Saturday, 1 August 2015

New Country. New tyres!

Crossing the border into Ecuador meant cheaper fuel and quieter roads. That had to be a bonus. I also found to my surprise that more people spoke English than anywhere else I had encountered so far in South America. Even the local shop keeper was eager to help when I was trying to remember the Spanish word for eggs. As I spoke to myself saying “Eggs. What the hell is eggs in Spanish again?” he turned around and offered “huevos”! I laughed and said “Si huevos”. We then had a simple but very nice chat in English before he helped me with the rest of my shopping and threw in some complimentary Ecuadorian sweets to try later! 

The roads in Ecuador are surprisingly good too with new surfaces being laid all the time. This may be something to do with the Chinese influence here and oil agreements between the two countries. I don't confess to knowing if this is a good or a bad thing for Ecuador but what did it mean for me? Well it meant I got to places quicker! It also meant that I had to do some more research to find some dirt tracks. Polished roads are great for getting from A to B quickly but adventure requires a little more effort at times! Enter Freedom Bikes of Quito!

Court Rand from said company contacted me and offered some routes that would take me way off the beaten track. I was interested! Rhonda and I were due some off road action and Ecuador promised hidden gems up in "them thar hills"! 

From the city of Cuenca we headed north toward a small village called Salinas de Guarandas at 3550m . Thanks to the influence of a Swiss Philanthropist, the community now work here as a cooperative making cheese and chocolate using traditional Swiss methods. This is where the off road was to begin. 

With a little help from the locals I found the beginning of the trail. This route would take me to Facundo Vela and then onwards to El Colorazon. Both tiny villages connected by dirt tracks used generally for horse and carts. The only traffic I met as I worked my way through the hills and cloud forests were horses, dogs or friendly locals who waved (and looked a little surprised) as I passed by.

The route got a little tricky at points. The path became steep and muddy with hairpin bends all at the same time! I didn't feel as agile as I would have liked due to my luggage and as ever, after passing the tougher stuff, I dropped Rhonda just as I could see the end in sight! I think tiredness played a part. It was hot by now and it had taken some effort to navigate my way through the ruts, rocks and slippery corners! Of course the cavalry arrived just AFTER I had unloaded the bike and picked her up! You win some you lose some! A little man (they're all short in SA) leading two horses down the track came around the corner looking slightly bewildered at the sight of me holding my bike precariously - red-faced and sweating with luggage strewn across the path! We had a conversation but I have no idea what he said or vice verca! Once again I felt an opportunity go by. I can pick up a few bits now. The common questions like, "Where are you from?" and, "Where are you going?" but I feel the real colour of the experience is in the detail. Detail that escapes me still after all these months in South America.

From El Colorazon I worked my way, with a now sticking throttle after my fall, along the dry dirt
tracks to Zumbahua and then to Chugchillan which would be my resting place for a couple of days. I stayed at a great little eco lodge called the The Black Sheep Inn. It was way out of my budget but Edmondo offered me a cabin for half the normal price and, with everything included (tea and home made cookies, 3 meals and even wood for my own personal fire!), I could not refuse! At night everyone sat around and had a vegetarian meal together in a family style environment and after dinner I went up to my cabin and relaxed with a good book in front of the fire in my log cabin which overlooked the misty valley. It was wonderful!

I spent my day there horse riding to the crater lake. It was a 6 hour round trip and although it was a great off road ride through the hills to the beautiful Quilotoa Lake, it was about 3 hours too long for my comfort! My butt was literally red raw by the end of it and it was several days before I could sit down again without wincing! I should have taken my Airhawk seat! Still - no pain no gain! 

Quito was my next stop. Back to the city and a rather large but simple apartment in the old town. It cost me the equivalent of just £10 a day to rent and here I could cook "huevos" and make tea as much as I liked while I caught up on some writing. That was the plan anyway! Unfortunately I was distracted by some friendly local bikers who fed me beer and showed me the sights. Not too much work was achieved but a good time was had by all! 

From Quito I headed towards the border and camped about 70km away in Ibarra near the lake. It was a very quiet and beautiful campground called Summerwind. Regularly frequented by overlanders and also home to 4 very friendly dogs! I had a great night's sleep after meeting some fellow travellers and sharing tales over a lemon tea.  I was sent on my way the next morning with some home made lemon cake in my bag ready for my next pit stop (this was yet another attempt to use up more lemons after the tree had got a little carried away this year!)

After 2 short weeks in Ecuador it was time to head for the Colombian border! Approaching new
countries is always a mixed bag of emotions. Sometimes you feel sad to be leaving a country and other times you're just ready for a change. The slight nervous feeling in your stomach as you approach the unknown is a common factor. I don't dislike that feeling. It tells me I have not become complacent! Anticipation, fear, exhilaration, even exhaustion. These are all things that tell us we are alive and if you don't feel them once in a while? Well for me - it's time to move on!

Crossing over to a new country is where the bedding-in process begins all over again. Colombia is my 27th country and so I am well rehearsed by now. Usually I find some local currency and then insurance for the bike. After that I set about finding myself a local SIM card. This is an important factor for me. I like to stay connected so if I get lost or stuck or I need medical help, I have the means to call someone (assuming I have signal of course). Even if I just need to translate something. It's all in that little magic SIM card and it generally comes at a very affordable price! Once these 3 things are sorted, then it's time to hit the road and see what adventures await! 

I am now in Cali, about 500km north of the border where I entered. This first leg has been beautiful riding with conditions that change from cold and rain to sweltering heat as you get lower down and closer to Cali. The armed police presence has been interesting. They have been at most of the service stations, doing spot checks on the side of the roads and guarding bridges. At some points they have even been present at the roadworks. I have no idea why although I have been told that there has been some unrest in that area recently. I am never concerned by their presence. They are generally friendly and often good looking! It gives me something to look at other than the surrounding countryside! 

The roads were fairly busy with trucks and I fear the Colombians are not the most conscientious of
drivers. Crossing the border this time has led to fuel that is twice, maybe three times the price of it's neighbouring country, faster and more aggressive driving and larger volume of traffic so far.  The hardest parts are the tight corners as trucks swing wide and leave you nowhere to go. Some take it slowly allowing for oncoming traffic to move out of the way, whilst others seem go by the attitude that it's not THEM that's going to get hurt so not their problem! I guess that's what bull bars are for? That said I enjoyed my ride. It was interesting and each stop led to brief encounters with smiling friendly faces. The countryside was beautiful and it was just a buzz to be in Colombia. Another spot on the map that had intrigued me for so long.

I did this first leg in two days to have the opportunity of meeting up with someone I was quite keen to meet. Anna is from the Ukraine and until recently was the only other female solo rider attempting to ride around the world. I believe there is now a Spanish lady who has just started too. We had a lot to talk about and I didn't want to miss her! Sadly our meeting was all too brief due to Anna's commitments with KTM but we managed to have a beer together and share a few common scenarios. From the brief chat we had I feel our journeys are very different in many ways but we had much in common too. Of course we did!  We are both solo women travelling the globe by motorbike! It doesn't matter how you do it. That has to be an adventure right? It was lovely to meet her at last and I look forward to seeing her complete her mission in around 12 months time. Who knows, perhaps we will meet again before that? I hope so.

Today I finally got the new back tyre I have been desperately needing. Something I should have changed in Ecuador but as they are twice the price over there I decided to hang fire and risk the ride to Cali. Here I have met up with a company called Motolombia. These guys are going to help me out with some more off road route suggestions. I feel their local knowledge will make a big difference here. They have also put the back tyre on for me and are now in the process of seeing if they can find me a fork seal for my severely leaking left fork. I may be here a couple of days while Rhonda gets sorted but Cali has a nice feel to it and I will take the opportunity to just be a tourist for a while.  I may even get that article written - as long as I am not led astray again!


  1. Hi Steph, I must admit that I thought your pit stop in the UK was cheating, however now that you're on the move again it's like it never happened. So I am back with you enjoying every minute of your adventure. Your blog is so good jigagee had to say it twice and I am in total agreement. Ukev.

    1. Ha ha but Uncle Kev to be cheating there has to be rules in the first place right??? : 0 )

      Good to hear you're still with me! Love to all.

  2. Love your updates! There is a quick fix for leaking fork seal I just read the other day, I'll try to locate it if I can And send it to you.

    1. It might work to slip something very thin (like 35mm film--as if you could find some) into the joint. Then slide it around and up and down a few times. No guarantee, though worth a shot.

      Happy trails, Steph! I love your posts AND I told Bike Trac that I found them through you ;-)

    2. Thanks guys but tried that. The chances were slim as it was poaring out. Have the seals now so may as well replace both and fresh oil. Going to replace bearings too. Long overdue for the mileage.