Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Final Episode: Colombia to Ecuador

Well here we go: the LAST blog post for The Matt, Atley, Ferg and Wendy Show! As I write this, Atley and Wendy pedal hard to the south of Peru, towards a potential motorbike buyer. Ferg rides the glorious waves of the Ecuador coast, patiently awaiting his bike buyer. And I am in central Ecuador, sorting out an oil leak and more mountain roads. It’s been a long time since the glory of Draper Road in Fort McMurray, Canada. We picked up The New Guy in Vegas, Wendy in Panama and many others made legendary appearances along the way. But now we have gone our separate ways, towards the next chapters of our lives, with the power of accomplishment coursing through our veins. A sad end for sure, but we’ve all got plenty to look forward to, and so much to reflect on. Entonces, I shall hit rewind on this VHS thingo and take it from the top. The place, Medellin, Colombia. The time, 3 weeks ago. Grab yourself a huge bowl of popcorn chums; this is the final episode of The Matt, Atley, Ferg and Wendy Show.

He's really put some girth on those limbs during this trip eh?


One final jump for joy...

Looking a little like Ray?

Wendy with short guy from short boat.
Medellin is a city that has only recently risen from tragic times, into a fascinating, relaxed, and trendy city. 20 years ago there were car-bombs, shootings, grenades and tragedies, but the government has managed to push the violence far back into the remote mountains, and the city is now thriving in comfortable squares adorned with funky street art, a very modern train system and kick-ass motorbike stores. The Kawasaki dealer there (called Kawasaki 10 because it’s on 10th Street) helped us out with all the parts we needed, installed Ferg’s chain while we waited, troubleshot my bike’s annoying electrical issues and let us ride their awesome machines, just for the joy of it all. Danny, the owner, has been a co-host on a weekly live TV show for 8 years, and invited us onto the show to be interviewed about our trip. We wheeled Ferg’s bike into the studio on a Friday night, and had a great time being interviewed on Colombian TV, along with some models and musicians. We supplied them a few of our blog videos and photos ahead of time, and they played the videos as introductions each time the show came back from a commercial break. It was super exciting to rock the nation of Colombia with our travel adventures! Alas we’re yet to get our hands on a copy of the episode, but when we do, we’ll put it straight up on this page.

The set on Enferrados, Danny's show on Colombian TV

Life as TV stars. It's ok I guess...
Random coastal scene from Ecuador
One night at our hostel in Medellin we invited fellow Australian and Intrepid Dual Sporter, Trevor, over for a beer. As we were waiting, someone had the thought that maybe we weren’t allowed visitors at the hostel. I went up to the front desk and told them that my uncle was coming to visit me, and was it ok if he came in for a beer. Thus a nickname was born, and Uncle Trev has enjoyably crossed our paths many times since. Here are some of his adventures: http://www.yamahasupertenere.com/index.php?topic=5583.0 Another of our recent motorbike travel companions is the ever-humble Kornelius Martin, a seasoned yacht captain from Australia, who’s very successfully trying his hand at transcontinental motorbike travel. Perhaps you might have heard of Kornelius’s son, Jesse Martin, when he sailed solo around the world in 2000 at the age of 17. And 2 more good friends of ours we’ve been crossing paths with in South America with are Rosie and Kari from Ontario Canada, Kawasaki die-hards to the bitter end. Check out their adventures here: http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=885887

Uncle Trev handing out rum shots while on top of a mountain. Pretty standard.

Uncey T and Kari performing non-forum based communication. Not standard. 
 We timed our exit of the city to be on a Kawasaki 10 ride day, and departed the city in style amongst 30 other bikes. We had an awesome day riding south through the Colombian Andes with the huge group, and the three of us each had a chance to ride the sexy 2012 Z1000 sports bike. I fell in love with the incredible power-to-weight ratio and tested the bike extensively on the twisty roads we traversed. All the riders in the group were very pleased to have some international travellers with them, and were very welcoming toward us. Thanks everyone, especially Danny and Kawasaki 10!

Many many bikes getting ready for a ride day

Ride day for Medellin Kawasaki.

1
2012 Z1000.... is........ so..... awesome....... !
After a meaty lunch on the group ride day, we peeled off and headed to Salento, a small town in the coffee growing region of central Colombia, as per Elske’s 7th commandment. It’s a lush, green, mountainous area and we savoured the cool weather with boxes of Argentinean wine by an open fire and turned a wad of hostel business cards we’d artfully turned into a deck for boozy evening gaming. While checking into our cool hostel, pleasantly located on a mountain ridge, we spied two Dual Sporters slinking towards us. They were dead obvious in their rainproof pants and ruffled hair style, eyeballing our farkles and dreaming up future forum posts. After a few minutes chatting, it turned out that we’d already heard of Ken and Ebru, and they’d heard of us through the incestuous Adventure Motorcyclist grape vine. Once settled in, we shared adventure tales long into the night, about fork oil viscosity, spoke tightening techniques, hostel bathroom water sourcing methods and Ace of Base’s body of work from ‘87-‘91. Ken and Ebru bought their bike in Chile, and have done a 30,000km+ journey through South America, including a 4 day jungle mud mission through the Amazon in Western Brazil, which earns them the rank of Epic Adventurers. Check out their glory here: http://www.2fortheroad.co.uk/

Our South American riding buddies, from left: Kon, Kari, Ebru, Ken and Trev
A very clear pool in Peru
From Salento we motored south to the city of Cali, and stayed in Motolombia Land. Mike the owner, runs a motorbike touring company and a hostel, and his internet forum fame has made Motolombia a stopping point for every Dual Sporter who’s ever considered upgrading their doohickey. He patiently helped us out with various requests, and took our photo to be amongst the thousands on the Adventure Motorcyclists wall of fame in his hostel. Having been touring Colombia on motorbikes for 5 years now, Mike advised us of some excellent routes ahead of us, and we wisely took heed. When we left Cali, instead of sticking to the mouldy-old Panamerican down to Popayan, we turned off onto faint dotted tracks on our maps, to be rewarded breathtaking mountain views from a rocky, steep, twisting dirt road that crossed several ranges, went through several tiny, staring villages, and eventually back to Popayan. Massive win! It was another fantastic ride day, and we’ve got Motolombia Mike to thank! Go rent some motorbikes off him and tour Colombia! T-t-t-t-today Junior! www.motolombia.com

Another awesome day on the adventure roads on Colombia

The New Guy takes some time out to relax curbside
Popayan is another Spanish Colonial town, with white washed buildings, a big centre square, cobblestone roads and literally thousands of Colombians - all speaking Spanish too! Using our cheap hotel there as a base of operations, we ditched our bike luggage and did some day trips in various directions. Trevor and I unknowingly headed into FARC* country and enjoyed their hot springs and fried chicken. We scouted out the start of a back country adventure route towards some ancient stone carvings in San Agustin, but were advised by an informed local that there had been some FARC activity on the road, and in the town we’d had the chicken in, the week before. So we neglected to push into the jungle, and stayed on the main road.

*FARC is one of the Colombian guerrilla armies that have been battling the government and army for the last 70 years. They have been pushed back into the mountains now, but they are still actively at war with the Colombian Army.

Trev and Matt exploring the remote Colombian mountains

Sometimes, not often, we walk places.

A local bus in southern Colombia
Atley, Ferg and Wendy had pushed on into Ecuador while Trevor and I were FARCing around. They toured the huge church at Las Lajas, and as a measure of just how awesome it is, Ferg said, “Even I found it interesting!” I rode the last couple of days of southern Colombia solo, and was in a constant state of awe at the mega scenery that the Panamerican Highway cuts through and over. Massive mountains, gigantic gorges, tunnels cut through mountain rock and striking vistas that would possibly make a normal person thrash their arms about and potentially hurt themselves, from the emotional overload garnished from the enthralling landscape. Every local I spoke to, while pausing for a photo, was very pleased with my appreciation for their land.

Did you say scenic?

The Pan-American Highway in Southern Colombia is simply amazing.

I'm sure many people have crashed on this road, with views like this off to one side...

Las Lajas church

Las Lajas church
The border crossing from Colombia into Ecuador was exactly the same as all the Central American crossings. There were local men lingering, tattered laminated cards dangling around their neck, offering advice on which building to go to next, hoping for a tip. There were ratty English backpackers, wiping at their noses and glancing around nervously. And there were customs officials who didn’t give a FARC. But it’s old hat for us now, and we all swished through with little bother. I bought a month of obligatory motorbike insurance at the first town I came to, for the agreeable sum of $3. Premium gasoline here costs 50c/L and you can buy a plate of rice, beans, meat, salad, with a bowl of soup and a glass of freshly squeezed juice, for $2.50. Ferg is in heaven.

We finally made it to the equator!
In Quito, the capital city, Atley, Ferg and Wendy holed up in a nice hostel and spent a few days Looking At Things, playing pool and generally just taking it pretty easy. Fergs front tyre had started to resemble Bruce Willis' head, so he and Atley moseyed over to see a local moto-tour company to discuss route options, contemplate front sprocket sizes and most importantly to see if Ferg could swindle a used tyre out of them.
Cort, the tour dude, was pleased to oblige, and offered tales of twisty roads, piping hot black coffee in tiny cups and a used Pirelli for five bucks. Following the highly successful mission the gang ventured out into the big bad world to go be tourists. The city of Quito lies beneath a towering mountain range, and for a few bits of silver you can catch a cable car up into the clouds. At the top they were greeted by a British news crew and interviewed on the dangers of Ecuador. Tune in to World News on BBC1 on the first of June if you're missing our smiling faces.


Atley near horse.
Using the route programmed into Atley’s GPS from the touring company guy in Quito, we putted to the edge of the city, to find ourselves at the start of a slightly wet dirt track, heading up a mountain-side. We paused momentarily to push our proverbial glasses up our noses (Ferg literally), then hit the track at maximum rpms! With Wendy twisting her fingers deep into Atley’s kidneys as a sign of her complete satisfaction! We quickly found ourselves in remote, foggy mountains, and we barely saw a soul for the next few hours. But the riding was good and jungley, and we’d committed to wherever it was taking us, so we pushed on with rumbling stomachs until we popped out on a main highway at 2pm. The first food place we found promised trout. “How far are we from the ocean,” we all thought. Then the grinning owner lady beckoned me out a side door, to show me her husband plucking 4 flapping and very much alive trout, from a huge cement trough. She then led me into the backyard to show me their huge trout farm that they’ve been working for the last 20 years, with thousands of trout swimming around in many different tanks. Needless to say, lunch was delicious, and made me wonder what was happening on the Clearwater River in Fort Mac.

Churchy bank building in Popayan, Colombia. Maybe.



We ended up staying at a hotel about 40km from where we started the day, but our mud-covered bikes were proof of a successful day of adventuring. The following day we attacked the southern leg of the Quilotoa loop, to visit the crater lake of Quilotoa Volcano. On the road there we were very surprised to bump into Patrick and Janika, a Dutch couple on bicycles that we’d sailed from Panama to Colombia with. We gazed at their pedal bikes, their bulging thighs, their heaving chests and the enormous valley we were in, and happily flopped our skinny limbs back onto our motorised machines, to go buy burgers. Alas up at the volcano they didn’t have burgers, they had guinea pigs threaded onto metal rods, being hand twirled over barbeques by wrinkley, nodding locals. I imagined plunging my pointy teeth into the well-cooked critter, but found my legs involuntarily walked me away, so I followed the others up to a cheap restaurant serving chicken and rice, while trying to avoid the man’s nodding disappointment. The sky that day was bleak and overcast, making the water of the crater lake murky and dreary. We didn’t stay long at the 4000 metre high lake, and hit the wicked mountain curves again for more amazing riding, with Led Zepplin cranked on my iPod.

Volcano posing

Mmmmmm barbecued rat!
Taking a break at 4000 metres is tiring in itself.

Trying out Patrick and Janicka's bikes
The next notable town we found ourselves in is called Banos, which translates to toilets in Spanish. This is probably because the town lies at the foot of a 5000 metre high and very active volcano, which can shit on them at anytime. The popular gringo thing to do in that town is rent mountain bikes and ride along the river, downhill, for 20km, then catch a truck ride back into town. We joined forces with other people in our hostel to form a bicycle gang of 9, and did just that, ending at a very high, very violent waterfall called El Diablo. On the way we rode a cable car over the river gorge for a dollar, which was powered by the innards of truck, bolted to the edge of the cliff.

The 5000m high, active Tungurahua Volcano in Banos was just amazing. We saw lava flowing down it!

Banos is marketed as a bit of an extreme sport hub. So Atley and Ferg did a bridge swing. That's where you jump off a perfectly good bridge, with a rope tied around your feet, and then swing around under the bridge, for $20.

From Banos we did our final group ride together, with my bike dripping oil and Atley’s bike dropping bolts, to the unremarkable town of Riobamba. There we went out for quite possibly the fanciest dinner of the trip, $10 steaks, then in the true tradition of many memorable nights of our trip, we had a rum party in the hotel room with Uncky T, while watching the great footage we have for the final video. It was a jolly last evening together and indeed a very sad lot of goodbyes in the morning.

And that was that.

The trip was finished.

Final Rum Party
We’ve certainly come a long way since Atley and I randomly came up with the plan to ride motorbikes half way around the world, during a Skype conversation from Canada to Australia, in January 2011. Over the coming months we assessed the feasibility of it, and decided that by July 2012 we could both be in a position to depart. Over those 18 months many things happened, as life does, but we managed to stick to our word, and leave it all behind. I must admit that over those 18 months I was constantly waiting for that spanner in the works, that would stop the trip. But luckily, and amazingly, we managed to get ourselves to Brent’s garage on Draper Road, Fort McMurray, Canada, on June 15th 2012, with the biggest grins in history! Inside that garage were 2 motorbikes, boxes of parts, tools, motorbike gear, camping equipment, and the potential for a trip of a lifetime. And sitting here in Ecuador 11 months later, I can say quite confidently, that we succeeded.
We crossed 11 international borders, rode 33 000 kilometres, made hundreds of friends, learned how to maintain, fix and ride motorbikes, learned how to speak Spanish (kinda), learned how to make awesome videos, and we didn’t get robbed, kidnapped, lost or scared. (Much.)

We did it.
Ferg joined us 2 months into the trip and immediately became as much a part of it as Atley and I. Together we ate, camped, slept, decided and acted. We picked each other up countless times, whether it be from a fallen motorbike or a crappy mood. We looked after each other when we were sick, drunk or upset, and sometimes all at once. We learned to read each others’ minds, finish each others’ sentences and at a glance know exactly how many minutes until I was ready to go in the morning (yep, I was last to get ready about 95% of the time: AGAIN WE ARE WAITING FOR MATT??? Thanks for that quote German Matt). We have formed bonds that will never be forgotten and will never be undone, and words cannot express how grateful I am to both of them for enabling me to have the best year of my life. And as a true test and example of their muuuuuy fuerte relationship, Atley and Wendy not only survived being apart for most of the year, but got engaged on a mountain top in Guatemala. Myself, Ferg and everyone we know, wish them the absolute best in their future together, and have no doubt that it will be another successful adventure.


There are so many reasons why most people can’t do a trip like ours, whether it be money, time, family, work, health, ability, comfort or interest, and looking back on it, I’m amazed that we could get all our ducks in a row just to start it, let alone finish it. It was a life changing privilege. Repeat that last sentence please, but slower this time. Perhaps we’ll never be in the same position again, to take on such an epic adventure.... though something tells me that we’ll be back on the mules again, someday, somewhere.

Bye! I'm going to back to whence I came in the lanky caverns of Atley!
We have so many kind and amazing people to thank for aiding us in our journey, and rather than write them all out and inevitably miss some, I’d like to direct you to the Thank You page on this site, so we can miss some there. We’ve been absolutely privileged to meet SO MANY AWESOME PEOPLE along the way, that we’ve made friends with, shared the road with, gone swimming, surfing, drinking, dancing, hiking, diving, caving, camping, riding, fishing, walking, tanning, shopping, sailing, eating and exploring with! It certainly is the people you meet that colour memories and we are most grateful to have had such excellent experiences. A special thank you goes to those who invited us back to visit them in their home country.

Peru mountains. I know I didn't talk about Peru, but that's where Atley and Wendy are right now, so they've slipped a couple of pics in from down there.

To quickly tell you our future plans at this stage, Atley and Wendy are heading back to Melbourne to save up for their wedding later on this year, Ferg is off to explore Europe with his sister, and I’m heading back to Medellin, Colombia to work for Danny as a motorbike mechanic for a few months.


See you all...... right there!
Although this story is now finished, don’t smash your computer and kick your dog just yet, because you just never know when you may be hearing from us again....

Thank you!

Love,

The Matt, Atley, Ferg and Wendy Show!


PS With us all separated right now, Atley has no computer to make the final video. So stay tuned for that too...

Later dudes.

5 comments:

  1. Top work team! Great reading the whole way through, i'm pretty sure i didn't miss an episode; even when i was living in Timor-Leste i made sure to tune in!

    E-motional indeed...

    Love. MD

    ReplyDelete
  2. Congrats on the epic journey! Goodluck with your new adventure Matt. Antonia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andy (& Amanda)July 31, 2013 at 5:41 PM

      Congrats all!

      Amazing, amazing journey. So glad you all made it thru it too, I was also waiting (not hoping) for something to derail your trip but dammit you guys did it.

      Keep going forever! Don't go back to "regular" life.

      Delete
  3. Amazing list of amazing journey. I've seen many of them on lists before, but there were also a good amount of new stations.

    Keep it up!!!

    ReplyDelete

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