Monday, 4 June 2012

Day 66 to 67 – to Pasto, Colombia

26 to 27 May    Kms travelled – 16,077

Heading off some 100kms south of Quito, Ecuador´s capital, this day was all about making some progress in the journey.  And progress was easily made in those areas where the road was running with two or three lanes, but slower when it dropped back into one lane traffic – as it seemed to do on a regular basis.  Almost like the contractors rebuilding the Pan American Highway were just interested in working on the easy bits, but where the road required some more detailed civil engineering work, they left those bits for later, and sought out another easy bit further on.  I guess it will all get done eventually.

While the road was changing, the landscape was still the same wonderful rolling valleys that Ecuador offered further south.  Perhaps not quite so green as we approached, pulled alongside, then passed the capital.  I have been trying to avoid big cities in this trip, but sometimes that has not been possible.  In this instance, even though the road turned into a multi-lane rollercoaster as we raced up and down steep hills through the manic city traffic, we were able to pass by without stopping. 

In running through Ecuador we have been faced with a number of toll booths, which for bikes costed only 20 cents each time.  It was quite a fiddle, however, to stop and pay such a minor amount, as I had to take off a glove, give out the cash, hand it over (and they insisted you take the receipt), glove back on etc.  The total paid was less than 2$ - but I would have paid double that for a one off payment that avoided all the faff.  Perhaps I´m getting old!

As we headed further into the north of the country, we also noted an increase in the number of military and police checkpoints.  At a number we were simply waved through, but we did have to stop at a few.  All the staff encountered were courteous and professional, and I guess only doing a difficult job (most likely for little pay) as the drug trade still holds a tight grip in this area of the world.  I was only concerned at one checkpoint; which came after a toll booth just south of Ibarra.  Idris and I were immediately surrounded by 5 uniformed and plain-clothed officers, each of whom had a different question for me.  Where was I going, where were my papers, what was I carrying etc.  I decided to answer the lady asking about my trip, and after spinning the tale of the journey to date – and my fundraising for Unicef – the others seemed to lose interest in what they had asked, and started questioning me about the bike instead.  The usual ones; how much it cost, how fast was it, how did the GPS work (most of the police seemed very interested in this bit of kit – as if they had heard of it, but never seen one in operation).  Following which we were waved on with big smiles, and into Ibarra for an overnight stop.

Ecuador has it all - Volcanos, lakes etc
I liked Ibarra, which was far enough away from the border with Colombia not to have that tainted border-town feel.  It was a relaxed mid-sized town, with sufficient nightlife and historic buildings to keep both the locals and travellers occupied for a time.  It was a shame that the next morning I had to hang around for an hour and a half before we could leave, thanks to some very poor parking by fellow guests!  I was heading for the border, and wanted to get there as soon as possible. 

As a result the day was already warming when I headed off, on a wonderful ride through, up, down, and around green green valleys.  I had by now come to expect the breezy bits as we tipped over from one hillside into the next lush landscape.  The border came all too soon – but was passed without issue in typical South American fashion.  On exiting Ecuador I bumped into a fellow ABR, Guy from London on his GS650, and we exchanged stories as papers were completed.  Further details of the crossing at Ipiales can be found on the Borders page of this website.

Two hours later (which in part was due to me hanging around and having a bite to eat etc), we were on our way again – but now in Colombia!  One of the first things you notice is the visible military and police presence on the road.  It had been increasing as we headed north through Ecuador, but had now stepped up a gear.  However, they clearly were not looking for us, as we made progress with waves and smiles from both sides of the road.  In fact it was not long at all before they merged into the landscape.  It may have been their camo-gear, but I think it was more to do with what the Colombian roads had to offer, which demanded full ABR attention.

Slartibartfast (ref: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) may have won an award for designing the Fiords, but only the Almighty himself could have shaped such countryside – and He must be an Adventure Bike Rider!  The run from Ipiales into Pasto was out of this world.  I´ve had a look back at my notes in my day book, and that is exactly what is says... “out of this world”.  Clearly I was struggling as much then to find the suitable words to describe the riding as I am now.  Hopefully I´ll do better by the time I put finger to keyboard for the next instalment, but just to say... the rumours are true... Colombia really is biker heaven! 

Thought for the day
I´m not sure whether this qualifies as a thought for the day, but I have been thinking about it since someone asked.  And that is what criteria have I applied to the listing of websites and accommodation that I have on the right hand side of this website?

The websites are simply those which I found interesting and useful in preparing for the trip, others that I felt might also be of interest to readers of my story, and some others of fellow travellers I have met along the way.  If you can think of any others that might fit into those categories, feel free to let me know.   

The accommodation is more difficult to explain, and is more about the feeling or welcome given when I stayed there.  All the places listed have safe bike parking – that is a given (some even with electrified fences!).  But they range considerably in price and amenities, from very basic through to a nice bit of luxury which Mrs Pat would approve of!  I am not one to regularly recommend places as each person has their own expectations regarding accommodation, but in terms of atmosphere for this bike traveller, these went the extra mile.

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