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Published: September 23rd 2009
This might look like just a boring landscape but understand that i was just excited to be in such a big place once again.
I knew I had a long day ahead of me; over 500 km between Popayan, Colombia and Cayambe, Ecuador. At least 7-8 hours, plus a border crossing. What I underestimated was how spectacular the ride would be, how much I'd want to stop and take pictures or just slow down and take it in. Still, in the end that didn't slow me down half as much as the horrendous road conditions going through the desert between Popayan and Pasto. Pot-holes like empty graves, just waiting to be filled by unsuspecting motorcyclists...
It had been cool in the morning when I left Popayan, so I was enjoying the desert heat at first, but soon I began to bake as i sped through the dry, choking, windless heat. I hadn't been through terrain like that since Chihuahua in Mexico; rolling dry, barren hills. Those hills soon turned to quite formidable mountains as I emerged from the valley towards Pasto and all of a sudden I found myself shivering in the thin alpine air. Such is life on the road, although I expect that the upcoming weeks will see much more shivering than sweating.
The border was pretty uneventful. Surely that's a good
thing, but as I sat waiting for the paperwork to be finished in a comfortable customs office (it's a relative thing) I almost missed the excitement of Central American borders. The only problem was that it was over an hour before I got everything taken care of and 5pm before I got on the road again. I had about another 2.5 hours to go to Cayambe and I hate riding in the dark so I was really gunning it for the hour or so of sunlight that I had. The momentum kept up even after dark and I had to pull myself in check to slow down after practically rear-ending a police truck.
I pulled into town, shaking violently with hands so numb I could barely brake so I decided to pull off and grab a coffee before starting my search for Marco's house. (Marco is the Ecuadorean I'd been traveling with in Central America. Since we parted ways he'd made a triumphant return home and had attained quite the celebrity status here in Cayambe. While they couldn't offer me the same welcoming Marco had received - flower petals raining down, 7-piece band, radio interviews and so forth -
Must have been at least 1000 meters to the bottom of the valley...
it was a warm welcome nonetheless.) Just to pass the time while my eyes adjusted to the lack of movement I inquired about the address and was told I happened to have pulled over a block away from the house, so I headed right over. In no time I was at the kitchen table with a coffee and fresh humiditos (tamales) to warm me up.
As it was Saturday night, it wasn't long before I was back on the bike and cruising the strip, small-town, Ecuador style. Marco showed me around town and we pulled into a chicken joint to get a little deep-fried goodness in me before the night's festivities. Besides the owner of the joint, a handful of people came in to greet the world famous Marco and admire our bikes which resulted in us giving rides to a couple ladies, each unbeknownst to bothn of us. Marco later recalled who his was (she'd changed her hairdo) and mine was just some cute little girl, the former's daughter I'd imagine.
Soon enough, we'd had enough of such niceties and the "boys in the bright white sportscar routine" and hit the bar (not before putting the bike's
to bed). The joint was called Memories. As the name suggests it had a retro theme, something between Karaoke and the Macarena. Like any good small-town bar they had a organized dance routines to the tune of Camillo Cess (or whatever that dude's name is) and sappy sing-alongs to Silvio Rodriguez (Pau, eat yer heart out). But for eight golden minutes they played a mash-up of such classics as The Twist, Twist again, Shout, and, yes, Bend Me Shape me. It was the closest I've been to Retro Heaven since the last Chinatown dance party (long live DJ Duncan!). Then Silvio came back on and things quickly descended into drunken love-you-man-ing and endless reiterations of "this music hits me right here... Si o No?!" Si, Hombre. I hear you. About five hundred toasts (in five beers) later we made it out, but not before promising Danino, a lifelong acquaintance cum Marco's BFF, that we'd meet up the following day. Luckily the drunk forgot and we got to enjoy the sunday markets and festivities free of the constant drunken man-groping and reaffirmations that yes, "me and you are friends". Well there was a bit of that, I suppose.
Say Goodbye Colombia
Say goodbye, my baby...
...it's been short but sweet.
bother getting up too early, so when we did make it up to the market square we'd almost missed the boat. Or rather, the pig. Every Sunday, a bunch of women from the outlying communities break down full, roast pigs around the perimeter of the market square, one plate at a time. There must have been twenty of them. Marco hand-picked ours for superior cleanliness and lower fat-content (as she pulled apart the carcass with bare hands, elbow deep in grease). She had been through three pigs already and it was only 10:30am. We paid 1.50 each but by the time I'd burned through the plate piled high with pork atop hornado
corn and potato tortillas, I could hardly breath for being so full of delicious. Anyway, we headed back to get the bikes.
Cue the Trooper again 'cus the boys in the big bad motorcycles are back. The day before Marco had been informed that Tabacundo, another town a few kilometers away was "de fiestas" AKA they were celebrating the completion of the harvest and gonna git diggity down. So we saddled up and rode out there, but not before the requisite loop around Cayembe, of course. (a
Buenvenido a Ecuador!
Even though the first thing you see were armed DEA agents, it was still a pleasant welcome.
ritual we've repeated so much that I surely have the indelible rap of being "one of those guys" who cruise around and rev their engines). When we pulled off the highway into Tabacundo, I couldn't help but wonder where the "cosecha" at. As we drew closer to the center of town, things started to pick up, but until we reached the main square I had no idea how much of a treat I was in for. All of a sudden everywhere women in panchos and feathered bowler hats were fluttering to the tune of Andean flutes whilst men in bright whites and red bandanas hooted and hollered up a dust storm. We did a lap through the festivities on foot before Marco was struck with the bright idea to go ride into the fray and park our bikes in it's midst. I'm not a fan of showboating but I had to relent... when in Rome, do as vain Romans do, right? Anyway, the desired attention was grabbed and next thing I know I'm sipping on warm guarango
, a drink akin to mexican pulque
, and describing our Honduran esquipade to some of Marco's cousins. We ducked away to wash the earthy,
goat urine-y, flavour of the guarango
down with warm empanadas
and warmer beer whilst soaking in the atmosphere. Township after township rolled up each showing off unique styles of dress and dance. Each had a pickup-turned float with adorable children sitting atop massive speakers with florid displays of recently harvested goods packed all around. I must confess to succumbing to sensory overload; really can't describe how wonderful the whole spectacle was to watch...
All of a sudden I was grabbed around the neck by a slobbery drunk in a man-gropy fashion (see?). "Ponte, gringo!" he shouted and shoved me into a circle of women dancing. At first I wasn't sure what I was meant to do, but soon my new friend was hung around my neck once again, showing me the dance. Really there was nothing to it - easier than the poot shoot boogie. You just act like a penguin that's really excited and hop from foot to foot, following the woman in front of you. Everyone had a good larf and, I'm not sure, but after a few laps I think I was even able to leave the circle with a bit of dignity...
The bordertown of Tulcan
Marco told me it was a nice place, and indeed it seemed so but I had miles to make.
the whole ordeal, we went back to Cayambe and did a couple more laps around town, intermittently stopping to chew the proverbial fat with still more friends, family and admirers of Marco the Motorcycled. We went to the stadium to see if the match was still on but found only drunks begging to let them take the bikes for a spin. I managed to get by on the old "she's my woman - you wouldn't let someone else ride your woman, would you?" routine, but Marco didn't fare so well. Thinking he was being clever asked to see a motorcycle license but when one was produced was forced to watch his beloved nearly warble into every vehicle on the street. Eventually the drunk managed to pull her back around to a stop, amazingly, without dumping it or crashing into anything.
Afterward, we headed to what I'm quite sure is Marco's love interest's house. More laps around town square ensued, once again with ladies on behind. Rather than the shy, grinning little girl from the night before, this time I was landed in the death-grip of a late adolescent drama queen, squeezing and shrieking, feigning fright.
The latter part
One town's troop slowly descending
They were near the end of the line and had hours to go before getting to center stage.
of the evening saw me sleepily sipping more warm beer and sucking the marrow off of a cow ankle whilst trying to explain to Marco's friends why I love to travel. But I won't get into that with you...
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