Phoenix Rising

imageI’ve written convulsively since my return. Sometimes… and only when the inside of my head feels like it leaned on fiberglass insulation. I’ve been quietly planning my next trip… this next bit I wrote months ago. I’ve been waiting for just the right minute to post. I won’t leave you alone for so long again. I promise.

When I got back from my last trip, a lot of people asked me a question..  “Was it fun?”

The tears I talked around for weeks on my return threatened every time I opened my mouth… it was loss. It felt like a death.

It’s like St Peter greeting you and asking, “Did you have fun?”

You might want to give him side eye; a better question might be, “What did you learn?” Which is a very long conversation indeed.
Another, “Would you do it again?” or, “What would you have done differently?”
Probably dozens of different questions because, while I did have some fun along the way, I can only describe the trip as “a life experience”.  It was a continuous, daily cycle of varying challenge and reward… which is fertilizer for the garden of your soul.

There were times I wanted to quit, there was exhaustion, joy, humility, struggle, terror, elation, pain, frustration and at times, even helpless anger.

It felt like a life inside my life…. and now, almost two years later, I miss it. Every day. I work in one of the most scenic and peaceful places a person could hope to be. A little brook runs past the worksite, Sitka Spruce shade a carpet of needles surrounded by lush evergreen hills…. and still, I’ll lean on my shovel and sigh… my throat tight and my chest burning with desire to be free again.

So, at this very moment, I am preparing for the next trip and building a plan to bring you with me everywhere! I’ll be writing, filming and welcoming you every step of the way… I want you to know everything.
This is a big part of the joy for me… sharing this wealth of Spirit and Adventure.

Keep an eye out for my next post!
I’m putting together a spectacular weekend dinner, presentation and fun ride sometime in Spring, so when we have dates and routes hammered out, you’ll be the first to know!

¡Hasta Pronto!
(See you soon!)

P.S. If by some horrible misfortune you’ve missed out on my project, keep reading! It’s a fun ride!

The End Of the Road

The problem of selling the motorcycle did not lessen with the earthquakes. Downtown is closed. There’s armed  military on every corner and the power has been slow to come back on.

I am in a panic to sell the bike. I don’t have  the money to ship it home… It needs to get either sold or stolen… Either of which will get it off my passport.

As I am lamenting to my new pilot friend Jussi, he asks me how much it costs. I lowball myself and tell him I want 2k, but will take $500.

His eyes pop out. $500???

“I’LL buy it!! “



We have a few hoops to jump through. The most important one is the notary. We need to do a bill of sale. But nothing is open. Nor do they plan to be open anytime soon… No customs, no notary, nothing.. Even the groceries and gas stations still have wicked long lines and armed military manning the gates.

So we wait. And fly in the afternoons..  Until the day before I have to go to Santiago… Or miss my flight home. I’d take a bus back to Lima, but I’m sure I’ll get delayed on my way back… For who knows how long. We go downtown and check the notaries again… We think perhaps pointlessly, but there is a sign on one of them… They will open for just a couple hours in the afternoon. Whoooo hoooo!

We return in a few hours and are able to do the paperwork… The office has a fair line outside, but we’re the first…. When the doors swing open, three Chileans push past me and grab numbers… We end up #4. I’m surprised at the pushiness. It seems very un-South American. We sign the title and hope that’ll be good enough to get out of (and back into ) the country…I’m supposed to see a customs agent also, but the port is closed until next week sometime.IMG_9046


The 24 hours on the top deck of a double decker bus ride to Santiago is comfortable, but somewhat insular. I have the front seat… A giant window to see the country through… Which is nice, but my only meaningful connection are the occasional vendors that come aboard at random stops to offer sweet, powdery baked goods stuffed with the caramelly arequipe. (dulce de leche) .. Everyone else is trying to sleep through the trip.IMG_9070IMG_9079IMG_9083IMG_9085IMG_9092IMG_9095

I stay at a backpacker-filled party hostel  in the Bellavista district of Santiago  (which reminds me of an artsier-gayer version of Denver) for $35/night..  I explore around a little bit, but am feeling pretty reserved.. I want to do this with more time on a return trip.  There are a few small earthquakes… They keep me on edge.. The cracks you can see daylight through in the washroom aren’t helping.

My flight home is tomorrow.

I’ve been trying to write this last post for weeks now. What’s been gnawing me is the emotional turmoil that came after my re- immersion back into “real life”.

The exploration is over… The struggle with planning, danger, sickness, the heightened awareness, the newness  of each different country…  tropical heat, high Andean hail and sleet, the profound beauty of huge, heart-twistingly beautiful empty spaces, thick stifling cities crammed with brilliant life-force… Seemingly much more vibrant than my own culture… Of course, this isn’t inherently true, but the different-ness of it is. And the lessons I’ve learned are real.

My return to apparent order and rules,  hot showers, corporate food, tidy suburbs, the struggle for success… The dislocation of families and community. The difference is stark….and to me, for now, painful.

My first week back, I walked around with a permanent lump in my throat… I couldn’t shake it. The damn thing started on the plane. Not when I boarded in Santiago, but on my connecting flight in Iquique. When we took off, I began sobbing uncontrollably… Tears rolling down my cheeks, we flew directly over Palo Buque… The site where I flew, met people,  adventurers.. explorers…the whole length of my journey stretched out below me on the golden desert floor… winking a goodbye from the sparkling Pacific shore. It will be emblazoned in my mind forever.

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What Did You Learn?? Moto Tips, Advice and Clothing. The super basics.

Every country is different. Really. Even if they are nearby. The roads in Mexico are pay roads.. You don’t have to pay for roads again until you get to Ecuador… And then only in half the country. The bottom half has free motorcycle lanes… Where exactly they are is always a bit of a mystery. Someone will whistle and point..

Colombia has toll roads everywhere, motos are free. there is a little itty bitty lane off to the right.. Exactly big enough to get your touring bike through. There is always a lane. Do not attempt to go through at the pay gate. They freak out.

Always have toilet paper somewhere on your person. Paper is not guaranteed… And usually you have to pay for it… You will need the right coin (s) Quite often separate from the bathroom charge.

There are more motorcycles on the road in Colombia than anywhere else  in South America.. (that I went) I hear Venezuela has a lot too.

If you need stuff for your Moto, this is a great place to plan a repair, restock, or to get a whatever thing for your bike. It’s good, because the crossing will be hard on your machine. IMG_7993 Medellin or Cali.. Medellin will always be my choice. Other big cities will be helpful too.

Ecuador has some stuff but it’s harder to find.. The police motos are KLR’s, but newer.. 2006+.

Bolivian police ride KLR’s also.. Maybe some help in La Paz.

Quito is your best bet..

Peru is a struggle. There are a lot of bikes, but they’re all small and usually attached to carts. Don’t expect much there.

Chile.. Is pushing first world. You will notice right away that many bikes are big… Most bikes are big. Drivers will even follow most of the road rules.. Not much worse than in the states.. Better than D.C. Or Tennessee. I saw a police motorcade with a phalanx of r1200 BMWs. The other bikes looked like the Honda enduro.

If your maintenance requirements are strict, bring the little things you’ll need. If your bike has a crush washer for your oil plug, bring as many as you think you’ll need for the trip. Finding one South of the border nears impossible. Bring two air filters. Reuseable. Air filters seem to be a specialty item. Bring all the tools.. And ONLY the tools you will need to do the maintenance on your bike… And tire repair. Don’t forget air. A small bicycle pump stows easily, is light and doesn’t need electricity.. Don’t assume you’ll always have enough..

If you are riding a KLR like me, you’re going to need to check your battery fairly often. Check the acid levels at least once in each country.. More often if you’re doing a lot of hard riding. It dries it up for some reason??? Check your brakes with every oil change… At least. Mine were good until I went through the mountains.. AND I had my tires replaced. They mounted the damn things crooked and backwards.  If you’re putting on a LOT of miles, you can bring an extra set of rear brakes… I usually burn those up waaaay ahead of the fronts. It might save you a day or two searching.. Buy locally where you can, because everyplace won’t have what you need. Two things I’m really glad I had but didn’t use.. An extra clutch cable pre-routed and taped in place.. An extra clutch lever… If either of those two go, you’re out of luck.. And they are documented weak points. Also, I had an MSR fuel tank mounted on the bike.. I never had to use it either, but the feeling of security was priceless.

Put blue loctite on nearly everything.

Check your bolts regularly.

On the KLR.. Progressive shocks, on the front, a fork stabilizer and also make sure the rear is in New-ish condition. Don’t leave with half-worn shocks.. Half-worn anything, really. I wished I had, but never had to use… A beefier skid plate. Mine was just plastic.

Thinner hard/soft cases will give you superior maneuverability in thick traffic, but less storage for all your kit.. MoskoMoto has a prototype I’ll be using for my next adventure.

If something is broken, and they say it will be fixed in a half hour, you are going to be the rest of the day.. If someone is going to return in a half hour, get comfortable and don’t look at your watch. Bring a book. Or a large project. Time moves differently here. That goes for everywhere. Even Chile.

If you are standing right where they are, they will most likely help you first. If you leave, they will help everyone else who is standing there first… Do not leave if you need it today. Unless it is lunch. Nobody is going to be around and you’ll just get hungry.

Don’t expect ANYONE (no matter how nice and professional) to do a good job. Check, watch and double check everything. Do as much yourself as possible. You’ll avoid a lot of heartache that way. If I’d mounted my own tires, I would have saved most of a day… And probably a set of brakes.

Water… Everyone has a different perspective here… If you are only in the country for a short time, just buy bottled. If you are traveling for extended periods, water gets real expensive. Drink the water if the locals do but bring a purifier. And use that…first OR at least a steri-pen. (Way smaller and lighter) And a small filter. That will kill the googlie-booglies.

Many times the locals don’t drink the water because it is filled with poisons from the mines. You can’t kill that. Don’t try to purify it either. Just get bottles. Most of the locals know better.

Whe traveling off piste in the dirt, do yourself a favor and have your water hard mounted to your bike. (Or strapped down in a way you might not mess up.

Bare minimum, a couple liters… And have a way to purify/distill more. Being alone with a broken bike or lost in the nowhere can get life threatening. Real fast. Some electrolyte tablets are a good idea

Too. Emergen-C’s if you don’t have someone making you eat fruit, this kind of thing will save your teeth. I met one traveler that gave himself scurvy because he ate so little fruit and greens.

Take a small first aid kit… And some broad spectrum antibiotics.. A couple rounds. Having severe diarrhea in the backcountry can be life threatening as well.. Even in the front country.. Things can snowball fast. A few bandaids, tweezers, a small razor.. like an exacto blade, some antibiotic cream, you can get generic antibiotics over the counter in most countries…  Azithromycin, is the choice for Travellers diarrhea. This link outlines the whole scene. Most of the people I met here are using Cipro.  Just don’t expect them to have anything name brand. Sometimes you can find band-aids, a lot of time not.. Weird. Bring some gauze squares and a roll of that cloth white tape. You can get this anywhere though.

Ibuprofen/Tylenol and of course, whatever you usually need to take. Don’t waste your time with splints and tourniquets… If you can’t fabricate one from the materials you have, you don’t really belong in the backcountry anyhow. Talk to your doctor about shots you will need. Yellow Fever is a good one to have. You can only get it from the CDC outlined places… and you’ll need to get a “Yellow Card”. It is expensive, so research the countries you are planning to visit and see if it’s an issue. A current Tetanus, Typhoid and a Hep A booster are smart. Pepto Bismol did nothing except turn my poop black and scare me.

I hate taking medications but if you’re traveling solo, there is no one else you can really count on to make sure you’re going to be comfortable… Or alive. Having said that, the blessing is that if you’re in trouble, most people  want to help. There always seems to be a kind person… and close to the moment you really need help! To drag the bike out of a ditch, get you fueled, give you directions.. Just a lot of nice people.. Most folks are. The bad guys are in the super-minority, still, everyone is scared of them.

Most of central and South America is  horribly poor.. People are opportunists.. They may be nice people otherwise. Do not leave anything you want to keep, out.. Especially at night. If you want something disappeared, you can leave it out. Especially little grabbable things. Cell phones.. Wallets.  Motorcycles and bicycles make the two biggest disappearing acts.

Noise. For some reason, nobody cares how much noise they make. Horns are ridiculous. They are nearly useless because so many people are using them. People begin jackhammering or some other loud activity early in the day… far earlier than is polite. Often, just feet from your room. The party hostel kids will be going until a couple hours before the jackhammer starts. Quiet is a luxury. you have to pay a lot of money for silence. Ear plugs are cheap. Bring a few pairs… Wear them when you have to.. If you’ve got them in your ears a lot, though, you risk a higher chance of ear infection.

I don’t remember busses being so loud. (Didn’t have earplugs) The Chilean “Tour Bus” forces you to listen to a Spanish movie… Even though all the seats cannot view the screen. I taped my international driver license over the speaker above my head.

This was the best use of it so far. You don’t need one.

I brought laminated fake driver licenses with me to give to the criminal-cops.. Three. They’re very good, and were just actual copies of my own DL. I never took out my actual license until I was at the border when I was SURE the stop was official. Do not attempt to bribe anyone in Chile. That is a mistake… an expensive one. You will get a worse ticket on top of the already bad one.. You were probably doing something wrong in the first place.  The police are ridiculously nice, helpful and polite…. that’s something you can count on in Chile.

I also made three VERY good copies of my title. Front and back.

Keep your actual title in a safe, dry place. Don’t use it unless you absolutely have to. All the folding and unfolding, pawing and general use of your original will render it into antique status quickly. Besides, nobody (except Honduras… Or was it Nicaragua) needed/wanted the original. Make a hard copy of everything and keep it for the customs.. try to let your originals be in good condition for YOU. Also, have electronic copies that you can get to… Just in case. If they insist on the original (border) give it to them.

Have a stash of emergency cash somewhere safe.. $500 to $1k not like… in your front pocket… maybe

If you don’t want to be pulled over by the police constantly, don’t drive a flashy expensive bike…or wear snazzy clothes. Tone it down. They want your money. They know you have it, You just showed them you do..

Clothing.. This is a major issue. If you are an adventure traveler, you will need everything. But it’s impossible to take that much stuff.. Inconvenient, anyway.

What I wish I started out with: a summer mesh protective jacket.. Light weight and comfortable. This is for tropical areas. I usually have a tank top or t-shirt under this..

A warm, puffy jacket that will go over your mesh.. AND a light/medium weight waterproof shell that will go over either just your mesh OR both puffy and mesh.

Bring a good pair of breathable riding pants… And a lightweight waterproof shell. Bring a  layer that you can wear under your pants for warmth in freezing weather. Everything (except for your protective first layer) should be packable into a small space.. REI camping style.. It will give you more room for things like food, water and whiskey.

I like having clothes that wash and dry quickly and easily. I took only one cotton piece of clothing.. My tank top. Everything else will dry in a couple hours from a sink hand-wash.

Some days, it will go from sweltering to freezing to sweltering.. It’s good to be comfortable in all conditions. Don’t try to muscle your way through if you don’t have to. You’ll need your energy and concentration for the nutty roads. If you’ve never experienced high altitude, Let me tell you that anything above 10-11,000 feet is a real ball-buster. If you’re planning a backroad bike tour at high altitude, give yourself a break and acclimate for a couple days to a week… at least before pushing it. It is twice as hard.. anything above 11,000 feet becomes exponentially harder. Including drinking. Careful with the booze when you’re in the high country.

I brought 2 pants, three sport bras, 3 socks, two t-shirts, two button downs. Underwear. You can buy more if you need. There are excellent stores in EVERY country… Just not every town. I brought a fancy, (Kuhl) expensive, pair of pants.. That lasted to Guatemala.. They sprung holes everywhere after a month of hard use. I’m still wearing my $20 outlet bought Columbias. I bought a hat and a scarf..

Did I mention earplugs? And toilet paper? Yeah. You can live without almost everything else.

Ring of Fire

The border takes longer than I anticipated and I discover a two hour time change in Chile…. By the time I get to Arica, It is almost 3:00. Time to find some lodging.

I’d gotten smarter in Puno and researched a good place to put my head for the night..  it is called Sunny Days  Hostel. An excellent, inexpensive safe and friendly place run by a Kiwi. There is ample bike parking. I meet some great personalities here and another gal doing a super blog! she includes a bit about me in her Santiago post (love to hear about that) !!

The ride from Arica to Iquique is a desolate, winding, desert road. IMG_1626There are a couple small towns I can stop and eat, but no real fuel stops. IMG_8924I suspect I can buy fuel from a local vendor but I’m hoping to make it to Iqq without having to stop. I estimate I have at least 400 kilometers of fuel and am comfortable with the 300km that the signs advertise… besides, I have an extra liter in the bike.Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.07.41 AM

I am looking for the flying hostel, and have no good adress for the place, instead look for people in the air.. this is always a likely way to find pilots.

The town at the top of the hill is called Alto Hospicio… I think this means  high hospice.. which is an apt name, because the dune they are perched on is thousands of feet above the city below.

I do see a couple of pilots, but don’t see the launch they take off from… it seems to be on a different road.

I descend into the city, but about halfway down, the bike begins to sputter and choke. And finally quits. I am confused, because this should be only about three quarters of the fuel I have stored… Perhaps it is a vapor lock. I pull over and open the fuel tank.. I leave it open and am able to start the bike again. I am almost at the bottom of the hill when it begins to behave oddly again. I pull into the nearest petrol station and fill the tank. It takes 17 liters.

As I cruise the city, I have no more bike issues. I ask a few people where I can find paraglider pilots. Finally, I roll up to a small house with a sign and knock. Indeed, there are pilots here, but I discover that I am at the wrong place. They are hospitable and call the flight park for me. I get good directions and head off.

The Flight park is a small compound built out of shipping containers. IMG_8928 IMG_8927 IMG_8985 IMG_8993
I love this construction, because it feels sustainable and safe. I am greeted immediately by a friendly group of pilots and some very sweet dogs… It takes me the time between a handshake and a smile to feel like I’ve come home. IMG_9041I park the bike and find my room. It is a dorm, but I am the only one there. Only moments after I drop my bags, I am invited to the grocery store.

The city is modern… whenever I say modern, I feel like I am making a difference between America and somewhere else…. I don’t have an equivalent city in the US that it looks like, but perhaps I can describe it as a cross between Gallup, NM and and Port Angeles, Washington… except the seaport city is framed by towering sand dunes and rocky high desert.IMG_8952 The grocery store is the size of a large King Soopers.. Safeway.. whatever it is you have.. and sports everything except for notably, a fresh seafood case… This I don’t actually notice until later. I am more interested in the produce aisle… more lettuce, broccoli and fresh greens than I have seen in a long time. I gather a big cart of vegetables, fruits and pasta for the next couple days.

The plan: Fly.  Learn as much as I can about moto sales, try to sell the bike here. If I can’t, then I need to leave for Santiago and sell the bike there, but I will be at a significant disadvantage… I will only have the weekend and only one skinny hour before my flight out on Monday… I am late arriving to Chile because of the delays in Peru.. and other places.

After our shopping trip, I return to the park and get myself settled. The rest of the pilots have already gone to fly. I am not interested in going out for dinner. I am working with my last couple hundred dollars I’ve allotted myself and need to use the kitchen. Besides, I think I’ll have a better chance to try Chilean cuisine when I’m in Santiago.

In the morning, (Sunday)I begin to make inquiries about the moto. There is a fellow who is interested, but he wont’ be in until Monday. Maybe. It is a little close, but I’m a risk taker.. I don’t feel too stressed about the short delay. It still gives me a little time to play with.

Since I’ve been here, we have had a dozen or more small earthquakes.. the ground seems like it is constantly moving.

Around ten-thirty the same day, we pile into a bus and ride to launch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_8947
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt takes about an hour for the conditions to become flyable and finally we launch… the site is pleasant, but not a lot of lift, I circle in the little bubbles for half an hour before losing interest and making a good landing right behind home.

I always consider it a good flight if I’ve made a great launch, caught some lift and landed softly where I wanted.

Safety and good decisions in flight are the name of my game nowadays… I love to fly, but I love to have the opportunity to fly again even more.

During the day, a large group of motorcyclists arrive.. 17 of them with a tour group!! They are Germans mostly. A lot of them speak English, so I get to meet a few of the gang. They have a chase vehicle that carries most of their gear, spare tires, parts, etc.. it’s awesome.IMG_1635

IMG_1637In the afternoon, I’m delighted to discover that the crew goes to another site. It’s called Palo Buque…. a vasty expanse of desert rock and dune.. totally undeveloped flying adventure.

IMG_8938IMG_1631I am impressed with its sweeping austere beauty and ocean vista… it is almost enough to sit and breathe in the emptiness.

The next day, I take off from everything. My plan is to wait for my potential buyer and have a down day. I’ve been pushing myself beyond hard and am exhausted… the tired feeling is in my bones and I’m grateful I am allowing myself this respite. In the afternoon, my guy shows up. He is interested and says he needs to look up the prices for the bike. … I don’t like delays in South America. If one hears it will be a half an hour wait, it can turn into a full day. Easily… usually longer. But this is Chile, so I cross my fingers and hope for better. Besides, I still have a day.

Tuesday. Apr 1

I feel refreshed in the morning and am ready to fly. IMG_8943IMG_1628We take the bus to launch and wait. And wait. It never really gets very good so I decide to launch anyway. It is a sled ride, but I don’t mind, it is enough for me to be airborne here and land in the sand near home.. Some of the other pilots wait another hour and launch into mildly better conditions, but we are not in the best season for soaring. It is poppy, bouncy flying. There are little bubbly pockets of lift which you must take advantage of.. and work hard to get higher than the top of the mountain… some people do, but not most.

Again, in the afternoon, we go to Palo Buque.. I look up the name and believe it means “Wooden Boat” or “ship mast” but I think the first is more accurate.?

Me, two stoic Austrians, my new Sweedish frined who is learning to fly, her New Zealand boyfriend and a German girl all get some short flights and return happy and hungry. We set about making dinner. It is dark now and a beautiful evening, a thin crescent of white, smiling moon glows over the ocean. The Two Austrians are making pasta while my friends are treating me to a first class salmon and potato salad dinner… They are treating me like royalty… serve me a cold Corona and tell me to relax and wait. As I futz around on Facebook, the ground begins to shake. This is not out of the ordinary. The ground has been shaking since I arrived. It makes the water in your glass wiggle. Sometimes it feels a little wavy under your seat… like I’m back on the boat.

And then it gets ViolentI am in a giant, creepy snowglobe that someone is shaking up.

I look around and see the door behind me is occupied…  everything I remember about earthquakes is… get under a table. So I do.

The table skitters around on the floor around me. I am on all fours looking out at the mayhem. All the lights wink out… here.. in the city… it is dark.  There is a roaring noise and a great deal of grinding and crashing..  behind the sound of smashing glass… in the kitchen, outside. Things are breaking. Big things.  “this isn’t happening… this isn’t happening.” I think to myself. “I can’t believe this is happening.” Finally.  The world is shaking. everything is moving.. My mind races and I try to think of ways to protect meyself better, but I don’t come up with anything better than this.  I keep looking at the buildings, I am worried the steel will topple over and squash me into jam. They are bouncing around… movie-like.. anything which is attached to the ground… which is everything.. rattling. like a toy..

It seems to go on a long time…  Someone pulls my friend from under the table.. I see her and another out on the stairs… It think to my self… “what can fall on me…? what can fall on me…?” “Nothing.” is the response.. and I rush out into open space.. it is difficult to run in a straight line with the world pitching around..  Someone is screaming and crying.. I hear another trying to comfort the panicking woman… The once friendly moon has changed into a blood red grin.. and then disappears into the dust entirely.

The ground heaves and bucks for another while and finally slows down to a tense jiggle. I am shivering. I can’t stop. I’m in a bit of shock and sit on the stair, still shaking, next to my friend. We say nothing. I sit for ten minutes. There is an eerie strangeness that is permeating everything.. and a great deal of dust in the air. And then, a loud, clear, military-like, siren… afollowed by “Attencion! Attencion! Attencion!” A sharp voice over a loudspeaker. “A possible Tsunami!” The voice announces in Spanish. And then instructions to retreat to high ground… the same booming voice. Over and over, every few minutes… accompanied by the siren. and the sirens of many ambulances, police, fire engines… dust is shrouding the whole scene in a kind of eerie, dim gloom.. There is a line of lights leaving the city harbor… it is all the boats that are manned.  They are going out to sea to avoid the tsunami.. the ones that stay risk devastation.

One of the people living here is a Bombedero… a fireman. He is pulling on his turnouts.. reflective pants and big heavy boots.. helmet and rushes out the big steel gates. Two people swing them shut behind. We are in a fortress. Protected on all sides by fence and high steel buildings.

The Austrians seem unfazed. The ground was still swaying while one of them was sweeping away his overturned pasta with piles of broken glass and ceramic into a dustpan. There is almost no light at all!!

We return to the dinner table. The pilot instructor, a Swede, Sune is already there with glasses full of amaretto and rum. “SKOL!” He says as he lifts his glass. We all grab one. “SKOL!” we say in unision as we dump the sweet liquor past our shaken lips… he refills our cups right away. IMG_8957We sit, pensive for a time. And then I begin to wonder what happened to the salmon… somehow, it was not thrown to the floor. Still raw, it was awaiting further disposition on the counter.

We find the propane tank and switch it back on… no smells. We light the stove, using headlamps and my little camping lantern, we begin cooking what is to be the BEST earthquake dinner. Ever.

The next day, we survey the damage. It was an 8.2. Town is closed. The power is out everywhere. The plumbing is broken. Some of the rooms were flooded. A couple of the hot water tanks from the roof have collapsed and poured their contents everywhere.IMG_1693 IMG_1676 IMG_1680 IMG_1679 IMG_1674 IMG_8956IMG_8969

I didn’t have that issue, but the armoire tipped over and slammed directly into the desk where my computer had been minutes before I had taken it to the table to surf Facebook.

There was a small Tsunami in the downtown area. It flooded a bus station and destroyed  many of the boats that had not left the harbor witht the warning siren. IMG_1704

IMG_9014The damage was significant, but minor to what it could have been considering the size of the quake. Building codes here in Iquique are strict.. and for obvious reason… this is one of the most seizmically activie regions on the planet. They are expecting “the big one” to come and destroy the city… Yes. They are expecting total destruction… many people are camped outside their homes in tents.. many are afraid to go back into their homes… I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to be in a wildly shivering and swaying high rise either…. I would never have thought to take residence in one anyhow.

There is a visible military presence. They came right away.. The grocery, gas station and department stores are all manned by conspiciously armed, camoflaged men. There sems to be no trouble… I’m sure they have a lot to do with that. A couple of buildings have collapsed.. smaller ones, some broken glass and one house with the fascade totally missing. IMG_9006
IMG_8999The above pics were taken three days after the 8.2. the grocery stores didn’t open for two days… the lines were outrageous at the gas stations and here… the wound down the block..

Toilet, sink and bath are all intact, but the wall is gone. It’s like a weird, giant dollhouse.

We can’t fly the morning ridge. There is military aircraft everywhere, helicopters mostly, and the road is blocked with a landslide.IMG_1754

BUT we can fly Palo Buque. Noone feels like it. Except, of course, the Austrians.. We suspect they may be cyborgs.

The next day is mellow too, we drive around the city, but mostly stay quiet and clean up after the mess.  We all agree to fly in the afternoon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_1658That evening, we all prepare dinner to share. Guacamole, pasta, chicken and cheesy potatoes. Dinner is again, fantastic and warm with the excellent company. The ground hasn’t stopped moving all day. Hardly five minutes pass that we don’t feel a shake, a wiggle a little bounce.. something. IMG_9034

Then suddenly, again. The shaking.. lights go out, less crashing, but more dust. It is choking. So thick it is impossible to see the 15 story highrise right next door. Tsunami sirens wail again. And then the voice…

I’m somewhat numb this time. I really feel like I’m in a dream… like it’s happening, but I’m sure I’ll wake up and tell everyone in the morning. But this doesn’t happen. We look at each other “At least it didn’t ruin dinner..”

The generators are running.. we are the only lights in town.  We hear it was a 7.8 quake.

Sune has found another bottle of the Amarreto and rum combo.

I’ll Take a Shortcut!

I get to Puno at dusk. I didn’t research anyplace to stop here.. which was a mistake. IMG_8833IMG_8847

I scout around town looking for a hostel.. Sometimes there is an area where most of them are located and it’s not too hard to pick a decent one. The strike (and the long ride) put me far behind my projected timeline, wore me out and after an hour of wandering the streets in the traffic and fading light, I broke down and asked a tuk-tuk where I could find a nice hotel that has parking for the bike… I follow him to approximately the nicest hotel in town. I am a little horrified, because I’m sure this is a triple digit night… I go in to find out.. more to actually just ask where I can find another less expensive stop. I talk them down from the posted $105 to $65. I’m bone tired and don’t want to keep searching… not in the dark… and to be truthful, a little luxury will go a long way right now.IMG_8836

I take a fantastic hot shower, glory in the first world-ness of my uber fancy digs and go out for a walk. I find a little place to get some chicken soup IMG_8848 IMG_8842(still feeling a bit peaked) and snap some pics of the tourist areas. I also buy two very inexpensive.. and soft scarves. Alpaca. They will come in handy for the cold… and hail. I get one from this gal..IMG_8853 IMG_8850

I get up early and pick my route on the I-phone.IMG_8894

The ride out of town rambles around the edge of Lake Titicaca… the highest navigable lake in the world. It’s higher here even than in Cusco.. 12,500 ft-ish. There is agriculture on the banks wherever I look. The most colorful things are little gumdrop colored boats and the red, yellow and orange quinoa, which grows well here in the cool Andean air.IMG_1520

My route starts off on a nice blacktop but as soon as I turn onto route 36, it changes to dirt. It’s a nice solid hardpack… some potholes, for a couple hours. Scenic, is not saying enough.. it… I.. don’t recall having seen pictures like this before. The colors are from movies… they don’t seem real.. and the camera can’t seem to capture them..IMG_1530 Puno IMG_1541 Puno3 IMG_1551 IMG_1570 IMG_1556

There is a highway that crosses the dirt after a couple hours with a sign to Moquegua. I consider taking it. I toss the idea immediately and continue across the road… there is no more hard pack. The road turns to pea gravel and I again consider the highway… but keep going.

The road gets better and worse but the scenery is magnificent, so I don’t mind too much.IMG_8872 IMG_8869I ride for another two hours and come to a water crossing. There was a sign at a Y in the road a few hundred meters back. It said the other road is a military camp.IMG_1588
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I hop off the bike and have a look around…. The crossing is impossible… it starts off shallow, but drops off steeply in the middle. It is shoulder deep, and swift. I try a few different spots, but the water has cut a 4-5 foot trench through even the narrow areas.

I look to the military area… It’s my only option.

I wander around to the bridge. There are four men wearing black and gold uniforms walking toward me at the far end. The rest of the camp appears to be abandoned. I ask them if I may pass. Friendly, but serious, they agree and tell me “Buen viaje” (have a nice trip)

The road turns to sand. I hate sand. I hate the idea of turning around more. So I keep going..I wiggle and slide my way up the long sandy road.. it goes right over the shoulder of a big volcano… and I am hoping to see some kind of respite from the slow going.. but no. The road seems to go on forever.IMG_1597 IMG_1601

I find myself on the banks of what looks like a reservoir. It is a dammed area and I file away a good water source.. it appears there might be many in the area.

I ride past a small town.IMG_1612 It looks abandoned except for one woman about my own age washing something in the stream… I make another water crossing but see that the road is narrowning to only a very few little tire tracks… This is not the highway I am looking for. I am lost. My iPhone confirms this.IMG_8876 IMG_1611 IMG_1610

I return to the small town and meet the washing woman just outside the dirt soccer field. I ask if I can camp here. She says sure, but I have to leave very early in the morning. That is when the shepherds return.

Relieved, I walk down to the water and scoop a nalgene full.. as I screw on the blue cap, my new friend tells. Me no. I can’t drink that. The water from the stream and the lake is salty. She says there is good fresh water nearby.. I wait ten minutes till she finishes her business and then she walks me to the source.IMG_8879 It is an underground spring nestled in bright green moss sporting a plastic bottle that funnels an adequate stream.IMG_8880

I collect a nalgene full with plans to boil it… I zip it into my little red hiking bag.

We walk back to “town” (4 or 5 rudimentary buildings and a nice schoolhouse) I ask her some questions.. one of the things I marvel at is the solar panel they have. It is a striking accent to the rustic town. I ask her what it is for.. she says nothing… it doesn’t work. The batteries won’t charge. I never find out what it was actually for.

IMG_8878Just as we are discussing a good place for me to camp, a big white rumbling truck comes up a lightly used path. It is filled with alpaca poop. They dump it in certain areas to improve the soil. It never really rains here anyway, but they hope to grow food without having to go down to the town and buy groceries as often.

She tells me the truck is going to Tacna and they can show me the way. It is late.. 4:00 PM and I am bone tired, but hope to get an idea of where I can make the rigt turn. I thank her earnestly, and hop on my bike behind the dusty truck.IMG_1613 IMG_1614

I make two water crossings. The truck has no problem, but it is much larger than I am and the swift water doesn’t bother the lumbering giant… I am nervous at each. A tip over will cost me a great deal in electronics and time… possibly the bike.

I make it over and hope for a long smooth transition to the next town.IMG_1619IMG_1617

An hour later, the bike crests the top of the pass and my dismay is deep as I see the length of the rutted, rocky road.. the dust from a distant lorry plumed in back of its path. It makes long, sweeping turns into the distance… far into the deepening sunset… as far as I can see. I realize I have made a terrible mistake leaving the safety of the tiny village… I am too far into my error to turn around.

I ride on wobbly legs and a growling stomach for another hour.. and dream of the moment when my boiled water reaches my cracked, dry lips… I dare not stop. The chance of the road improving occupies my mind entirely.

My hopes are shattered as the sun dips below the last of the mountains and I know I must stop. My arms are lead weights and my back and legs are a stream of fire as I roll off the main road into a sandy ditch. There is no good place for the bike to rest… it is otherwise in the direct path of travel. Either side is a steep, rocky up or down.IMG_1622

I am at 14,500 feet above sea level. The air is thin and even thinking seems to take great effort.

It is nearly dark and I have to find a hiding spot for the night.

I see a large bush and settle on that for shelter. I don’t know what the social situation is here.. or the animal one… My experience has been that if there are not many people, you are generally left alone. OR even that help is more likely here than in a busy area. Also, animals usually leave you alone if you leave them alone. Usually.

I download all my bags under the bush and cover the bike with my tarp. I look for my nalgene bottle and am horrified to discover that it has worked its way out of the zippered bag somewhere along the path. Impossible to know how far back… The hair stands up on the back of my neck.. I’m in trouble.

I pushed myself too hard today with only a small breakfast and a single cup of coffee.. and only one small bottle of water… My legs and feet are cramping from dehydration and loss of electrolytes… I was counting on the water to boil pasta and rehydrate myself…

As I settle into my dilemma, I think about all the other choices I could have made.. knowing it is just a waste of time. I am here now, and this is my reality.

Feeling quite alone and suddenly chilled, I pull out my bedroll and coccoon myself with all my clothes on and try to sleep. It is going to be a long night.. it is only just past 7:00 now. Every effort is a major undertaking. The air is so thin, it takes me fully five minutes to recover my breath from turning around and zipping up my sleeping bag. I cover my mouth and face with my new scarf to save precious moisture from being completely exhaled into the air… I don’t know how long it might be ’till I can get water and nutrition.

The night is long and cold. I roll over three or four times and only when I am extremely sore… because the effort seems extroadinary.I’m up before the dawn… I’m not really sure if its dawn or not because there is a moon low and bright just over the horizon… it is beautiful, but I am more interested in the possibility of the brightening day…

The predawn light shows a tiny speck of headlights low and far on the bottom of the mountain. If they are coming this way, it will be almost an hour before they get here.. I have time to gather my bags and pack my sleeping gear. I do it slowly and try to breathe normally. My mouth is sticking to my mouth. I keep having waking dreams about drinking water…. splashing it all over my face.. waterfalls..guzzling water. Swimming in water.

I watch the headlights bounce slowly towards me. I’m only half packed. The sky lightens to an early morning glow. The lights get closer. I uncover my bike.

Finally, the pickup bumps and skids up the last hairpin turn.

I stand in the road. I hope and hope they are friendly…. and that they have water.

I wave my arms.

They slow and roll down the window a little. I tell them I need a little help. I hold out my tin cup and ask for water. They don’t have any. I ask for help rolling the moto out of the sandy ditch. A man reluctantly comes out from the passenger side and helps me push it back onto the road.

The driver gets out. And then a woman from the back seat. It is a family and I finally tell my story. I thank them for their help…. and they ask if some milk will help. YES!!! anything will help!! Milk is great! Soda, gatorade, anything wet. They pull out four cans of evaporated milk. I give them the equivalent of ten US dollars. I cut a hole in two of the cans and guzzle the precious, sweet liquid… I am going to be able to make it now. I tell them I spent the night here and they all remark how cold it is… They are surprised that I am ok… They eye me curiously and the passenger that first helped me begins to pull up some of the dried out green rock moss and grass. It is a good fire making material..  The others help me drag my bags back to my bike.. there is a single woman that gets out of the truck also, and asks me how I managed to get here.. I tell her, and with a surprised face, she says “Sola?” Yes. I am alone. “Que valiente!” she remarks. 

Pretty soon there is a regular blaze going. IMG_8886 IMG_8885There is a great deal of smoke, but it is warm and I am happy to have a friendly group more than anything else… and some milk.

The blaze begins to dwindle and they all pile into the car and wish me luck.. they lumber off in a bumpy cloud of dust.

The bike sturggles to start and finally chokes to life.. I’m relieved but still agonizingly sore from the previous day. I push my leg over the bike… I have to get down… I won’t last long at this altitude.

The trail seems worse than the day before and I struggle with the bike in the moondust and rocks. I’m really not a good dirt rider to begin with… I drop the bike.IMG_8887 Again and again… and catch it from falling a dozen or more times. I can feel my body is sluggish and protesting the effort, but noone can help me now. I need to ride… as I near town, I crash into a ditch. IMG_8888Two moto riders help me push it out.

Finally, three long hours later, I see pavement… I want to laugh, I’m so happy to see blacktop. I roll onto the smooth surface and ride into the tiny town of Tarata. For some water.

The ride up, out of the valley is a swirly breathtaking cruise…IMG_8889the rest of the ride to Tacna is a winding, uneventful roll through the dusty foothils of the Andes.

IMG_8890I feel better and better as I descend into thicker air… my body is sucking up all the liquid I’ve poured in, but I still need rest. I find a hostel right away, get a bed, push my bags into the room and close my eyes.

The next day, I wake ravenous. I grab a bit of bread an jam and make for the border. I want to reach Iquique.


Know Your Enemy

What a brilliant ride. Peru has such a HUGE personality!!IMG_1315 IMG_1357 IMG_1368 IMG_1371 IMG_8749 IMG_8753Puquio is rustic. There don’t seem to be a lot of tourists at all, but as seems to be the rule, they are delightfully pleasant.. I love talking to the people in the market. The fresh cow cheeses are remarkable… they sell them everywhere.IMG_1381IMG_1386IMG_8771 IMG_8772 IMG_8770

I get a room for $7. No wi-fi, no hot water… no water at all, actually. I have to ask reception to turn it on. It takes about five minutes for the water to reach the tap… There is definitely no hot water.IMG_8767

The next day I roll the bike out into the street. I haven’t loaded the bags yet and there is something up with my clutch lever. I kneel down and inspect the problem… I am shocked to see that it has been gouging my engine case… it is adjusted poorly. I reach in and give it a tug. It comes completely off in my hand!! The pinch bolt had worked loose a while back.. I should have looked at this weeks ago!!! as I’m tightening the bolt, a local fellow stops me and asks where I’m going. (He’s got a KLR too) I show him my route on the phone.. and he waves his finger. No, no. You can’t go that way…. well, you can, but it is dirt and it will take days to get to Arequipa. .. and there’s no help if your bike has a problem. “Go to Cusco!”

Shit. I keep getting pushed North.

As much as I want to go through Cusco, I really need to be on the coast to make the best time to Chile.. I’m way behind schedule, and worry that I won’t have enough time to sell the bike.. I’ll be in a financial crisis if I have to ship the bike back.. via any route…

The turn off is here in Piquio. I decide to look at the road. Sure enough, it is going to be a slow go. Maybe not as bad as he says, but if I have any kind of trouble with the bike, I’ll be down for a good long time.

I really don’t have time for dumb mistakes. I opt for the long road to Cusco, Puno, Then back down.


I stopped here because I was a little hungry and needed some caffeine. She had cookies, Red Bull and knitted goods. I bought a fantastic cap with a geometric design and earflaps.. It’s Cold here in the altiplano!IMG_1429 Great fix! IMG_1436
Here’s the brilliant thing. The ride is a buffet of wide, epic, storyland scenery… It’s all postcard.
The whole way. Every bit. I smile a lot… in spite of myself…. in spite of a worsening case of what I’m beginning to suspect is amoebic dysentry.

I arrive in Cusco at dark. I stop at the first likely place. I am pale and obviously sick. I get the bike parked and the receptionist offers me some tea. I know I really need to hydrate and quaff a couple cups of the steaming, pleasant liquid. I feel a little better. I head straight up to my room. A couple hours later, I am feverish and camped in the bathroom. The altitude (11,000 ft) isn’t helping anything. Every effort is an act of valor. I dig in my bag for the last of the antibiotics. And pop a Cipro.

I sleep a full 12 hours and don’t feel appreciably better but the fever is gone at least. Check out is at ten. They don’t have room for me for a second night. I have to change hotels. Maybe I can make it to Puno.. I wrestle my bags down the three flights of stairs, It is 9:45. I am going to make it out in just the nick of time.

I turn the key and push the little red ignition button. The starter groans. And quits. Again, I press the button. A little less now. Blast. The battery is dead. I need to go get a new one or get it charged at least. My energy is very low and I’m exhausted already from bringing the bags down. I begin taking the motorcycle apart. The receptionist wants to know why I’m still here. She is a little pushy, but there is nothing I can do.. I’d really rather just lie down on the floor here and sleep.

Half an hour later I wrench the battery out from it’s secret hiding place under the seat and walk out to get a cab….

but the streets are empty. Uh oh, Something is up.

I walk for 15 minutes and ask a couple locals where a garage might be… where the taxis might be.. nobody has any good answers…. “not today” is the general answer. Finally, I discover there is a public transportation strike.

I almost crumple in dismay.

Another ten minutes, I find a scab taxi driver. I wave him down frantically. He stops and I get in with my battery and the lump in my throat.

I tell him to go to the address of a moto shop on the other end of town. He can’t help, but he gives us the address of another who thinks can. To the next place, with no help either, but there is a dirty locked shack on the opposite side of the road with a huge dog.. I ring the bell and the dog goes crazy, but a little rumpled woman comes to the door with a smile. She CAN help. It’ll be an hour until she gets a charge on the battery. I’ve made it just in time before the lunch siesta. Even better, It is within walking distance of the hotel.

I slump into a couch to wait and slurp another of the delightful teas.

Battery recharged, reinstalled, bags loaded, it is too late to leave town, but it gives me enough time to find a place for the night.. I first find a small hostel, but they have no water… or wifi (that works). and they are raising guinea pigs. It gives me the creeps.

I find another one shortly.

I check in, park the bike and crawl under the covers until hunger wakes me. IMG_8803I don’t want any thing I haven’t actually watched cooked, so I make up a couple of Ramen soups right in the hotel room. It feels healthy and nourishing. I drink two bottles of water, pop another cipro and burrow back under the covers.

I’m feeling a load better in the morning.  I pack up.IMG_1437Back on the bike, I head to Puno. I’m excited for the ride… I wish I’d bought a scarf from the hat lady.. It’s bloody cold!

Cusco is beautiful… and it looks really fun. Hundreds of little shops with food, curiosities, markets, architecture, history… flying.. everything you’d want in a tourist city.. and cheap! I want to come back and explore for a few days… It’s on the list for next time for sure.

I snap a million pictures.IMG_1471 IMG_1470 Fixed Local IMG_1466 IMG_1438


The road doesn’t stop giving up better and better photos until I see a big black rain cloud. IMG_1504As I get closer, the rain starts… then my face starts really stinging.. I have to slow the bike.. until I realize it’s not rain. It is half rain, half hail… little bb sized pellets of ice.. I have to cover the bottom half of my unshielded face with my left hand. There is nowhere to hide.. and I can see clear sky somewhere in the distanace beyond this cloud.IMG_8818 IMG_8817

I have a scenic and windey ride until Juliaca. I see a big traffic jam… and a bunch of rocks strewn in the road… then more..IMG_8821IMG_8826 IMG_8822The rocks got there because protesters put them there. Lots of them. For miles. The road is mostly blocked.. Vehicles have cleared a tiny path through the debris… I ride behind a huge line of traffic for nearly an hour. A guy yells at me from a truck.. “It’ll be two or three hours at least..” “You should turn around!”

As we near the town, there are clouds of smoke and a horrific smell coming from stacks of burning tires.. my skin feels prickly. Big piles of rocks two to three feet tall.

Broken glass everywhere. It looks like a war zone.

Finally, we come to the town. There are no more rocks but the road is slippery and muddy from the rain.IMG_1505 I assume I’m past the problem. I start breathing a sigh of relief as I begin to exit the town… And then I see them. Maybe a hundred riot police. They have shields and batons.. All dressed up, but they are just standing together. Waiting. I stop and watch. No one is going through.. Several busses and cars stop and turn around. There is a mighty crowd ahead of the police… I feel worn out. I stop the bike and watch. A guy comes by and asks if I’m going to Puno. I say yes and if there is another way around. He shakes his head and tells me it might be an hour. Maybe longer.  Much longer.

I watch the crowd. They don’t seem violent… it looks that way, but there is something… The riot police are smiling at me. It makes me a little angry…  what the hell is there to smile about??  I drive forward into the crowd and the mess. I can’t see the ground in front of me, there are too many people…. Someone kicks the bike. Some empty water bottles hit me, but there is no fire in the pushing or throwing.. another shove from the opposite side and plenty of yelling and jeering, but I am finally through. The other side of the protest looks exactly the same,  lots of rocks and glass but there is almost no traffic in either direction. It is very creepy. IMG_1506

I zig-zag through the debris and finally make it out to clear road.





Rage Against the Mining.

Chimbote, the town I avoided yesterday smells like fish.. Clearly there’s some money here, the construction seems very good. Concrete and fresh paint.. I discover the source of the smell.. as I ride past the harbor, I see the highest concentration of fishing boats altogether in one spot than I’ve seen in my entire life. They are so thick the masts almost look like a cactus floating on the water.IMG_1131 IMG_1134 As I continue past the harbor, the street becomes crowded with trucks, fishmongers and sidewalk vendors. It is a cluttered scene .. mostly food… they have colorful umbrellas and steaming cauldrons of something. I’m hungry anyway, so I park the moto at the end of the street near the last one.IMG_8565 One fellow sits at the picnic table just as I’m getting off my bike. I sit next to him and then another sits next to me on the other side. Guy to my right orders a bowl of fish soup and I tell her I’ll have the same.. but the fellow to my left orders something else and it looks way better.. I switch at the last moment and get that… he calls it Estufa. She ladles three large spoons of rice onto a plate, and scoops out a chicken leg from another pot with carrots and broth…. some beans from a third. Best breakfast ever!IMG_8568 IMG_8566 I wish I had the time to stay.. I’d like to spend a couple hours walking around in this buzz of activity.. especially to try a couple more of these vendors. I’m really not that bothered by the smell… it seems to “fit” here. I have the energy to ride hard to Lima…IMG_1143 IMG_1142I arrive on the outskirts around 3 o’clock in the afternoon and the traffic is horrific. I am terrified riding in this unbelievable crush. It’s impossible to know the safe place to be on the road.. people are weaving and bobbing in and out of their lanes.. centerline sees to be a popular place. no turn signals, Brakelights are the exception to the rule… not the norm. the fast traffic is moving within inches of my hardbags. Three other motorcycles in a little group weave in and out between traffic but they seem to be staying ahead of the thickest part so I get in behind them and I swerve around until I find a little gap and try to hold my position there. I wiggle and weave into Miraflores. IMG_8606It is an uber modern district of Lima with Chicago style skyscrapers and little shops.. hospitals.. everything… I stop at two or three places to find a decent room and I finally settle on a large hotel. It is it within walking distance of the Flypark. I walk to launch. My knee feels funny but I ignore it. I meet a few pilots, but the wind isn’t good.. barely enough for a tandem and a guy with a Gin Carrera to stay up… It is almost identical to Torrey Pines… smaller LZ.IMG_8608 IMG_8607 IMG_8612
While I’m there, one of the local guys hooks me up with the Pilot hostel. It is a cozy, well-appointed apartment run by a svelte, smart female paraglider pilot, If you need contact info, please E-mail me…. the place is also within easy walking distance of launch. I also get to meet with my friend from Valle de Bravo.. he is a delightful character.. his wife is from Lima, so he spends a month or two here every year.. I can’t wait to see him again in Mexico! I stay at the hostel..have dinner at a couple places in town.. the food really is delightful.. fresh, creative… expensive. (Seared tuna and cheesy risotto.)IMG_8602Well, for me. You can have a spectacular dinner with a cocktail or two for around thirty bucks US.. way over my budget right now… super affordable on the normal one…IMG_8604 Most of the local restaurants are also very good. And cheap. You don’t have to have a bankroll to eat well here.IMG_8644 Conditions are light again at the hill.. worse, my knee is extremely swollen and painful. I’ve no idea what I’ve done to it… still, I don’t want to risk a hard landing… or, one with a longer hike.IMG_8591 IMG_8587 I have to wait until I can stand on it well enough to support the bike… so an extra day or so is necessary. Even though I havent gotten to fly here, I love Lima.. I really hope I can come back for an extended stay.. perhaps I can find work here sometime.. yep. It’s that nice.IMG_8652 Next stop, Paracas. It seems like a logical stopping place… maybe Pisco too. I see it on the map.. and it has a little site to fly, also. The ride is another dry desert roll and there are a bundle places selling Pisco… IMG_8662This is definitely the region.

My second stop is a ceviche place…It is as delicious as advertised! IMG_8700 I ride around Paracas, find a couple different hotels and settle on the the Lonely Planet Backpackers hostel. IMG_1219 It is well appointed with excellent wifi and hot water. I drop my bags and go to check out the flysite. It is a beautiful ride through a bird sanctuary and the vistas are awesome.IMG_1260IMG_1248 I can’t fly yet.. though. it is too windy… Windy enough for kide boarders though!! There is a huge contingent of these guys here!!IMG_8699  I hope tomorrow is somewhat better. In the evening, I return to the ridge.. with a fellow that wants to watch me fly. IMG_8686 I futz around town, grab some breakfast, take a hot shower and go back out to the site. It is a beautiful day, and I hang out for three hours, play in the sand and have a fun, swoopy flight before it gets too windy.. I’ve overdone it though, and I can barely get my knee back over the bike when it’s time to leave.Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 8.51.40 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 8.52.36 PM
I’m super glad that I got to fly here and I count this as another place I want to come back to for an extended time. It is peaceful, friendly and the food is fantastic. IMG_8715 IMG_8719 IMG_8722I got this plate of pasta with scallops and “popped corn” at the Paracas restaurant. The corn implodes rather than exploding. They serve it everywhere in Peru.

It is only a few hours to Nasca.. the famous Nasca lines. I pass by a tower that charges 2 soles to climb it.. its just a few cents and I don’t mind the cost. I snap a couple pics of my bike and some of the lines.. and carry on.IMG_1301 IMG_1300 Right before I get to the town, I am stopped by protests. Police stop me and tell me to wait a half hour. IMG_1309I do, but it goes much longer.. I ask the police what they are protesting… it is the mining. I find out the rest of the story later.. It pollutes the water. The Peruvians believe they should be able to drink clean water.. can’t blame ’em.. they have had some success with their efforts.

I show the policeman what route I want to take and he tells me the Southern Pan American is closed with the protests. I can take a northerly route, it will bypass the trouble. I change course and head instead to Puquio.

9 APR  19:00 Edit: This just in… I got a FB message from a gal that has more info than me.. here is the text: “What a cool adventure Wendy! Just a little note, Chimbote smells like fish because there are a lot of fishmeal (harina de pescado) factories. I thinks that’s the main reason…”

Makes super sense..

Crash! Boom! Whew!

Peru is clearly impoverished. It starts off green with flooded rice fields… and then turns to desert.. Small beach towns line the dry coast… much of it littered with tiny little bamboo shacks .. small fishing villages.  The shacks are made of a bamboo weave paneling… some concrete construction, but only few…IMG_1085

I ride for a couple hours until I reach Tumbes. I book the first hotel I see has excellent bike parking. I feel a little uncomfortable on the road..

IMG_8517Traffic is beyond horrible, here. The worst so far… so I take a Tuk-Tuk into town. It is fun and lively this way. I think I’d be frustrated riding the bike in. IMG_8487They don’t seem to mind being an inch or less away from the vechicle next to them… lanes don’t really seem to matter either. There are three, sometimes four vehicles astride in a two lane road. They don’t maintain speed or distance in this pattern… the drivers swerve all over. I can’t make any sense of it. I’m convinced the hospitals are full to overflowing with driving causalties.

Downtown is full of art, people, busy restaurants, and street food. I’d skip on the restaurants until you get to try a bunch of the “on-a-stick” stuff. This is another town I wished I had more time to visit! ALL of the people I’ve met are sweet and helpful.. in total contrast to their driving. (The square is conspicuously free of traffic)IMG_8508IMG_8498IMG_8513IMG_8495

The next day, I wake early pack and leave.

On the way out of town, I have to make a detour. None of the streets are signed. Neither are the detours. They’ll say “Desvio” but no further directions. That’s for you to figure out. I follow the line of cars, but then it thins and I end up on one of the dirt back streets.. And then the dirt turns to deep, soft sand. I’m a little horrified of it. The bike doesn’t do particularly well.. for two reasons. 1. the weight, 2. the driver… But I have to go through now because turning around might be harder and I don’t want a crowd trying to help me with the bike.. which is the most likely scenario. I can see my road about a hundred and fifty feet in front of me.

IMG_8581It’s a long, hot ride and I fear I might be low on fuel… there are no good stops at certain points.. this is how they do it here… also, they will sometimes bring your gallon of gas in a steel tea pitcher… probably because they don’t like suck-starting the hose thing.IMG_8523

My next stop is Chiclayo. As I roll into town, I’m following a car closely… (if I don’t, three more cars will push their way in front of me… just edging past my front tire) I have my iPhone in its big rubber protective case… it is what I’ve been using as a GPS so far… as I cruise at a comfortable 40 miles an hour, I see the giant pothole… right before I hit it.. Disaster!IMG_8557

In slow motion, the phone flies up into the air and bounces on the blacktop. I see it happen in my side mirror. It is run over almost instantly by the car right behind me. Pieces bounce and skid across the street.

I’m not sure if there is anything left but I am going to pick up the wreckage anyway. I run out into the street ahead of oncoming traffic and and grab the crumpled black case, the windshield and also the piece of white phone that was left… except it wasn’t just a piece. It is the entire phone! A Miracle!! It still works! I rejoice in my astounding luck for a few minutes. I’m grinning and laughing… I shout.. “IT WORKS, IT WORKS!!!” There are several bland-eyed bystanders that are totally unimpressed with the event.

I find a little hostel only a few minutes later… it looks a little scary but I couldn’t find anything else and I’m pretty beat. It turns out to be a comfortable bed and a safe place for the bike… I settle my things and am posting to my Facebook page (from my miraculous phone) .. then the bed started to move in a very interesting way.. it bed makes a wavy, swishy motion.. almost as though I am on a ship… It lasts about 10 seconds. I stand up, pretty sure that was my very first serious earthquake. I go out front to the counter and ask the receptionist about earthquakes …. ask her if she felt it.. ”No,” she says. “It’s just the busses passing”

Just then, a neighbor comes running past the double doors, waving her hands around… “Tembler, Tembler!”                                        

The receptionist looks at me, eyebrows raised.

In the morning I ride South. I have an idea that I’m going to stop in Trujillo for the evening. It’s supposed to be a fun, historic Colonial town, but when I arrive the traffic is again tragic. I decide to park when I find a likely place… as I turn in, a taxi shoots out right beside me, cutting off my spot….dangerously close to hitting me. there is no signal.. the driver does not check first for oncoming traffic…I have to swerve violently to avoid being hit… He still doesn’t stop.. if he was a quarter inch closer, he’d be mashing my luggage… I lay on the horn. Can it be possible he doesn’t see me?? Maybe if he had only one eye and something was in it… is my only guess.

It looks like a nice city, lots of restaurants and beautiful architecture.. but it’s one of those places.. Like most here in Peru that as soon as you leave the well heeled city center, the roads turn to dirt..

The alleys and streets look like a bombed out village just recovering from civil war… Concrete piles and trash everywhere. Another half mile through the city I see a motorcycle turn right.. and drive directly in to a van. The motorcyclist launches out of his seat, his head goes completely through the windshield, then falls back, into the street.

I wing the bike around to help, but as I park my moto, I see him start to crawl around.. and get up. It hasn’t been a whole minute and a police man has already shown up… he does nothing to help the stricken motorist, but he does begin to divert traffic… the accident starts to draw a crowd.. he wobbles back on to his bike.. I don’t need to see anymore. I’m getting out of crazy town..IMG_1102

I head towards Chimbote. I stopped just short in the Coishco District. The hotels look a little scary. The first one I go to is a brown brick building with three floors. I walk in. There is no reception.. just a room with an open door. I clear my throat and a greasy, distracted fellow comes out. He asks what I want.. I get a really bad feeling because he doesn’t look particularly sober either.. and there’s another suspiciously sweaty man in a dark and dirty room right behind him.

I tell him I’ll be right back. On my way out, I notice the little letters next to the Hotel sign… “Romances”. Oh dear. Not my kind of romance, for sure.

I ride another three minutes into the main part of town.

There is almost no traffic and it feels surreal, dogs everywhere, a handful of people walking around.. like it was almost abandoned, but not quite yet. It is surrounded by low hills with lots of rocks painted that spell out the name of the town, and “Jesus Christo, Salvador!”.. “God is King!” And other patently religious things.. The town smells faintly of fish.

I ride around in circles looking for a likely spot. Finally, there is a hostel (they’re all hostels or hospedajes… doesn’t seem to be a difference between the two ’round these parts) named “New Era” I parked the bike but the gates are locked and there doesn’t appear to be anyone home. A large, middle aged woman in a blue print dress motions me from across the street to go to the other side of the building. She tells me to knock… it doesn’t look connected to the hostel at all. A fellow with a round friendly face answers… he looks slightly confused…

a baby plays on the floor behind him. I ask him for a room. He nods, smiles and shows me up a steep flight of stairs to my room. At $6/ a night, it’s a deal… no wifi, but there is some hot water.. and the crew here couldn’t be nicer… and.. did I mention there’s no traffic?

No restaurants are open and I’m very hungry so I walk to the street vendors and buy some pieces of bread and a mango and avocado. I also stop for two bottles of water. Everyone at the shop that I buy my water wants to know what I’m doing in town because I don’t look like I’m supposed to be here… I’m pretty sure.

I spend a quiet night and wake at dawn to get an early start. As I hop on my bike, the shopkeeper from across the street shouts “GOODBYE!!!” she blows kisses… “GOODBYE!! GOODBYE!” The others all wave and smile… I blow kisses back. “GOODBYE!”

I don’t have any breakfast or coffee. I didn’t see anything I wanted to have. I hope there will be a likely spot soon.

The End of Ecuador

Banos. I am loving Banos every day. I’ve ridden KLaRa all around… and even visited some places twice. The tree house is perhaps my favorite.. there is a big swing hanging from the side of it.

IMG_8369The ropes are maybe twenty feet long. You can swing way out over the edge of the ridge. The scenery is a brilliant jade everywhere you look… mountains, rivers, waterfalls… it’s a shame to blink.. you’ll miss something if you do.IMG_8380


IMG_8329There’s even a couple sets of hot springs.. These get a bit too busy most of the time..

I’m staying here extra long for a few reasons. First, I have to fix those brakes. Second, I have to fly. I’d really like to get the chance nearer here. The landscape is fantastic and perhaps I’ll even get to see Cotopaxi. Third, I met with an old acquaintence.. he’s on his motorcycle doing an around the world trip. He’s staying here for about a month waiting for the rainy season to pass in Peru.

I make a run to Ambato. Police here ride KLR’s so, parts are supposed to be easy to come by. Sure enough, there is a great little shop in the city center. Everything is true. Except that the KLR’s the police ride are newer than mine, so the parts have to be ordered from Quito… It’s too late today and I’ll have to come back. There is a quirky little restaurant that I like to visit. It is called “Abuelas”…  there’s a bit of strange art on the wall… and I’m betting Grandma was up to a lot more than slinging drinks… just sayin’IMG_8403

In the mornings, the best place to eat is at the market. The rest of the shops won’t open ’till much later. It is substantial, delicious  and very inexpensive. IMG_8413 IMG_8414

I replace the brakes after breakfast and get in touch with a friend of a friend. He tells me to go see Natural Magic. It’s a paragliding place in town. They are serious pilots…. I hear there are others that are not…

The very next day, we are set to go… of course, flying is weather dependant and it looks iffy, but we’re going to try anyway.

I hop in an SUV with two other pilots and a tandem passenger.

The day is mostly overcast with some small blue holes poking out.. cloudbase is low. Very. It doesn’t look like it’s more than two or three hundred feet over the top of the hill. Sometimes it’s not over the top of the hill even.

My friend seems optimistic, and launches the tandem.

IMG_1065 IMG_1068I take the second launch. It is a very active flight. The air going up is mostly cloudsuck. The rest of it is ridgelift. And strong. I can’t go forward very easily. And it is so turbulent, I’m afraid to use much of my speed bar… not to mention, I’m very close to the ground. I fly in the rodeo for about twenty minutes…. Someone is trying to talk to me on the radio. I can hear them in my pocket, ( they gave me a little line of sight one to use on their frequency) but I don’t want to take my hands off the brakes to answer the Spanish I can’t understand anyway. He’s saying something about top landing… but the ridge is in a huge cloud right now. I’m out in front of it thankfully.. so he’s either telling me to not come in right now… or to plan to come in. So I wait. And when I see the ridge again, I decide to land.

I have to crab in sideways… if I come in too high, I get into the venturi and pushed back over the mountain.. too low, and I’ll have to go out and get back up.

I’ve picked a good line and come in just about right.. but I have to be patient (not one of my better qualities) and swing back and forth across the big LZ for a few minutes. It’s a little too strong to just come in and plant it. So I find a little patience… and put it down perfectly.

Good flight. I’ll not have another one today.. that was enough.

The guy who launched after me is missing. I only see the tandem. Huh.

While I’m packing up, I see him walking over the hill. He says he got sucked up in a cloud and pushed back over the ridge!! He didn’t know where he was, finally discovered he was on the wrong side of the mountain, turned and ran with the wind.. he had a speedy landing, but is safe.

Day done, we all pile back in the SUV and head back.. my new pilot friends are awesome.. I will plan to come back and fly with them again… maybe on a day with less clouds… or higher clouds at least.

In the morning, I leave. I point the bike toward Cuenca. I ride until I get to Riobamba, but the sky is black.. right where I want to go.. I’ve been getting rained on a lot in the last few weeks and here in the high mountains, it is also cold. I have an allergic reaction to the cloud and turn right. I decide I’d rather warm up the beach. The ride turns out to be an epic choice.IMG_8463

I make for Guyaquil, but when I reach the city, I am dismayed by the traffic and just kept going. I end up in a little coast town called Playas… which means “beaches”.. The skies had been getting bluer for a while, but closed back in again to rain on me. Thankfully, It had warmed up to a little higher than room temperature at sea level. It is mellow with light traffic.. a few tuk-tuks here and there..IMG_8470

I found a tourist restaurant… right next to the water.. I order a beer and asked about hotels. My waiter points out some good ones.. and asks the perennial questions.. “Estas sola?” Yes. I am alone. The bike costs $2000. My trip is three months long.IMG_8464

I check in to the only one that has wifi… a big blue place with loud music on the main drag… It’s got a great car park. Easy in, easy out.

I got my things settled and walk to dinner. I passed a likely place earlier. There were a bunch of people sitting there.. looked like a pile of rock crab on the grill…also looked like a pile of clams and rocks next to them.

When I walked in this time, the grill was sporting another item. A bubbling cauldron of something seafoodey.

I don’t know what to get. The guy helping me is old, in a dirty t-shirt and a bunch of missing teeth. I don’t get the impression he’s first string though.. I think he’s somebodys brother or dad running the errand.

Service is always slow.. sometimes painfully. I order a beer and the crab. Then I ask them what the rocks are. .. they’re giant oysters! I can see now, though the shape isn’t that obvious. They’re the size of four of my own fists, gray, covered in places with a furry moss-like texture. I change my mind and order the clams. Then I switch and get the bubbling cauldron. I really wish I was going to be here for a couple days so I could get something else!! I am certain I’m driving them nuts.

The cauldron is about the size of a cereal bowl. They’ve perched it in front of me on a small wooden plank.. just big enough for the bowl and a couple inches of extra. There are a few good sized shrimp half submerged in the still bubbling lava. I’m super glad they don’t do like in the States… “Be careful, it’s hot!” .. drives me to distraction. I eat the thick shrimp stew slowly, trying to avoid a burned palate. It is delicious and goes down great with the beer.

I’m waylaid by a table of friendly locals on my walk back to the hotel.. They want me to drink with them but I have plans of a looooong nap and an early start. I oblige one beer and bid them goodnight.

Into Ecuador

Popoyan to Pasto, Colombia.  Again, a  delightful, green,  windey roll. I stopped at a little street stand… she’s a sweet ol gal.. She wanted me to buy the whole basket, but I explained to her I have a moto… (She could have explained to me that you can fit an entire colombian family on those things.. what’s a little basket of fruit?) I pick out one mango and one of the others… She comes over to my bike and as I’m putting my helmet on, she picks at a couple things on the back.. gives me an extra fruit… and bumps my leg with the back of her arm… She says “chevre”. I have no idea what that means.. and I can’t find the word anywhere. I wave and say good bye..IMG_8180I don’t know what I bought, but I fell in love with these in Puerto Rico.. they’re hard to buy in a store because they ripen… then rot overnight. They are one of my all time favorites.IMG_8248IMG_8245

IMG_8230 IMG_8220 IMG_8209 I brace myself for another city. I have a bopolar relationship with these big cities… The traffic is always awful, but I know I can get affordable lodging with hot water, great food, wifi and safe parking for the bike. The wifi is the thing that is the usual sticking point… I feel adrift in the small towns without it. I ride for a long time in Pasto looking for a hotel. It is pissing down rain by the time I’m all the way in, I haven’t covered my paraglider well and am starting to panic that it’s getting wet.

I pull up at a little row of food vendors. I don’t want to be pushy so I sit down at a bench in front of one. She is making something in a pot… I don’t really know what it is until I ask. IMG_8233She tells me “aguapanela” It’s a hot drink made from sugarcane, a squeeze of lime and some chewey cheese chunks cut into it. I know about this because my friend in Roldanillo had mentioned it… he found a place next to one of the paragliding launches that sells only that.

I was afraid it would be too sweet, but with the lime, it is almost a tea. It’s delicious! and a perfect treat for the weather. It’s only a few cents. I ask about hotels… both her and the guy sitting next to me on the bench point up the street I was on. I had stopped less than a couple hundred yards from the hotels.

I finish my drink and ride to the closest one. I was desperate to get the wing in to a dry room and was prepared to spend a little too much money, but the hotel I find is a score! $12/night… hot water, my own bathroom AND great wifi!

Bike and wing safe, (I pulled everything apart but only the harnes was wet) shower taken, I go for a walk in the gray drizzle to see what the city has.

It’s really not pretty. It is, however, completely plugged up with pedestrian and motor traffic.

IMG_8240It is a shopping frenzy..everyone has something in their hand.. food, bags.. at least a purse. I’m a little hungry and want to look like everyone else and order a little bag of fried pork and maduros. There are toothpicks inside the bag to poke up the chopped fare. I don’t like the look of the cart, but go ahead anyway.. The pork was… unappealing. I’m a fried pork afficionado, for sure, but this pork was mushy, greasy and… not even hot. I left the rest of it in the bag and ate the bananas… they were a little off too. I chucked the rest as soon as I could find a bin. I switched for some fresh potato chips… they peel, slice and fry them while you wait… they’re super good. There’s lots of other street food.. here again, the chontaduros.. arepa pizzas.. lots of sausage.IMG_8241

I’m a little overwhelmed by all the people and grab a cab back to the hotel… I ask the driver what the deal is… He says its almost all tourist traffic… many of them from Ecuador to buy fancy things to take back. Same as Popayan. I don’t see anyone I might peg as American… Me. That’s it..

My entrance into Ecuador was spectacular in two ways. First, it was a breathtaking ride through verdant, deep, rolling canyons and mountains. I took some pictures, but it never seems to do justice to this type of grandeur.IMG_8175 IMG_1019 IMG_8256IMG_1026

The second is that I was getting spectacularly ill. I’d awakened in the morning thinking I’d been a little too adventerous at the street stands the night before… or maybe because I was soaked to the core and riding in the cool mountain air for the last two days.. either way, I was.. under the weather.

I made it pretty far into Ecuador and stopped at a little town called Bolivar. With some interesting art at the entrance.. IMG_8259I wished I’d taken the time for more pictures, but this was as much as I could manage at the moment and the sun was directly behind the installation. It was the most curious part… I think there are some other pics online elsewhere.

Town is very small, colonial and quiet. No clogged streets, no horns, just a little parque with a dozen or so people walking and laughing.. and a big church.IMG_8263I roll around for a while looking for a hotel, but nothing. I finally ask a shopkeeper who pionts down a very steep street. I don’t see anything. She tells me to go around the block and I’ll see it. (it’s a one way the wrong way) So I do. Thankfully, when I was close, she’d walked all the way down and points it out. It is plain and has no sign. Relieved, I park the bike and check in. My host is friendly and cordial. There is another guy sitting on a low couch with a beer. Theres a tense air about him.

We talk about the usual things and he shows me to my room.

I unload the bike and walk to town (half a block away) to take some pictures in the setting sun. It really seems lovely.IMG_8274 IMG_8286

When I return, he asks me if I’d like to eat, I kind of don’t but not to be rude, I tell him I’m not hungry and will only have a little. While they make dinner, I make small talk with the company. The guy with the beer keeps wanting to shake my hand. We have a political discussion about the president and entry visas for foreigners. Beer Guy disappears into his room and returns wearing an oversized suit.

I’m starting to get whats going on… He sits next to me on the couch. Not only do I feel poorly, but the proximity of my now half-drunk friend is a sign that I’m going to be in for a long wait.

He spends the next ten minutes explaining the contents of his wallet.

Finally, dinner saves me and I move to a table, alone. I’m delighted to see that I have a nice chicken soup. At least this part will be easy.

I finish my  soup and escape to my room. Eight minutes pass.. there is a knock. My host wants me to meet his daughter who would like help with her English homework. I oblige the request and sit down with the lovely gal, I think she’s a senior in high school, but she looks a bit older than that.

Homework done, I hurry back to my room and burrow under the covers. I can’t fall asleep. my cold, or food poisioning, or whatever it is.. is working up to a rising pitch. My head is throbbing, my joints ache, I’m in and out of the bathroom (mostly in), I’m sweating and shivering. I know my fever is around 101 because I want to cry. (This and spectacular landscapes are always crying moments for me).. and then I hear something strange.. its not strange, actually. It’s very loud sex. Loud and graphic. In Spanish. Wow. Someone is really having an amazing time! The amazing time goes on and on… I begin to notice something funny. It sounds like she’s… she’s.. Oh. My. Word. Its porn. And it is now playing in a 45 second loop. I can’t be sick here. I have to leave tomorrow. I dig into my bags and swallow an antibiotic. One of the extras from Guatamala. The loop continues for another two hours. I get up to use the washroom and slam my bedroom door. The toilet isn’t working properly.. I have to take off the ceramic back and adjust the stopper. CLANG! I set it down loudly on the porcelain sink.

I settle the bathroom issue, and then WHAM! The bedroom door again. The porn stops.

For a while. Then I hear it.. but just barely. Same loop. It’s close to 3:00 when I finally pass out.

I wake at 6:00 feeling decidedly better. Fever is gone and I’m not worried I might poop myself anymore. I wash my face, pack my bags and exit as quickly as my aching, shaky legs can manage.

Next Stop, Quito. Three hours.

Quito is a super big, modern, super busy city. The traffic is outrageous, but I notice one glaring thing different from other big cities… the biggest difference is from Panama. The horns. Not many people use them. They are much more aware of noise pollution and clearly are being polite when they beep “I’m right next to you” some seem to say.. they don’t beep at random meaningless things. (well, sometimes, but not like in Panama) After a full hour in the crushing traffic and dangerously close to overheating, I find a hotel for $15 and a great parking space. My body is delighted with the early stop and I crawl right back under the covers.

The next day I wake early, roll the bike up and conduct a thorough inspection. I wax the chain and then I notice something. My rear brake pads are gone. Paper thin. What the heck did I do?? I check the rotor.. still smooth. Lucky. The fronts are low, I think I’ve not been using them because I don’t like the way the bike dives down when I do…. and the rears are better in the curves.. the bike sets down rather than shifting the weight to the front.. There have been a lot of curves.

I need to replace them, but the thought of spending more time on the bike in the busy city right now is distasteful.

I’ll figure it out in Banos.

The ride is, again, spectacular. Ecuador keeps delivering. Towering Cotopaxi, she is almost completely clothed in a thick, black cloud that is crackling with thunder and lightning… but she flashes me a little glimpse of whats underneath. A snow capped Volcano with brilliant green skirts! It’s raining on me right now, so, not the best time to admire nature.


IMG_1038 IMG_1033 IMG_8362I make Banos by early afternoon. It is small, but super-touristey. There are hotels and tour companies on every street and corner.. filling in the spaces are restaurants, shops and rows of taffy makers. They all sell the same things… right out front on shelves.. Cut up sugar cane pieces, candies and fruits. They pull, stretch and slap the giant serpentine chunks of rubbery sugar against a wooden hook right in the doorway of each shop.. The flavors are local.. Tangerine, chocolate, guanabana (my favorite) and others. IMG_8316Saturday is a beehive of activity.. I walk and walk. It feels safe and lively here. There is bungee jumping all day from the bridge next to my hotel.. all day you can hear the scream… and then the hoot when they realise they’re not going to die.

One restaurant sells cuy.. translated: Guinea pig. IMG_8311The damn things look horrific on the grill. The head, feet, everything else are sticking out like a kind of martyr. The face, frozen in a silent scream. I really don’t want to eat one… but I wonder if I’ll regret not having tried, so, I walk in and order a plate. The table I sit at is a community table. There are four people finishing up their own plates. Feet and ribs sticking out everywhere.. I don’t feel very good about my decision.IMG_8342

My plate arrives quickly and I turn to my grisly feast. I try to think of it like a chicken, so I grab the tiny foot and pull. But it doesn’t want to come apart. I twist and pull and wrench on the blessed little thing and…. nothing. It is a sinewey, thin piece of meat… the browned skin over it’s flesh had confused me into thinking it might be chickeney… it is thick and tough… more like a pigskin than a hen.

I didn’t want to create more of a scene, so I put it down and forked into the rice and potatoes surrounding it. Two more people sit at my table. And a child.IMG_8343

They order plates too, and I surreptitiously try to watch the method of consuming the foreign texture. Minutes later, they pick up and move to a private table. No doubt uncomfortable with my not-as-discreet-as-could-be inspection. I still try to see what they’re up to out of the corner of my eye.

The gentleman holds the little foot in his left hand while he spoons spicy ahi sauce onto his plate… he forks up several mouthfuls of rice and potato before biting into his piece. He seems to have no trouble at all.

I gather myself and make a second atempt. I bend the leg around until I find a likely spot and take a bite. I have to violently tear the chewey, tough muscle and I start to laugh because I’m way out of my depth here. Not the least of my problems, is that I keep imagining the Guinea pig someone had in grade school… its soft, white and beige messy fur, the way it would waddle around its terrarium, drink from the bent steel tube with a ball on the bottom.

I couldn’t wrench my mind away from that vision. It wasn’t helping things here at the table.

My host comes over to see if I’m ok.. I tell her I don’t know how to eat it… She gives me a look.. “bite it!”

I don’t want to laugh out loud. I make one last attempt and give up.

I’ve lost this battle. I pay the $4 and try to exit with a little pride.

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