Current Musing: Murray River Summit to Source to Sea (In Progress)
Painted wall/ street art in Cuenca

Ecuador

Jan 2011 till Mar 2011

The fun side of motorcycle journeys…

26 January, 2011

Colombia continued living up to its' unexpected high standards for travelling. We started out early from Pasto south. The road produced a stunning ride. We stopped off at an old church that had a stunning location.

The border process was a breeze compared to central, and we headed into Ecuador.

And the shit side…

26 January, 2011

Just two hours into Ecuador, we had the most unluckiest accident. We were sharing a three lane road with a cycling training team. We were giving them a wide margin, like a whole lane, when one done a 90 degree turn directly into the middle lane in front of Alan. All he could do was to brake hard and to throw the bike to the left to prevent what would have been a fatal accident with the young cyclist. (The bike with full load is around 300kg) It was just enough to prevent a direct collision, but the cyclist was clipped and Alan's bike fell hard.

The damage:

Cyclist

  • Bruising to his leg.
  • Buckled front wheel.

Alan

  • 6 cm proximal humerus fracture on his left side, luckily on the opposite side to the socket joint.
  • Deep graze to his abdomen, just above his hip.
  • Bruised / fractured (?) elbow (left side)
  • Bruise to his right hand.
  • Both front indicators
  • Both rear view mirrors broke
  • Fairing damage to both sides
  • Front windscreen damaged
  • Frames of the panniers bend in.

All help went to the cyclist by the others around, with the exception of another motorcyclist that helped move Alan's bike from the centre of the road. This included the cycle team’s coach & support crew. Not one of the 5 or 6 others even asked if Alan was OK. When the nice motorcyclist told the coach what had happened (he was just behind us and saw the entire incident), the boy and the bike were loaded into the support vehicle and they speed off. He had confirmed that it was the kids fault, and without being able to get their details, they were protecting themselves from a costly insurance bill by running away.

As the shock wore off, we picked up most of the pieces that we could find and rode on at a very slow pace. Alan was in pain, but he didn't suspect the degree of damage his left side had. 30 km later, we pulled into a hotel and unloaded & parked the bikes. Then off to the hospital where we were seen instantly by the emergency department after Alan flashed them his grazed abdomen. Two x-rays later, the true nature of his injuries were exposed.

Recovery: Week 1

2 February, 2011

Firstly, big thanks for the support from everyone (to the biking community who send us regular emails and Marcus for your calls - thanks for keeping us inspired and for regular check ins). It was greatly appreciated and helped us through the darkest days of the trip.

We went back to A&E and got Alan's elbow checked out. It appeared to be fine, just bruised thankfully. After being prescribed ibuprofen by the hospital, Chris's family (medics, not random people off the street) recommended other treatments as ibuprofen is known to increase the healing period significantly. Switching to these, he started suffering from other drugs side-effects such as shortness of breath. This wasn't helped by a mild cold and the sling used to immobilize his arm, which was pushing against his diaphragm. Pain levels slowly decreased over the week, and by day 4, Alan was no longer taking anything. We also managed to cut cigarettes back to 5 a day (we'll see how long that lasts!)

Apart from small trips to get food, neither of us got out of the hotel for the first week. This was proving harder for Chris than Al, particularity since Al was under opiate treatment and sleeping 16 hours a day! Al has now caught onto the bored as **** syndrome of TV viewing, internet, sudoku and junk food. Today, day 7, we both seem to have accepted the fact, and are counting down till we can get on the bikes again… Just one more check left to do on the rotator cuff when we hit Quito. If all is good, we are back on the bikes in 5 weeks. If not, then tears will be flowing as we take a plane home for surgery…

Repairs: Week 2

9 February, 2011

We started off the week looking at options to repair Al's bike. We started by looking at parts sourced from the dealer that another biker recommended:

COWLING,UPP,LH,O.BLUE $151,20
COWLING,UPP,RH,O.BLUE $151,20
COWLING,UPP,CNT,F.BLA $185,92
COVER-HANDLES,(Pair),EBONY $39,20
MIRROR-ASSY (Pair) $61,60
SHROUD-ENGINE,RH,EBONY $263,20
LAMP-ASSY-SIGNAL,FR,RH $84,84
Towing: $100
Bike storage Quito: ?
Frame: ?
Labour: ?
==============================
Total $1035 USD plus

Shocked, duct tape came to mind. Internet search revealed better prices. All easy do-it-yourself stuff. Total $535 USD plus shipping / taxes. Still too much... More searching on the internet bought up a lot of handy tips. Plastic welding! We estimated that the repairs (minus the frame) would be $150, but we'd still need to revert to duct tape for main damaged fairing bits. Things were looking much better!

The next day we started off fixing the bike. Firstly, off to the tool stores. We got sandpaper, auto proxy resin, soldering iron, and a glue gun for $11.20 and found a fibreglass shop on the way. Chris was in control of taking Al's bike apart. She stripped things off and Alan done the plastic welding. We decided to take the two worst fairing pieces to the fiberglass shop. Early the next day, we had the panels back, and had a glass-smith replace the mirror glass. By lunch, the bike was back in one piece.

COWLING,UPP,LH,O.BLUE $0 - Plastic weld & proxy backing
COWLING,UPP,RH,O.BLUE $10 - Fiberglass repair
COWLING,UPP,CNT,F.BLA $0 - Plastic weld
COVER-HANDLES,(Pair),EBONY ? - Will be replacing broken originals
MIRROR-ASSY (Pair) $4 - Replaced the mirror glass
SHROUD-ENGINE,RH,EBONY $15 - Fiberglass repair
LAMP-ASSY-SIGNAL,FR,RH $0 - Lots of putty & glue
Bike storage: $30
Frame: ?
Labour: $0
Tools: $13.20
==============================
Total $72 USD plus

Quito: Week 3

16 February, 2011

We packed up our stuff and leaf most of it, along with our bikes in Ibarra and headed south to Quito by bus. One good thing about public transport here is that it is dirt cheap. $3 for a 2 1/2 hour ride. This is fairly standard in Ecuador, buses are about $1 USD per hour.

We got a hotel in the old part of the city, and tried to get a few things organised. This took the best part of 4 days to get Al seen to and to arrange repairs for his bike.

We went to a private hospital and had a CT scan of Al's shoulder. Great news, no major tendon damage. We confused the Caja, and managed to get the visit for free, but we couldn't get copies of the scan this time.

Extending the bikes importation permits were fairly easy, albeit a bit premature as we only got a couple of weeks extension. We found out that they were near the airport, and Al saw a small group walking back from lunch. Chris explained our sit and they took us down into the main offices that were hidden behind the airport buildings. Since we needed have the bikes, they settled for photos off the blog. So deep in the files of the Ecuadorian customs are photos of our trip, including Chris kung fooing a chicken in Colombia.

The DHL package for parts finally arrived, after over a week's delay in customs. After going to the "only" DHL office in Quito, we found out that the parts were somewhere else, but they forwarded them onto our hotel to save another trip across the city.

Organising bike repairs on the suspension was harder. We headed to the BMW shop as Alans suspension is based on Ohlm shocks, custom on BMWs. Surprise, surprise, they replace rather than repairing. Next we tried the Kawasaki shop, and found out that do the same. $1000 USD for a replace stock suspension (which would be crap with the gear we are carrying). They suggested a small shop somewhere the airport. The next day we made our way there, trying about 2 specialist car suspension repair shops and 3 other bike shops on the way. He had one quick look at the seals and told us that it would be no issue. Minor job. Doesn't say much for the 10 or so other mechanics that we had seen over the last couple days.

We spent the rest of the week looking around Quito, including one day looking around the botanic gardens and a couple more in old town. We can report that the best breakfast in Ecuador can be found at little cafe on the north side of Plaza Grande (espresso, bacon, eggs, toast and juice for $3, its not in the lonely planet, and its set in an inner courtyard (with roof) of a 3 story historic building, where old men gather to listen to the football and drink coffee on Sundays), that old town is funky, that the Trole is dirt cheap (25c) and not at all dodgy as the lonely planet would have you think. Fun alternative (geriatric) day out things to do include watch old guys play a version of pétanque in the park between Mariscal and Old town, look for police cordons so you can get good pictures of protests (always a protest going down, and generally very colourful), and get lots of piccies of families in the plazas on Sundays - generally a free concert or two on the go too.

Busing around: Week 4 - 5

23 February, 2011

After a week of rain, we headed south to Banos and as fate would have it, found a cheap hotel just outside a motorbike hire place - talk about unfair, but it was only $10 a night including a kitchen (home cooked food is a break from brosterries (friend chicken, the South American staple), so no complaints. We couldn't (read Al couldn't) do much of the stuff that was on offer, but we saw the town and took a truck tour of the waterfalls.

Next we headed for one of the famous trains rides down the Devils nose. It no longer goes from Rio Bamba, so we went another couple of hours south past Volcan Chimborazo (the highest point from the centre of the earth) to Alausi - a pooooosh hotel for $25 (including queen size bed and great hot water at high pressure) and dinner for $3.50 for both. We got the early ride down the nose at 8am for $20USD and got on another bus at 11:30 for Cuenca. For backpackers on a budget, the bus ride down is almost as good as the train ride. Try to get a seat on the right hand side for both. On the train, we ran into Mike whom we met in Pasto, Colombia (where we were told off for gassing rather loudly past 2am). Mike's a great dancer...and had fun with the maypole.

Cuenca lacked the cultural pleasantness of Quito (the old town feel was just not the same), but it had it's fair share of nice buildings, and some really good food. We did a walking tour of the city, taking in some markets and museums along the way. We also took in some of the markets in the surrounding towns the next day, but they were real markets; veges and meats. But the quality was great, better than Quito. Day 3 was a lazy one… Chris jacked up a couple of hours Spanish tuition to get some help with her books, and to root out some of those consistently bad errors that are creeping in. We also ran into Mike again, and can report that Caiprihana's made with South American white rum are better than those you get other places… yummy. The staff at Cafecito are also sweet with their coffee refills!

We'll be busing our way back to Quito in the next day or so and will look at doing the repair work on Al's bike so that we can get the F*** out of Ecuador as soon as Al is able to ride again. Only a week or two to go… Someone is getting a little frustrated with Ecuador!

Al is starting to work on getting his should back into shape, but he is being very gentle with the exercises, mainly passive ones to get mobility back. He is limited in raising his arm to about 1 ft / 30 cm from his waist before pain sets in, so a long way to go there. His graze is down to about 1 sq cm, almost just a plaster now, and the bruising is almost gone too, almost…

En route to Gauranda...wishing we were at home

24 February, 2011

Today we woke to emails about the earthquake in Christchurch, where we lived for 12 years before heading to Aussie. Our next couple of days were spent making sure we are in towns with email, and on the internet a couple of hours after the kiwis wake up. It's not easy, being on the other side of the world with reports of horrific damages and huge death toll and not knowing how your friends and family are doing. Not helped by the fact that power, water and phone outages make contact difficult. It took 3 days, but we were pleased to learn as yet, none of our friends are among the casualties. The last rescued survivor was actually the daughter of family friends. Today, we rode around Chimbarazo, through the paramo, at around 4000m and some of the most stunning scenery we have seen yet. More than anything, it reminded us of home and the scenery in Canterbury, where the quake hit. Today and for the next few days, our hearts are at home....

[con voz grito] pendijos!!!!!!!!!!!!

25 February, 2011

Woke up and left the hostel at 6am. Why? what had looked like a fantastic new hostel turned into a nightmare as a bunch of 18-20yr olds descended in preparation for Carnival, celebrated all over Sth America, not just in Brazil. The noise, which included TVs blaring with doors left open, singing, ball bouncing, giggling, and running from room to room carried on (after being told to be quiet) until well after midnight. Turns out that learning Spanish swearwords has some uses...

Otavalo markets

5 March, 2011

Otavalo markets are touristy, but they're not bad if you can bargain in Spanish: $12 for alpaca jumper $2.50 for alpaca socks, gloves $4 for alpaca scarf $22 for stunning acrylic painting. OK, so I (Chris) didn't do too good there, but I got her down from $35! My method: ask how much, offer 60%, and don't budge. People like a fair price and a quick sale. Fantastic chicken fried rice for 2 people, $2.50!

Go Otavalo!

MRI Scan of a shoulder

Rehab: Week 6

9 March, 2011

After getting one of the mechanics at Ibarra to remove Alan's bike suspension, we headed back to Quito. We headed to a specialist orthopedic doctor and were alarmed by the amount of concern that he showed in Alan's shoulder. Without much to do, he sent us off for an MRI.

We got the results the next morning and were surprised to find out that there were two breaks, a finer but more serious one that nearly broke the humerus in two just below the joint. However, both appear to be healing OK, at about 60%. So off to physio.

We found an old school physio and Alan had four sessions with him. From barely being able to rise his arm 45 degrees, Alan quickly begun getting his mobility back. After the fourth session, he could raise his arm to 90 degrees. Carnival put a hold on the sessions.

We picked up the fixed suspension, but like everything in Quito, it cost $145 dollars. So much for cheap labour in South America. Ecuador is simply damn expensive. We headed back to Ibarra on Wednesday and mucked around waiting for the bike to be pull back together.

D-day is tomorrow. We have a mix of nerves and excitement as we await our first ride.

D-day

10 March, 2011

Well things started out well. We got the suspension refitted for a massive $20 for the work and storage for a week. Outside Quito, things are cheap still. It took a while starting Chris's bike. About 6 attempts push starting it before it finally kicked into life.

We went for a small ride around Ibarra for around 2 hour. We confirmed that gas is dirt cheap. $1.45 per GALLON! That is like 45c per litre! However, filling up was where Al noticed that the chain guard was broken and that the handle bar was bent out of place on the left. Testimonial to the force of the crash. So we removed the broken chain guard and carried on. It was when we got make into town, that we noticed a bigger problem. The fan was not kicking in as the bike heated up at the lights. We let Alan's bike cool and returned to the hotel. Sadly, this wasn't a simple fuse issue and there was no obvious damage to the fan wiring.

So we will try a fix locally, but we are expecting to return to Quito to get things fixed if we need parts....

But the great news was that we both found the riding easy, although a mere 60km/hr felt fast to start off for Al. The trip is still on!

Best Latin American Mechanic?

11 March, 2011

We rode to Quito without too many issues and headed back to our favourite hostel. We had to stop twice on the hill going up to Quito and three times in the city to let Al´s bike cool down. On the recommendation of the hostel owner, we went into the burbs and managed to find this guy working out of an apartment complex. Al was relieved when he saw 7 bikes, all at least 650 and two KLR650´s.

The heating issue was being caused by the fan touching the radiator and it simply wasn´t able to spin. (We almost had the side fairing off the day before, but stopped thinking it was an electrical short that we had nothing handy to test this). We straighten the bent steering bar, got new bash bars (not really replacements as the stock were just plastic wind protectors), a cool but simple shock mud guard made from 10cm tyre rubber and two plastic ties. We chatted for ages, I think we were there for nearly 4 hours. The mechanic was the local KTM mechanic and was just about to take up a position fixing Ducati motorcycles.

Troncal Amazónica

14 March, 2011

Amazon Road (E45) or Troncal Amazónica was the road we took south. This touches the amazon basin but it is mainly in the foothills. The road was so much nicer than the main roads in the hills that we bused the earlier months.

With the exception of maybe 100km of roadworks, the entire length was recently paved. It will be a dream ride for any road bikes coming through. The towns after Puyo were full of real Ecuadoran charm, still relatively untouched by tourism. Puyo was a bit rough and we had to move on a couple kids were checking out the bikes as if to steal stuff.

Vilcabumba

16 March, 2011

We spent a couple nights in this cute small town in the foothills. It was very touristy but it was great to chill out for a couple days. We meet another couple of bikers, Tim (from Canada on a BWM) & Troy (from Oz on a KLR), and it was great to exchange stories from the road. We left for the back roads down into Peru via Zomba and they left for the Pan-American.

Leaving Ecuador

17 March, 2011

Well after meeting some really nice people and places in the Amazonian side, our opinion of Ecuador was slowly improving. Sadly, the Aduana officials guaranteed that this will be a country that we never want to visit again.

After a 2 hour ride we got to the border and appeared to have done the formalities, we bought a coke and chatted to the local kids. 2 minutes later, the fat aduana guy came out and told us that there was a problem with the papers. We argued for 5 minutes, before he went to lunch for an hour. After lunch, he walked over to the Peruvian side of the border for an hour before coming back and told us that the computer systems were down and would magically be fixed at 4pm. At this point, we were getting really pissed with him, and tried to get the papers back to go to another border crossing. He refused and suggested that we should pay him 10% of the value of Chris´s bike to leave. So without anything to do, we got a cop to try and get our papers back and started getting personal details. This seemed to work in blocking the bribe, but he didn´t give the papers back & refused to show ID and we still had to wait till 3.30 before he walked his fat ass over to the phone to "get confirmation" that the papers were correct.

By 4.30pm, we made it to Peru.

After stamping in we visited the Peruvian aduana and got the news that we couldn't get both bikes in as both were in Alan's name. We were stunned. We wondered back to the bridge and contemplated what to do next with the bikes that were sitting in no-mans land. With the forward path blocked and the backwards path looking unlikely, we really considered dismantling one of the bikes, damaging each part with a rock and throwing the pieces into the river. The girls from customs saw us and hit up the aduana guy on our behalf. As we found out later, he was simply too lazy to see if we could import both, and we recon he was friends with the Ecuadorian officials and that they had hit him up to be difficult to us. Another hour later, we were through, right on dusk, and we rode for an hour to the nearest town, glad to be across the border.