Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all Friends and Family,

Love from Batty and Harry 

in Peru

Friday, December 14, 2012

Galapagos, Guinea Pig dinner and Radio Stardom,

So the Galapagos…… Just as a bit of a background, it is pretty difficult to go to the islands independently and see the vast variation of animal and fauna life by just turning up and taking day trips. So it means one has to sign up for a tour on a boat. There are probably about 100 different boats, all offering different lengths of tour and varying comfort. Carlos had put me onto his travel agent and they got a last-minute deal for me on a ship called the Santa Cruz.
The Santa Cruz, with landing parties
 This shot required no zoom. All the animals here treat humans as if they were just another animal. The only risk of predators is from sharks and hawks, and if you don't look like one of them, you are basically ignored.
  This catapulted me from being the lone traveller into the company of 70 other trippers, all excited about this unique place. Most of my fellow passengers were on their annual holiday although there were a few other long-term travellers such as myself.  The age group ranged from 80s to early 20s, and from aid professionals to scientists. It meant putting on different perspective hats to talk to all the different people, and that was something I enjoyed a great deal.

Back in London, Galapagos was a weekly word  used, as it is the name of one of my favourite restaurants in Battersea, and Steve, the co-proprietor, is Ecuadorian. Whilst the delicious food may not be from the region, the warmth and friendliness of the experience certainly is.

 I had hoped to do some diving there, and in fact had been promised it is part of the cruise. Alas there had been a miscommunication as what constituted scuba diving and snorkeling, so snorkeling it was. Whilst of course different from being 50 foot under, the sheer abundance of marine life has to make it the best you can get, and I did not feel too hard done by.

 This is Vicky, our lovely and brilliant guide.

 From 7 o'clock in the morning till 10 o'clock at night this very well oiled machine had us in groups of 12 and disembarking from the ship on rubber boats to see new and wonderful different places as we spent five days going around the Western islands.
A hammerhead shark
The guys...alas not many people photos, just 300 beastie ones.
Lisa joining an Iguana for a lie on the sand
I'm going to have a slight moan about the Santa Cruz (owner by ETICA / Metropolitan Touring), because in spite of its extremely well-run operation, it's comfort, delicious food and a great team of naturalists educating us….I twice saw them pumping sewage into the sea when we were anchored by different islands. The rule is that they have to be 6 miles offshore to do this, and anything less is a breach of the law and far worse, a serious compromise on the survival of local wildlife,  not to mention the fact that we were snorkeling nearby. Every day we were reminded not to step off the path,  touch the animals, let alone feed them, yet there they were hypocritically polluting the very place that sustains them. I did ask for skipper about it, and he rather brusquely told me that it should not happen before walking away without explanation or any hint of action. It happened the next day again, so I assume it must be commonplace.  They gave us evaluations forms at the end of the trip and it rather dominated my assessment.

Back in Quito, Batty had new forks (from a Yamaha), a new additional front light and lots of other needed bits serviced. It took a couple days more, but Carlos did a fine job finding parts from other vehicles to replace worn original parts, so Batty was fit for the next 10,000 miles that I probably have left.
Carlos on the right, with his Dad and colleague having just finished all their work on Batty
I moved to a different hostel that Julia and Chris from the ship had recommended. For a couple of nights, along with Cornelia, Yves and Ivo we hooked up for fun dinners and one night went off to find a rock concert in the main park.
Julia and Chris
Dr Carlos, as I now need to call him to differentiate, rode with me for a couple of hours on the way to Banos, a spa town five hours away, set in the lower Andes. It was great for me to have a companion, but I fear are little dull for him as Batty huffed and puffed her way up the steep roads to Chimborazo,  Ecuador's highest peak.
Chimborazo in the background
Banos...beautiful spa town, where I bumped into Jesper in the red tee shirt...a voyager from Panama
I love having my hair cut in new countries

By this stage I was beginning to get itchy feet, and the need to head on South was pressing.  But before Peru I had had an invitation to stay with Dr Carlos's mother in Cuenca. Normally it is a five-hour ride, but if you take the mountain route it takes two days. I haven't particularly planned  which way to go, but the GPS's plan was one of mountains and rough roads. Although this made me a day late, I did see some beautiful Ecuador, and my first roasted  guinea pig.
2 days of fun on these sorts of roads...reaching 9000ft

Batty's sporting her smart new day light

Forget the 'what a sweet thing' nonsense...this chap is for the chop
A national delicacy
 For the first time in now 35,000 miles, something was up with Batty's gearbox. I was able to change down gear, but not up. Fortunately Royal Enfield have a secondary gear selector, to help find neutral, and with a bit of practice one could use the full gear range albeit in a rather clunky way. This happened about an hour from Cuenca.

Dr Carlos was visiting his mother that weekend and I was welcomed   most sincerely by Bina, his mother, and by Susannah and Gustavo, his sister and brother-in-law. They all live in a beautiful apartment building that they designed and built a few years ago which takes up the whole side of a piazza right beside the river. Everyone has their own apartment, and I was given a bedroom in one which acts as an office for their architectural practice.
Lovely Bina at her easel, she was a friend and pupil of Oswaldo Guayasamìn. This lady was the finest of hostesses, treating me to culinary delights and just all round warmth.
Carlos treated me to my first Guinea Pig (known as Cui here) dinner. Very delicious
Carlos called a friend of his, Estefan, and he knew the guys who ran the new Royal Enfield showroom that had opened there only a year or so ago. So early on the Monday morning we were there, and quickly taken to Pedro who did the servicing for them. He quickly found the problem...a broken spring, which was not a spare they kept. Estefan jumped on his bike and after several hours returned saying that he could not find a replacement, but had found a welder who was going to fix it.

Estefan and Sebastian
Sebastian, who runs the Royal Enfield business had, in the meantime, been busy on the phone to his local media is a small city in these terms. So whilst Batty was awaiting her renewed spring, her rider was off doing a couple of magazine and newspaper interviews, followed by a live radio interview with German Peidre, the owner and producer of super949, a local rock radio station. 

Here is a link to a small piece in Amateur magazine
In mid interview Estefan, Sebastian and German...broadcasting straight from the iPhone to the airwaves. This website had a spike of traffic that day, so I hope it sells a few bikes for them
I am awaiting a podcast link to it, although a little in English, mostly it was in rapid fire Spanish. I get that the general line was about how the time to do something different in life is always is never the right time, and it was good to witness someone living their dream. Before the interview started, German had asked about girlfriends in the 30 odd countries I had listed...jockingly I replied, "everyone of them"....then the brute asked the same again live! I muttered something about not wanting to compromise anyone's virtue.....not the radio I think he wanted....

The next day Batty was quickly back together and the plan was to ride with Sebastian and Estefan towards the Peruvian border. However we were joined by three others, and six Royal Enfield's headed off. Batty was at last speaking her own language, having had to put up with Japanese and German  companions since Australia and before that India.

Crossing over the border to Peru was pretty straightforward, and I met Ben there who was on a bike heading the same way. We plan to meet for a drink at lunchtime in a town called Mancora, about 100 miles down the coast. Ben had to be in Cusco for his birthday on Friday,  which meant about 2000 km in two days. One drink led to another and four hours later he set off. I found a hotel. I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of his tale if I catch up with him.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Columbia, Ecuador and Galapagos bound.

 The three weeks in Columbia was a bit of a mix. In hindsight I think I should have spent a bit of time in Bogotá and a few places north of it to have got a fuller flavour. At the moment it is the rainy season and that coupled with some quite high altitudes it has made for some rather damp and cool days. By and large the rains come in the afternoon, but this has not always been the case .

I left you last in the town of Medellin, which is a principal city. There were quite a few of my fellow  voyagers from the trip from Panama there at the same time, and we hooked up for a evening of pizza and copious amounts of rum. I had made the mistake of choosing a central hotel, which although close to some of the attractions,  was also home to the wretched and destitute. It meant not only empty streets at night, apart from the prostitutes, winos and addicts, there were very few eating options. Some friendly security guards offering to walk beside me whilst I went to get a bite to eat (chicken is 90% of the menus) on one evening. The other bikers were in a much more fashionable part of town, and I regret not moving there.

 I rather liked the story behind these pictures. Botero's Mother always wanted to go to France and visit Versailles, unfortunately she grew too old to travel and so her son painted Louis and Marie Antoinette visiting Medellin for her.

 I became a fan of Colombia's most famous artist, Botero. He is still alive and well into his 80s,  being a son of Medellín there is much of his work on display both in a gallery dedicated to him (which he gifted over 200 of his originals to) and also in a large piazza, where there must be at least 20 of his bronzes on display.

The next port of call was the town of Salento in the coffee growing territory. A rather lovely simple town, which is catching on to the tourist thingy. Good for local businesses etc, although  the inevitable sameness of that path is beginning to show through, in terms of  things been written in English, menus offering a global  choice and increasing numbers of handicraft shops.

 Each morning we had coffee that has been grown, processed and then brewed within half a mile of the hostel, and this is one of the guys showing us how the process works. A fascinating exposure on the coffee journey.

 Bamboo forests. Did you know that in order to get the best from a bamboo harvest, you have to cut it at night on the full moon. This is because the plant retains water in the same sort of way as the tide comes and goes depending on the size of the moon. The less water at the chop, the longer the bamboo will last.
  I took myself off for a very wet walk in the nearby  Valle de Cocora. I thought 13 km didn't sound too tough, but it was a steep climb and by the top I was stopping every hundred yards struggling for breath. Although not exactly walking fit, the near 3000m height is what really did it.

 This photographer, despite many takes could not get the blur of these Humming birds' wings. Near the top of the hill two ladies live and earn their crust by offering local drinks to tourists, whose exhaustion is quickly forgotten by the hundreds of hummingbirds that they have lured with sugar water.
 This is a deep fried trout which is very much the local staple meat. Although delicious, there seems to be little option other than this form of preparation, sadly.
 Something I'd been looking forward to a great deal was going to the city of Manizales.  In 1922 a cable car system was built between the city and the numerous surrounding valleys. It revolutionized  coffee production and greater prosperity was bought to the area and country. The man responsible for the design and engineering of it was called James Lindsay....the Great Grandfather of my pal Pat. Some videos were made of what little sadly remained of the system, which was at the time the most celebrated engineering feat, using this technology, of the age.
On the way south the plan had been to stay in the town of Cali for a couple of nights....I didn't get there till after dark and having found a place to stay, I wondered outside to try and find some super. It was not a nice atmosphere, and after the third person told me that it was dangerous at night-time and I should really get back to my hotel, I decided to leave first thing in the morning, which I did  and headed on towards the border with Ecuador.

 I met Simon and Chris a couple of times on the road, having first met them when we were all trying to find somewhere to stay on the road to Pasto, which is the last town before the border. Simon had cycled down from Alaska, and had  cycled for a while with another chap I'd met called Rob in Mexico. Chris had started out from Bogota.

 an interesting technique  of keeping one's Turkey from running away.
 When I got to Pasto, I had a message from Chris and Marge (two more of my shipmates)  with the news that they were arriving the next day and also that Jon and Pete (of were in town following a 60 mph crash. It was Pete's bike that somehow found its way into the large rain gutters that the roads here have, and it was the large concrete block that ripped away the bottom of the engine. These guys had started from England in April and having driven across Europe, Russia, Korea, then the Alaska down to Colombia in six months had met with this potentially fatal accident. Luckily Peter had walked away from it, praising his helmet and  the body armour  that he wore. However the bike (Suzuki 400) was a write-off as far as any UK insurance company would have been concerned. As luck would have it they were picked up by the larger-than-life character Ariel, who took the bike to a man he described as the maestro. Amazingly within a week he had the bike going again having welded all sorts of things that would have never been attempted at home.
Jon, the Maestro, 2 other mechanics and Pete

Unfortunately Pasto, is not a very nice town, rather industrial and full of diesel fumes, or so it seemed. By the time we had arrived they were bored stiff, although Pete had managed to find a lovely local girlfriend. I ended up staying an extra day there, as the night work was somewhat debilitating. It was also great to see them back on the road again, and worth waiting for. They are now far ahead of me, as they needed to be back in England by the middle of January, having got down to the bottom of Argentina.

 I played tag with Chris and Marge going down to the Ecuador border , well that sounds like there was a hint of competition, but I can assure you that their BMWs had a lot more whizz than Batty, but we did catch up with them at various points, like the 2 hour border rigmarole.

 Batty needed some service work done, and having done a little research on, I went to find TecniMoto  in Quito, the capital. It very quickly became apparent that this was going to be a good choice of mechanic, as Carlos loves working on British and older European bikes. I have left Batty with him, whilst I go to the Galapagos Islands, to change the front forks, replace the primary chain, solve an oil leak,  and add two LED spotlights. The last items is very long overdue, as the alternator on the diesel engine does not giving out as much electrical chat as I need to run the front light during the day, so I haven't to date. It also means that driving at night is limited to about two hours before the battery is flat. The idea with the LED lights, which take about a fifth of the headlight power, yet are more powerful, will be to get around this problem for the rest of the journey.

As is the way with Batty, I keep meeting people, and in Carlos's shop a fellow client by the name of Carlos (it seems to be an almost de facto name here) appeared. A bit older than me, with a medical practice in the city, he said "let's go" and before I knew it I was on the back of his Africa Twin being taken to lunch, before a tour around the city. Now I, like many other riders, hate going on the back of bikes,  and I told Carlos this, "no problem" he said "I'm the same". 10 minutes later a very wobbly Harry got off the bike at the restaurant. It was here that he  modestly mentioned that he used to do a bit of racing. It subsequently turned out that he has been the national champion on bikes from 350 to 900 cc many times over. Very decently he realised my delicate character and for the rest of the tour took it very easy.

 The central Plaza in old Quito

In the evening we were joined by Carlo, Carlos's brother-in-law, and we went for dinner, followed by an abortive nightclub visit. I was honoured to be included in all this and terribly grateful of course, but this generosity did not stop there. A plan was made for the next day to go up to the top of the local volcano that overlooks the city on a fairly newly opened cable car, to be followed by lunch  with Carlos's ex-wife's.
Carlos, Carlo and H

A few of Carlos's trophies

The view down over Quito from the Cable car
At the funfair at the bottom of the cable car, the 2 Cs wanted to be hurled 300 ft into the air in this capsule. This chicken volunteered to be the photographer.
  Lunch with Silvana and her sister Janet, was a true feast. Carlo's flight back to his home in Italy meant that the three of us had to eat before the others, and we were waited on like kings with mouthwatering delight after delight.

 Janet and Silvana.
  There was a conversation about why my trip was called vegibike etc and quite out of the blue Silvana said "10 years, that's all we've got left before mother nature really turns against us" after we had talked about some of my worries concerning man's out of control consumption and the fragility of the environment. Then she said that her grown up children had told her that they were not going to have children themselves, because the world would be a horrible place for them to live. I was a little taken back by these extreme takes on our future, and I do not share them particularly, being much more optimistic about man's ability to arrests his environmental wrongs, whilst developing technologies to live sustainably. But it was rather enlightening to hear it from professional people on the other side of the world.
 Gargoyles on the side of the cathedral, many of them were of Galapagos inspired.

Oswaldo Guayasamìn is the contemporary art hero in Ecuador, and after a bit of "tuning in"  really 'got it' and delighted in my time surrounded with his work.

 Tomorrow morning I head for the Galapagos Islands. I had been in two minds, not only is it way out of travel budget norms, there was also a concern about being party to the contamination that the islands are suffering because of too many tourists. Research only satisfied me that the very controlled tourism was doing as much to protect the islands as it is harming them. I suppose when I get back I will know if it is been a mistake or not, but I don't suppose I will be coming this way again soon and to see one of life's cradles in overt clarity will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.