Sunday, March 27, 2016

Chasing Volcanoes

As usual the getting back on the road takes a bit longer than expected. We definitely settled in, in Quito. But late in the afternoon we are being guided out of town by Diego and his friend. After a final coffee it is time to say goodbye but a cloud breaks in two and we decide to sit it out. It is POURING. By four o'clock we finally find ourselves riding South. Clouds cover the surroundings and it is not your best day for a ride. All of a sudden the clouds open up for a few minutes and Volcan Cotopaxi shows off it's beauty.
Volcan Cotopaxi looks quite impressive from a distance. What a scenic highway!
We turn right to Sigchos on a route that Diego recommended. The road winds through some hills and there is hardly any traffic. This would be purely delightful after all the city riding, but it's raining steadily and it's cold. The sun is setting as we ride up a dirt road and into a steep meadow. It has been a long time since we've camped.
Camping! The garage came in handy again to keep our gear dry while it poured down at night.
The noises of nature and the clean air make me feel alive again. In the morning most of the clouds have moved away and we have an amazing day of riding twisties ahead of us. That's what we thought... After a stop in Sigchos and drying all our gear in the sun we continue on the "Quilotoa Loop". 
Azure soaking up the heat of the sun in her new waterproof shoes.
The woodwork in the door of this church is a piece of art.
One learns to be patient while riding in South America. To some degree anyway... ;)

When the government decides they want to make a road through your front yard...
A few miles down the road the side of a mountain has collapsed and big chunks are still coming down. Luckily they are already clearing the road, but it takes a while before we are enjoying the vistas again. We make a quick stop at the crater lake of Quilotoa. It is very touristy and we have to pay to have a look at the lake. It is pretty but not our cup of tea. 

Lago Quilotoa. Very beautiful, but set up as a tourist trap.
The road down was much more enjoyable.
These people simply have a stunning backyard.
We continue to Zumbagua and stop for lunch in a square across from a school. It is lunchtime and the square floods with kids in school uniforms. We truly enjoy the experience and have a delicious lunch. The roads back to Latacunga are a true joy on a bike and we are sad to make it back to the highway. 
Loving life. Good cheap street food.

The alien has landed in town! :)
Azure truly enjoying her dessert.

Where to next!?!
 In Banos we are hoping to catch a glimpse of Volcano Tungurahua. It has been active lately and we would love to see some lava flow down its sides. Rainy season has started however and before we get a chance to get our cameras out the mountain is covered in clouds. We ride to the top of another mountain in the hope of sunset views but aside from the road up it's a big disappointment. Normally we might just sit around and wait but time is not standing still and we need to make it down to Ushuaia before it gets too cold. The time pressure is real and for a second I consider the possibility of postponing Tierra del Fuego to next year. But no. We are on a mission again. 

The beautiful city of Banos.
In the morning we leave the volcano for what it is and hope that we might see it on our way back up. Via the beautiful backroads of Penipe, that surprisingly do give us a view of the volcano, we get on our way to Riobamba... The town where Azure has spent some time with a host family when she was 15 to learn Spanish. She is hoping to find them again and see how her home away from home has changed in all these years.
Hello Tungurahua!

The Gran Plaza in Riobamba
Home in Ecuador. Now to find her family...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Finding Diego

Before we head out of Quito there is one more thing to do. A rather big job on the bike that I have been postponing since Central America. My suspension is in dire need of an overhaul. Our friend David recommended a guy named Diego a while ago, so we set out to find them. The way to get in touch with him seems to be via Freedom Bike Rental in Quito. The lady at Freedom is very nice to us and upon asking for Diego she leads us to the back and introduces us. I ask Diego whether he can overhaul my shock and if it is ok if I do my front suspension myself. The oil seal has been leaking for a while now. He thinks for a second and then agrees but mentions a rather steep price. I did not expect to spend that much but with it being our last opportunity before we hit the dirt roads in Peru I agree. The problem is that he will only have time two days from now. Well, so be it.

We walk out and look at each other. We both have a weird feeling about this. David had been raving about this guy. "The nicest and most helpful suspension technician in Ecuador", he had said. This guy was cold and not in the least interested in our journey or even our bikes. He didn't even look at what shock I was running before he agreed to do the job. Is this the right Diego?

The next evening Azure logs into Facebook and has a new friend request. Diego Salvador... NO WAY! and he works for RaceTech Ecuador. How is it possible. This is the guy we have been looking for! How big are the chances that the day before I am about to have the wrong Diego work on a crucial part of my bike, the right Diego gets in touch with Azure? 

The next day we ride out to meet the real Diego and find him in a clean and organized shop, set up for suspension jobs. He welcomes 
us with a big smile on his face. Now this feels a hell of a lot better.

 Before we know it the bikes are inside the shop and we are allowed to do as much work as we want ourselves. He will only charge us for what he has to help out with. The next days are spend working on every suspending part of both bikes and riding around town on his scooters to find parts and meet his friends. 

When Diego isn't ripping around on his KTM, he weaves through traffic on this monster of a machine.
 Once the suspension part of the bikes is done, Diego insists we take them for a test ride to see if they need any final adjustments. We ride out early the next day and he guides us on a beautiful ride to Volcan Cayambe. If ever you make it to Ecuador, make sure you check out this beautiful Glacier and the stunning but challenging and dangerous road to get there.
The views just kept getting better and better as we approached Cayambe.



The Transalp refused to go any farther than this :/


The altitude took it's toll after our little hike to the glacier in moto gear.
On the way back down

The suspensions were given the OK by Diego but he had found a small puddle of oil under the bike when he had opened the shop earlier that day and my bike had been acting up on the way up to the glacier. The idle was all over the place. Azure's bike had lacked power so we had left the Transalp on the side of the road. Simply said, we weren't going anywhere, yet.

Diego and I suspected the Africa Twin's problem was in the carburetor. For the second time in just over a month it comes of the bike again. Last time I had not looked at the diaphragms because the sun was setting. What I found was very disturbing: lots of spots that were porous and an actual crack in one of them. Finding replacements within a few days was going to be very hard so I decided to fix them up with some liquid gasket maker. I let them dry overnight and the result was quite good. Let's just hope they last...

The puddle of oil came from my water pump. Obviously the oil seal had worn out. I had seen this coming so I had a spare seal with me. The seal of the pump cover was a different story. I took the Transalp to shop around for a suitable seal. No luck in the first shops. The last shop I check does not have it either. The owner however is a very creative man. He promises me that he can stretch a seal that is just not big enough and glue it in to groove of the pump. Whatever works and allows me to ride South I guess! 10 minutes later I walk out with a custom made seal for under a dollar. That is quite the difference from an original Honda part number!

Overjoyed I return to the shop and put it all back together. It worked! Great! Finally the Twin can be tested with its new seals and repaired carburetor in place. Within a few seconds the bike roars back into action and sounds better than it has for a long time. Since everything is off the bike, I decide that I should change the tire as well. Maybe everything else was playing up just so I would look at my tire and realize that it really did need to be changed. I was going to ride it as long as possible to make sure I would make it to the end of the road in Ushuaia and back to civilization on my new Metzeler Tourances that I'd been carrying since Medellin. But it wasn't worth the risk, especially in the rainy season. Azure's bike did not get much more love. We figured 4600 Meters above sea level was just all the 1989 Transalp could handle.

Diego had been a great host. We got to meet many of his friends and family. He even brought us to his Grandfather's farm in the country where we relaxed and did some work on his future homestead. He took us (read Azure) salsa dancing (because I still don't like dancing) and showed us the beautiful surroundings of Quito. 

This toast was for David, a.k.a. Junyah...
 We have like new suspensions. (And WOW what a difference that makes!!!) The bikes are in the best shape they have been in for a long time and they are ready for the rest of the continent. A big thank you to our new friend, Diego Salvador, at RaceTech Ecuador for all your help and an amazing time! We hope to see you on our way back North! 

Time to get back on the road...

Friday, March 11, 2016

Just when we thought it couldn't get any better... we're on a BOAT!!

Bienvenidos a Ecuador!
After spending 10 days in Maicao to get our bikes back into Colombia, the border crossing with Ecuador was a breeze. Within the hour we are riding in yet another country. Instantly the differences are clear. No garbage on the side of the road, plenty of road signs, more orderly traffic and not one single motorcycle other than our packed Honda’s. Although we are delighted by the lack of garbage and organized traffic there is something missing... After a few minutes we realize it is the presence of Colombians. Not that the Ecuadorians are not nice to us but we have grown accustomed to the atmosphere and the warmth of the people, the beautiful smiles and the ever-present music. 

The first thing on our agenda is a bit different. Azure wants to visit this cemetery she has heard of. I offer to look after the bikes while she checks it out. I figure she will only take a few minutes. How much time can one spend at a graveyard…? Half an hour later my “No Hablo Espanyol” is wearing out with the cops that are trying to make me understand that I am not allowed to park on the sidewalk we are on. I keep playing dumb and point them to the map on my top case. The parking issue is quickly forgotten upon seeing the route we have traveled to see their town. 

The police checking out the map while I pose for pictures.

Upon Azure's return she exclaims: “ you have to see this”! I instruct her to act like she doesn't speak Spanish and leave her with the cops to have quick look myself. I walk around the corner and I am awestruck………. by the beauty of this place. It is more like a botanical garden than a cemetery. I find myself getting lost between the artfully shaped bushes and trees.

When I return 20 minutes later I find Azure happily chatting away in Spanish to the cops who wish us a good and safe journey through their country. 
We ride the perfectly paved highway towards Quito. It leads through a dry mountainous landscape with a canyon here and there. It is incredibly hot and we break up the ride with a long siesta. Later in the afternoon we visit a market where women and men in traditional clothing sell their colorful wares. Though we could have wandered around here for hours we are back on the bikes again in no time. Azure’s mom has found the time to pay us a visit and we need to get her from the airport the next day. Not only are we overjoyed to see her again, we love sharing our travels with our parents and what better way is there to show them this amazing world first hand. Just before dark we make it to suburbs of Quito. We ride up a dirt road and find a perfect camping spot overlooking the city with more and more lights turning on in the city below every second. Sadly there is no phone reception and we need to call through one more order from the US before Azure’s mom is airborne. We ride into the busy traffic of Quito and not long after find a hostel.

3 suitcases. 10% Nancy-things. 90% chains, sprockets, peanut-butter, etc. She's the best!!
After being reunited with Azure's Mom, Nancy, at the airport, we spend the rest of the day checking out the old town of Quito with impressive squares and, literally, golden churches. Nancy gets to dance to some local music and we are having a great time. 

That time Nancy got a marriage proposal on her first day in Ecuador.
And then I had to step in and break the poor guy's heart ;)
What it looks like when we "move into" a hotel... they must have loved us... hahaha
Although we have formed a bit of a plan to see the beautiful countryside of Ecuador, the three of us still have a deep wish to visit the Galapagos Islands. The following day we check out the last minute rates and to our surprise, find a great deal... 80% off of a 4-day liveaboard boat cruise around the islands. The decision is made. We store the bikes at the hotel we are staying at with Nancy and prepare to see this natural wonder of the world with its rare and colorful species from atop a boat.

If you're heading to Ecuador and want to check out good last minute deal, this guy, Luis Tipan, is GREAT!
Before you touch down on the Galapagos you spot your first sea lions and birds. A short taxi ride gets you to the harbor where you stumble upon sea lions taking up whole staircases to soak up the sun. What an amazing sight! 

We spend the next days landing on heavenly beaches, walking and snorkeling around, spotting one species after the other and learning a great deal about the islands and it’s inhabitants, both human and animals. I never knew that Darwin’s evolution theory was born here and truly enjoyed listening to the guide explaining how it was born. 

The famous Blue Footed Booby

Iguana Love.



We have a great time together enjoying all these natural wonders and being together as a family. Snorkeling with sea lions and spotting hammerheads are the highlights of our time on the islands. For not having snorkeled in a few years, Nancy does a great job and doesn't even protest when Azure drops her hand and goes swimming off to take a picture of a passing shark. 

Truly a dream-come-true to be in the water with these guys!
The days fly by and before we know it we are back on the mainland where we spend our last days together visiting a hot spring and the geographical center of the earth. Experiencing all this with one of our parents is the greatest gift. It makes us see again how special it is what we do on a daily basis; to enjoy this beautiful world and to get to know the amazing people and animals that live on it. Thank you, Nancy, for making something we thought impossible, possible.... for making our dreams come true. 

We hope we get to share its beauty with the rest of parents and siblings in the near future. For now we are back on two wheels again and looking forward to discover the rest of the continent. 

Papallacta Hot Springs