Montserrate we took a taxi to the Centro Commercial shopping mall in the Saltire District, in search of Colombian flag stickers for our panniers. This objective has turned into something of a quest for the Gang of Four as such stickers appear to be as rare as hen’s teeth in Colombia – but we were partly successful at the Saltire Plaza, a large, modern shopping mall comparable to the best found in Greater Vancouver. We returned from the Plaza to our hotel and then took another taxi to the nearby Macarena District where we dined at La Juguteria, a restaurant offering good food but an odd-ish decor featuring inanimate Jokers and an almost circus-style ambiance. Following dinner we took a stroll through the small, fashionable Macarena District but realized we had reached its perimeter when we happened upon two Colombian army soldiers standing guard in the street with automatic rifles at the ready and sporting Australian Army Digger-style hats. We quickly retreated to the Bogota Beer Company, an up-market brew pub where Space Cowboy treated the Gang to micro-brewed cervesas, a distinct rarity in Colombia. We closed out the night at The Doors Rock Bar, a fantastically retro venue located close by our hotel with a decor featuring large Union Jack flags painted on the walls and pictures and posters of historical rock bands from the seventh through ninth decades of the twentieth century, some of the remnants of which are still alive! A largish middle-aged-or-better man with a head of long, blond hair seated at the bar – who we figured was likely the proprietor – was careful to play some ancient songs by The Who and the Rolling Stones when we expressed interest in those particular bands, using some kind of automated DJ system that projected rock videos onto the walls and on large monitors scattered about the small venue. We then retuned to our hotel for a glass (sic) of red wine on the rooftop belvedere before retiring for the night.
Monday, September 24th – quit the hotel Atlantic in the Bocagrande district and made our way by taxi to Cartagena’s Rafael Núñez International Airport, a surprisingly small venue with a single largish passenger lounge serving all six gates. Flew Avianca – an airline we have found much to our liking – to Bogota’s Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado (place of great riches), which is in the midst of a major and much-needed expansion. There we caught a taxi across town to Casa Platypus, which but for the absence of heat in the rooms is a quaint and comfortable hotel (approx. 3-star) located in the City’s eastern Candelaria District, not far from the downtown core. After checking in, I tried a toffee on offer in the reception only to have it dislodge a large crown from one of my lower molars. With help from the friendly hotel clerk, we identified a dental clinic – Dentisalud – within walking distance of the hotel on Carrera 7 and Space Cowboy was kind enough to accompany me for the exercise. Working in what I consider very passable facilities, the attractive (“guapa”) female dentist managed to remount the crown on a temporary basis at a cost of 50,000 pesos ($30 CDN). It promptly fell out at breakfast the next morning and she was kind enough to undertake a more permanent fix on a warranty basis (i.e., no charge). This was only one of a number of significant and helpful kindnesses extended to us by many of the Colombians we have encountered – whether during our Avianca flights, at our hotels, in the shops, on the streets, and even in the dental clinic…Bravo Colombia!
Sunday, September 23rd – I have discerned today what I believe may be the cause of perhaps 40 – 50 percent of the massively excessive honking of car horns in Cartagena. Unlike in Canada and the US, the ubiquitous small yellow taxis here have indistinguishably small lighted signs atop them to inform prospective customers that they are available to pick up passengers. As a result, they have defaulted to using their horns for this purpose, signaling with a few taps on their horns their availability to anyone (and seemingly everyone) standing in the street – but especially gringos and more particularly any group of gringos such as the Gang of Four. The consequence is a persistent, unpleasant, cacophonous noise pollution throughout the day and night. We took another self-guided walking tour through old Cartagena this evening stopping for a cerveza at the expansively impressive Cafe Del Mar bar atop the old city wall and then encountered a number of new sights such as Plaza de Santo Domingo filled with Latinos seated at tables al fresco enjoying the warm evening in a scene reminiscent of Venice’s Piazza San Marco. Also happened across a large group of locals (with perhaps a few tourists mixed in) – both males and females – in a local plaza undertaking something akin to a swarm jam but rather one that involved a large number of separate dance songs in what may well be a regular evening event. Being an incompetent dancer myself, I admired what seemed the native rhythmic skills of these dancers.
Friday, September 21st and Saturday, September 22nd – I’ve always said that I can’t stay in Key West more than three days because the risk is too high that I will pull a Jimmy Buffet and end up spending the rest of my life there. Cartagena is different. If I don’t get out of here before SIX days are up, all bets are off. Fortunately, I think we’re slated to move on to Bogota on day five. We have relocated from the sub-standard Santa Cruz hotel in Old Town Cartagena to the delightful four-star Atlantic Lux in the modern, more up-market Bocagrande section. This city of 1.2 million is a conundrum. On the one hand, it has an extraordinary number of beautiful tall, white edifices that would put many Canadian cities to shame, and prices on many items are similar to or even more than what we might expect to pay in Canada. On the other, it still has many of the trappings of a genuine third world country – crazy drivers who somehow seem to think that by repeatedly honking their car horns they are forming a protective bubble around their vehicles against all the other crazy drivers; aggressive street hawkers desperately trying to make a living selling either sunglasses or sombreros, or exceptionally some kind of tour package; wildly uneven sidewalks that present innumerable tripping hazards or indeed outright holes in the concrete that invite one to break an ankle, and so on. Despite the aggressive hawkers, we have so far not felt directly threatened, but it is nevertheless hard to avoid a latent sense of sinister intent abroad in this land. For example, our 20 year-old English-speaking hotel clerk said she switched from studying law to studying tourism because it is too dangerous to be a lawyer in Colombia, and our English-speaking waiter at dinner last night told us that robbers here are “crazy”, even resorting to the use of large rocks as weapons. Fortunately we have not yet met them.
Thursday, September 20th – we took a self-guided walking tour through the Old Town of Cartagena. I don’t know what my personal expectations were, but whatever they were they were vastly exceeded. European quaintness, deep history and Latin colour – both literal and figurative – combine to produce one of the most interesting towns I’ve seen in the western hemisphere…think Old Port of Montreal combined with Fort Louisbourg in Cape Breton and Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and you have something approaching the Old Town of Cartagena. After taking refuge from the mid-day heat and humidity in our air-conditioned hotel room for a spell, we took a taxi to new Cartagena for lunch and to visit the famous beaches. Despite their incredible natural beauty, these proved to be a disappointment after we were accosted numerous times by hucksters, street and beach vendors. I personally suspect that Colombia could vastly increase its foreign tourism traffic, GDP and productive employment if it could find a civilized way to curtail the activities of these unfortunate and bothersome souls whose net effect is to diminish the country’s tourism potential. We took refuge again at our hotel from the afternoon heat and humidity before venturing forth for another walk through old town to enjoy a nice dinner at an Italian/Spanish restaurant, with excellent Spanish guitar musical entertainment provided by two skilled troubadours who may well have been octogenarians. We have each started our daily/weekly malaria pill regimens but have been slower to adopt the recommended dietary precautions of avoiding salads, ice and other suspect food items. I am confident that our performance on this dimension will improve as our mental conditioning adapts to our new reality.
Wednesday, September 19th – slept in, enjoyed the $4 breakfast special at Denny’s, then caught the airport shuttle to Miami Int’l for our afternoon flight on Avianca, the national airline of Colombia, to Cartagena with a transfer in Medellin. After an uneventful flight, we arrived at hotel Santa Cruz on Calle de la Moneda in the Old Town of Cartagena at 10:00 pm, then walked to a nearby plaza for drinks and to share a pizza. We’re all tired but quite excited to be in South America – the first time for each of us!
Tuesday, September 18th – we repacked our luggage sorting the items we would need for a week or so in Colombia without the bikes, and then took the rest with the bikes to the local crating outfit located about a mile north of the hotel which Gaston had introduced us to the previous day. There we removed some of the windscreen hardware so they could be lowered to give the bikes a lower profile for shipping (air rates are based on both weight and size, so making the package smaller in profile saves money). We returned to the hotel and used the Wi-Fi to book our flight and hotel in Cartagena where we would be staying for a few days while the bikes shipped separately out of Miami to Bogota by air. Relaxed for the rest of the day until Wingman arrived to transport us to the Dolphin Mall for a few last-minute provisions and then dine with us at our favorite local Peruvian restaurant, Las Totoritas. We bid farewell to Wingman thanking him gratefully for all the assistance he provided to us during our visit to south Florida.
Monday, September 17th – we pushed Dogcow’s disabled bike through the McDonald’s and Denny’s parking lots next to our hotel to the Motorcycles of Miami BMW dealership three doors down. We then spent much of the day either at the service dealer or meeting with Gaston Etchart, our Florida-based logistics specialist responsible for getting the bikes to Bogota, including a visit to a Notary Public who witnessed the Powers of Attorney Gaston needed to authorize him to ship the bikes on our behalf. Using our maps for reference, Gaston was also very helpful in identifying potential route options in South America. Back at the dealership the service technicians identified some exposed wires on Dogcow’s machine which accounted for his starter motor problem, plus a spent coil/high tension lead that was responsible for a loss of power at higher speeds on The Big Easy’s machine – which by the way he has now christened “Starship Unity”. With these problems apparently resolved and with fresh motor oil and filters on all the bikes, they were now ready to be shipped to South American for the next major leg of the expedition. We dined and spent the evening on Miami’s South Beach with Wingman, our trusted local guide in south Florida who also cheerfully provided transport for the evening. Space Cowboy took sick in the late afternoon and subsequently had to bail from the visit to South Beach, returning to our hotel by taxi. By late the following day he had largely recovered.
Gang of Four Announces Winner of Global Mascot Contest – Being a global brand, over the past several months the Gang of Four has launched an international competition to identify a suitable mascot. This has been a rigorous competitive process designed to assess the mental acuity of the candidates, their physical strength and endurance, as well as their moral and spiritual resourcefulness. Through this demanding process and from a field of tens of thousands of international contestants vying for this prestigious opportunity there emerged three finalists: (1) the Honey Badger; (2) a joint Canadian team entry comprised of Rocky the Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose; and, (3) from Asia, the Yeti, or as he is known to many, the Abominable Snowman. While we appreciate the interest shown by all of the candidates, and recognize the quality of their respective extensive portfolios of experience and credentials, we regrettably were able to select only one of these many fine candidates for the widely sought-after position of official mascot to the Gang of Four. We are therefore delighted to announce today that the winner of this contest is the Honey Badger. For a personal profile of the Honey Badger, click here
Warning: For mature audiences only. This video contains course language and horrifying scenes of inter-species violence.
THE HONEY BADGER DON’T CARE!!!
Sunday, September 16th – Wingman took us to meet Señor Nestor Perez, a native Columbian who operates a small Colombian-style deli in south Homestead. After ordering and consuming breakfast there, we played 20 Questions with Señor Perez on all things Colombian and came away with a boost of confidence based on the intel received. We then returned to Wingman’s residence, loaded up the bikes, and he led us into Miami the back way along the Old Cutler Road through Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, stopping in at Scotty’s Landing near Miami City Hall for a cold one to help offset the mid-afternoon heat. We made our way to South Beach along Ocean Drive but before we could make our way out to our hotel located northwest of Miami Int’l, Dogcow encountered a electrical problem with his starter motor. After a two hour wait the AAA flatbed truck finally arrived to load up Dogcow’s bike and the rest of us then followed it out to the hotel. In two incredible strokes of good fortune, we already had service appointments booked for first thing the following morning at Motorcycles of Miami, the Miami BMW dealership, and then it turned out that the hotel we’d booked for that night was located just three properties away from the dealership. We settled into the hotel, washed up, and then repaired to Las Totoritas, a excellent Peruvian restaurant located just half a block from the hotel in the opposite direction. Incidental kilometers recorded today.
Saturday, September 15th – slept in and breakfasted late at Pepe’s before quitting Eden House just before the check-out deadline. Before leaving the Conch Republic (“We seceded where others failed”), we stopped by the Key West monument that marks the most southerly point in the continental US (only 90 miles from Cuba) to take pictures of the Gang of Four with the UNICEF banner. We rode the 210 kilometers back up the Keys to Homestead stopping for cold ones first at the Sunset Grille at the eastern end of the 7-Mile Bridge at Marathon, then again at Gilbert’s Tiki Hut Bar which is situated nearby the elevated Interstate-1 highway bridge that links the Florida mainland to Key Largo, the most easterly key in the archipelago that stretches southwestward to Key West. Arrived at Wingman’s residence in Homestead where we processed large volumes of laundry before heading out to Black Point Marina for dinner and then to The Mutineer, a great little honky-tonk in south Homestead where we enjoyed the live music of “no restrictions”, an ensemble with a great repertoire of covers and a dynamo lead singer. That place was rockin’!
Friday, September 14th – at last an easy day! Slept in at the beguilingly relaxing Eden House hotel before brunching at Pepe’s, which claims to be the oldest restaurant in Key West, established 1909. Today was a scatter day with each Gang member left to their own devices before reuniting for “Happy Hour” at the hotel pool. For dinner we went to B.O.’s Fish Wagon, a rustic restaurant located a block from the harbour with a fun, quaint decor. The early evening entailed a visit to Mallory Square for the nightly “Sunset Ceremony” featuring a variety of artists and performers. There followed the usual pub crawl, but this time made more memorable (sic) by the 20,000 HOG owners occupying Key West for the rally with their beautiful machines on display all along Duval Street. No kms recorded today.
Thursday, September 13th – quit the nicely-appointed Best Western Inn in Naples and headed southeast on State Highway 41 across the Everglades to Homestead where we picked up our local guide and mystery guest rider – nickname “Wingman” – before heading down the Florida Keys to Key West. Highway 41 is considered the better route for crossing the glades rather than the evocatively named “Alligator Alley” (Interstate 75), due to the presence of a variety of tourism operators such as everglade fanboat rides as well as some thatched-dwelling villages of the Seminole Indians. We were hit with torrential rains coming out of Homestead but took refuge for a spell at Alabama Jacks, an excellent open-air roadside diner on Card Sound Road just before the start of the Keys. The rain let up enough to let us enjoy the rest of the ride down to Key West where we arrived at the exceptional Eden House hotel, located a few blocks off Key West’s famed Duval Street and who welcomed us with a complimentary cold brew followed by free drinks during happy hour at the hotel pool – how’s that for service? Wingman treated the Gang to dinner at El Siboney, reputed to be the best Cuban restaurant in the Keys, which was followed by an obligatory pub crawl featuring the usual haunts: Schooner’s Wharf, Hogs Breath Saloon, Sloppy Joes, Durty Harry’s, Irish Kevin’s and the Green Parrot Bar. Dogcow bought a custom-designed Bob Marley t-shirt on Duval Street which is so cool I’m plotting ways to steal it. 398 kms completed today for 6,411 kms total to cross America from Northwest to Southeast.
Gang of Four Faces Key Test – in recent days I have been in contact with our local guide who informs me that the annual Harley-Davidson rally will be getting underway in Key West the same day we are scheduled to arrive. He asked if the Gang of Four would be interested in participating in the associated “pub crawl” at a cost of $25 per head. We declined the opportunity figuring we could make our own fun, and in any case not wanting to be misunderstood as BMW owners in a sea of HOGS. Besides, I added, taking BMWs to a HOG rally is a little like bringing guns to a knife fight. This must have hit a nerve since our local guide claims that the only way he could get the Gang of Four into Key West now would be to lead us – shackled in chains – to the town mayor to beg for leave to enter the city, claiming as an excuse Canadians’ ignorance of America’s great motorcycling heritage! So it appears we may now have to enter Key West through the back gate…and under the cover of darkness…
Wednesday, September 12th – continued eastward from Carrabelle on State Highway 98 which then turns south down the west coast of the Florida penninsula. At St. Petersburg we transferred to Interstate 75 which we followed to Naples, our jumping off point for our run to Key West tomorrow. Both 98 and 75 are goood roads, which allowed for a quick pace and another 706 kms completed. On the way, stopped to enjoy a nice lunch at a seaside restaurant in Venice, and also saw a Chevy Volt (electric car) en route – a handsome little vehicle it is! Tomorrow we pick up our local guide and mystery guest rider who will join us for the ride down the Florida Keys.
Digression on Grits: The Gang of Four stopped for breakfast at a roadside diner in the town of Perry in northern Florida this morning. Our server was an unexpectedly worldly, vivacious and engaging sixty-something year-old. Given a choice between hash browns and grits as part of the breakfasts we had each ordered, we explained that we hadn’t had grits before and didn’t know what they were. She expressed surprise and saw to it that each of us received a small bowl of it, irrespective of whether we had expressed any interest in trying it. The more culinarily venturous among us dove right in, but after the first bite it became apparent that grits have a similar texture and taste to unsweetened porridge – but somehow worse. I recalled her saying that many people mix their grits with their eggs, so I did and sure enough the grits tasted better – but unfortunately the eggs tasted worse…
Tuesday, September 11th – travelled through parts of four different states today as we continued eastward on the I-10 toward Florida, then turned onto the scenic coastal State Highway 98 at Pensicola at the easternmost reaches of the Florida Panhandle. There are many attractive coastal communities along the Panhandle which feature impossibly white beaches. Two that come to mind are Destin, which seems like a curious blend of Kaanapali on Maui with aspects of Disneyland mixed in, and Beacon Hill, a sedate, upscale community featuring attractive bungalows set in expansive lawned yards. Finished the day at Carrabelle with an additional 623 kms on the odometer, and due to the lateness of the hour dined on cold cuts, cheese, wine and beer procured from the local IGA.
Parable of the Gang of Four: A young student of the human condition asked Confucious, “Master, who have been the greatest political leaders of all time?”, to which the Master responded, “That one’s easy, the Gang of Four of course.” Next the student asked, “Master, who is the greatest rock band of all time?”, to which Confucius replied, “That also would be the Gang of Four”. Finally, the student enquired, “And Master, who is the greatest motorcycle gang of all time?”, to which Confucius reiterated, “That too is the Gang of Four.” Then Confucius continued, “Do you comprehend it all now, Grasshopper? That is why the Gang of Four rules, rocks and riots!”
Hah! Amazing what your brain can come up with after endless hours of monotonous riding on the Interstates.
Monday, September 10th – made our way south to New Orleans on Louisiana Highway 167 which featured attractive pine stands and houses set well back from the road with large lawns and neoclassical and antebellum design features. Below Alexandria the pine groves gave way to deciduous trees with more flexible trunks and a lower canopy, no doubt an adaptive response millennia of exposure to high winds from hurricanes and tropical storms. At Alexandria joined the I-49 and continued south to Lafayette where we picked up the I-10 heading east for the final approach to New Orlean, with significant stretches of the highway of necessity built elevated on concrete columns tens of feet above the swamps and bayous below. Based at the Best Western in the French Quarter, we ventured out to enjoy the bars and nightclubs along Bourbon Street and enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Red Fish Grill. Made 584 kms today.
Sunday, September 9th – three key learnings/realizations today: (1) Where’s Waldo? North of Highway 82 in southwest Arkansas. Who knew? (2) A roadrunner crossed the road in front of me in northeast Texas today. After 45 years of watching the cartoon version, I had forgotten that there is also the real thing! (3) There is a new, emergent leader in the Gang of Four – his name is Garmin. He’s an excellent map reader, has sound judgement and is prescient in identifying alternative routes around congested traffic areas in larger urban centers. All adventure motorcycle gangs would benefit from having such strong leadership. Today we made 772 kms along Highway 82 finishing in El Dorado, Arkansas. Tomorrow we head south for New Orleans. Today’s route was mostly straight, but with some nice low rolling hills and mixed pine and deciduous forests as we left northeastern Texas and entered southwestern Arkansas. Also stopped and had lunch with Dogcow’s brother, Dave, in Sherman, Texas.
Saturday, September 8th – headed south out of Santa Fe on Highway 285 to join up with the I-40 at Clines Corner heading east on the high plains for Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. Cold and uncomfortable riding this morning with ambient temperatures of only 10 degrees Celcius – but even colder when you consider the wind chill factor. The road was largely straight and flat, reminiscent of driving across the Saskatchewan prairie, but with a few modestly interesting land forms along the New Mexico portion of the highway. At the town of Tucumcari we encountered a section of the famous Route 66 built in 1926 from Chicago to Los Angeles. Route 66 has been increasingly superseded by newer highways and as a result towns like Tucumcari are worse off for it with many motels, stores and restaurants now shuttered or even bull-dozed. At Amarillo turned southeast onto Texas Hwy 287 making for New Orleans, which is still two days’ travel away. Saw a Texas Longhorn off the I-40 and stopped for the night in Childress, Texas after putting on 642 kms today.
Friday, September 7th – Broke camp at Devil’s Garden and were on the road by 8:00 am travelling to Monticello, Utah for breakfast. Saw some antelope beside the highway en route. Headed southeast on Highway 491 through southwest Colorado, then into Four Corners country to Shiprock in northwest New Mexico, an area that can best be described as desolate. Travelling through Navajo and Apache country, we took New Mexico Highway 550 southeast across the Continental Divide to the town of Cuba for an afernoon beer at the Copper Mug Lounge. Reversed direction a few kilometers to join local highway 96 which provided a short-cut into Santa Fe, climbing to elevations as high as 7,000 feet. Enjoyed dinner at The Pink Adobe restaurant where we witnessed the pagan ritual burning-in-effigy of Zozobra or “Old Man Gloom”, a practice initiated to take away any negative thoughts accumulated over the past year. After dinner we decamped to Evangelo, a bar/nightclub in Old Santa Fe that featured Little Leroy and Soulman Sam, a blues/soul outfit that punched well above their weight class and kept us entertained past midnight! Made 656 kms today.
Thursday, September 6th – Continued south on Highway 84 through rush hour in Ogden and Salt Lake City to Provost where we joined Utah Highway 6, which featured some beautiful land formations, then followed Interstate 70 for 20+ miles to Utah Highway 191 where we headed south toward Moab, elevation 5,200 feet. Camped at the Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park featuring unparalleled scenery including beautiful red rock formations, natural rock arches and hoodoos. 597 kms.
Wednesday, September 5th – Travelled from Pendleton to Tremonton in northern Utah along Interstate Highway 84. A monotonous ride through southern Idaho with little to commend it. Crossed the 45th parallel. Completed 771 kms today.
Tuesday, September 4th – Gang of Four members met at the Country Market at 8th Avenue and Highway 15 (176th Street). Border crossing was largely uneventful, except in Space Cowboy’s case for a border guard who was obsessed with our new Heidenau (knobby) tires, disputing their utility for highway use! Took Interstate 5 south to Bellvue, Washington, then headed east on Interstate 90, then joined Interstate 82 heading south at Ellensburg, Washington to Oregon where we joined Interstate 84 to Pendleton. Enjoyed prime rib at Hamley’s, our absolutely favourite restaurant in Pendleton, a monument to over-built edifices which came about when the owners invested $10 million in upgrades to the building which will never be recovered through commercial operations. Rode 662 kms. today.