I’m queuing at the border to get stamped out of Ecuador and I see one of the pesky moneychangers outside standing on my bike. I walk out and tell him to get off. He starts getting aggressive, making gun signs with his hand and shouting that he has friends in FARC, the Colombia terrorist group, waiting for me on the other side. I ask a policeman to keep an eye on the bike. The moneychanger carries on FARC this and FARC that.
I bit unsettled, I enter Colombia, my 25th and final country of the trip. I blast through to my first overnight stop in Pasto. I sort out off the usual paperwork that is required when entering a new country, road insurance and the rest. Colombia has a few extra “unique” requirements; your registration number needs to be displayed on your helmet, on a hi-viz vest and male riders can’t carry male pillions. These rules were introduced to stop to the ‘Motorcycle Assassins’ that plagued Colombia in the 90’s. Sorting this out was surprisingly quick and easy; thanks to some super helpful locals. People here are extremely friendly, stopping to ask about my trip and seeing if I needed any help. My encounter at the Ecuador border seems completely unfounded.
Registration Number on your helmet, a legal requirement in Colombia to stop would-be ‘Motor Assassins’
Continuing north to Medellin is slow going. Most of the route is through the mountains with tight bends and lots of slow trucks. Because the road is so twisty, the locals tend to overtake on blind corners, sometimes the only way to get past the trucks. More scary, is that you start to do the same; at least on the bike it is easier to filter back into your lane.
The border crossing from Peru into Ecuador is one of those crossings where everything changes. The scenery changes dramatically, from the dry Peruvian desert into lush rolling hills covered in sugar cane and banana plantations in a few short kms. Ecuador produce the most bananas in the world, almost twice as much as their nearest rivals, Costa Rica – they are everywhere.
I need to find a fuel station fast, my bike’s running on fumes. At $2 a gallon, it’s the cheapest fuel I’ve had since Nigeria and I’ve arrived empty. A few wrong turns later and I locate a fuel station, fill up and then on to find some local road insurance.
Most of my trip prep has focused on the bit up to Peru. I know surprisingly little about Ecuador, apart from the bit about bananas. The FCO’s Travel Advice page does not make for good reading, armed robberies, express kidnappings, drug cartels, volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides…
I had planned to blast through Ecuador, avoiding armed robbery, and then meet up with some friends in Colombia. But after reading about the Amazon I decided to spend some time in the Amazon basin before continuing north. Ecuador has the highest biodiversity per sq km in the world and has lots of impressive national parks. Unfortunately lots of the land is under threat from oil exploration and the Amazon has a marked increase in pollution from oil production. My cheap fuel comes with guilt.
My Peruvian trip has had 2 distinct halves to it. The first half from Bolivia to Cuzco took me through cool, lush highlands; whilst the second half was hot, flat desert coastal roads.
From Nazca, I continue north along the coast of Peru through the Sechura Desert. Dead straight roads and painfully slow speed limits make the 1,700km slow and dull.
Desert wines. Gotta give this farmer 10 points for determination, these grapevines are growing bang in the middle of the desert. The wine is ridiculously sweet but very, very cheap.
95 octane! At least the fuel improves along the coast. It’s not just that 84 octane rubbish any more.
Yes, 90kph speed limit, a cruel cruel joke on the long often dead straight PamAm. Some stretches allow a whopping 100kmp
Just north of Lima I deviated from the dull straights of the PanAm and head inland to see the Cordillera Blanca Mountains near Huaraz.
Entering Peru could not have been easier, friendly and professional border control. OK, the guy entering my bike details took his job very seriously. Like 30 minutes worth of forms seriously.
First stop is Cusco. Leaving Lake Titicaca is a slow descent through winding valleys. Slowly it gets greener and more lush. Progress is slow due to the fact that I have to keep stopping to take photographs, the scenery is stunning. It is one of those rides that leaves you grinning ear to ear. There has been a lot of that lately.
At Cusco, I checked into Hostal Estralita (Tullumayo 445) on recommendation from someone on HUBB. This place was great, very basic, but the old guy running it was fantastic. Every morning we had a little chat, him in Spanish, me in Spanglish, basically one of us pointing at stuff and the other nodded in agreement. They are very biker friendly, he has built a ramp so bikes can get into the courtyard. Why can’t everyone do that?
From Uyuni we continued north on to Potosi. Apart from 20kms which was not yet finished, the road was brand spanking new. And as with many of the roads here, it is designed like a race track, awesome bends to get your footpegs down on.
I was not expecting much from Potosi. It’s history is heavily based on mining and has a terrible record dating back to the Spanish times. Millions have died in the mines. Unfortunately I only found out about the Miner’s market, where you can buy dynamite, after I had left. Life is full of missed opportunities…
Bolivian border formalities were quick and straight forward, nothing like the horror stories that I had heard about. The differences between Argentina and Bolivia are immediately obvious, the shops explode out onto the streets and old ladies in bowler hats and traditional dress sell food from pavement stalls.
I had met up with 2 Canadian riders just south of the Bolivian border. Joca and Marianne were on a similar route to me and so we had decided to team up and do southern Bolivia together.
We left the main paved road at Tupiza to take the 200km dirt road to Uyuni. The first 100km were steep, ascending about 1000m to an altitude of around 3,800m. Steep switchbacks took us through valleys and along the ridges of the mountains.
Joca and Marianne on their Suzuki Vstrom
Having freed the bike from the airport, I was all set to go. Driving out of Buenos Aires was a bit chaotic. They have wasted an awful lot of paint marking road lanes, those lines count for nought here. More confusing are their intersections, which are treated somewhere between 4 way stops and traffic lights, a random number of cars taking turns to cross in no apparent logical order. I’ve seen worse driving but there is a sense of order out here, sort of. Remember, it’s your responsibility to get out of their way.
I had decided to skip Patagonia and head north west. I’d missed the season for Patagonia, snow had begun to fall in the mountains. That will have to wait for another time.
Ah yes, Buenos Aires. It is hard not to like the place; with its gorgeous architecture, good food and beautiful people. Very beautiful people. It is just how I imagined it to be, very European, the Spanish influence extremely noticeable. I arrived a few days before the bike which gave me some time to do the tourist thing.
Pleased to meet you, meat to please you.
Yes, the title says it all, Pikipiki Safari lives on! Well, one half of it at least.
Not being quite ready to return back to London and the land of the big smoke, I’ve decided to carry on. Unfortunately Adrian has already returned to London so it’s just going to be me, Russell, on my own this time.
So the big question, where to next? As with the last trip, I’m after countries with corrupt officials and places where people have little understanding of the English Language. So it’s obvious really, South America. Fortunately there are plenty of overlanders there already, so I’ll be teaming up with other interesting characters along the way.