I woke up pretty early in Salinas on the third day of our Long May You Ride moto adventure. I slept well and there was a rooster that was clearly not going to shut up right out side the window, so I decided to go for a walk into town. It got pretty cool over night, I think it was only about 45 degrees when I stepped out on the small porch to glare at that rooster. The sun was already shining, and our itinerary for the day didn’t call for us to leave until 11:00am this morning. I had plenty of time to kill so I walked towards the square we had visited the night before for dinner. After all, this seemed to be the hub of this industrious little town. Along my way I passed this really friendly llama on the side of the road waiting on his owner. He was very interested in me and stared at me as I walked by. For some reason, the whole time we were in the Andes I felt compelled to speak Spanish to animals I saw. There are some pretty funny audio clips on the helmet-cam videos of various fictional exchanges with domesticated animals. I guess it just seemed appropriate at the time. So, as I wished this curious llama good day, I decided to snap a photo and he posed for a great shot.
When I got into town I walked all the way down to the bottom of the hill where I stumbled upon the chocolate factory. Well, maybe not so accidentally. As soon as I got close there was a delicious smell of sweet cocoa in the air. I’m not even a big sweets guy, but this smelled amazing. Like a warm, sweet, chocolate smell wafting out of this classic looking little factory. I didn’t really investigate too much, but I’m pretty sure I could have walked right in and looked around. I was interested in breakfast and coffee, so I went back up the hill to try and find a café. I think I must have seen three or more places that said they served breakfast and that they were open, but I would try the door and it was locked. One place a guy even came out and asked me what I wanted. I said “desayuno porfavor” and he simply said “no.” Again, this is one of those scenarios where your guess is as good as mine as to what the hell that was all about, but I do know that there wasn’t one place open that wanted to serve me some breakfast. So I returned up the hill to the hostel. Where, lo and behold… they were just serving breakfast. I sat down and they brought me some very strong coffee, which I gladly drank while I observed the whole dinning area fill up with buzzing, chatting, teenagers. Playing with phones, playing music, and teasing one another… I all of the sudden felt like I was in a high school cafeteria. It turns out that these kids go there from all over to work in the chocolate factory and they stay for a summer or more at this hostel. My my friends emerged from their rooms just in time sporting their Long May You Ride t-shirts, and we finally had some breakfast. Afterwards, we were packed and ready to roll by 10:00am. We figured that if we left early we would be comfortable with our timing for the day, even if we had some… unforeseeables.
It warmed up nicely by the time we had hit the road and we were happy to see sunshine and blue sky. The mountain roads in this part of the country were absolutely amazing. The views went for miles, with landscapes of vibrant color and mind boggling dimensions. Often times in the early part of the day we were so far above the cloud level that it created the illusion of a ground level, until you remember that you are in fact two miles up in the air. The ride planned for the day was essentially one long decent out of the mountains. We were riding from 12,000+ feet above sea level down to just 50. We would end the day in a totally different climate then where we were beginning, which I thought was pretty cool. We passed through a few small villages that we were told produce hand made cheeses. However, without any signs and with our lack of communication skills, we didn’t bother trying to track any down. We continued at a relaxed pace and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
I was leading the group down the typical narrow, dusty mountain road. Straight up on one side, and straight down on the other. All of the sudden my bike started to sputter and then just stalled. I coasted to a stop and was able to start it again, only for it to stall as soon as I gave it any throttle. The DR650 I was on is a nice simple bike. There really isn’t a whole lot to go “wrong” on you. It is a single cylinder, air cooled, carbureted motorcycle that just needs air, fuel, and spark. I was clearly missing one of the three. It had been very dusty on most of these roads. In fact, so much so that all of my clothes and bags were covered in it and puffed a fine powder into the air when ever I moved. So knowing this, I figured perhaps I should make sure my air filter is not super dirty or clogged. This, by no coincidence, was also an easy thing to check first. I popped the housing off and undid a few screws to take a look. Clean as a whistle. So then I put it all back together again. After that, I found the screw that goes all the way on the inside. Took it apart again, and once more put it all back together. This is actually a pretty standard operating procedure for me. Then I tried to start the bike, because of like… magic or something, I don’t know why I do these things. Obviously after changing exactly nothing, it didn’t start. Next on the list and also the next easiest to check, was fuel. I popped off the single fuel line, and fuel flows from the tap. I stuck the end that I had pulled off in my mouth and blew as hard as I could into the carburetor and put it back on. Started right up and ran like a champ. That my friends, is a master mechanic at work. I was back on the road, however we collectively realized that once again, we were all pretty low on fuel.
It was a good thing we left a little early, we already had one small set back and we were still right on time. We continued our dust cloud caravan of bikes down the winding roads, narrowly passing the occasional truck or bus. It was really incredible to me how the buses were able to climb these steep roads with tight switchbacks. There were so many times that I would see a vehicle and be absolutely baffled how it made it to its location having just seen what was the only way to get there. I have no idea how many trucks fall off gigantic freaking cliffs in the Andes, but I have to imagine that it is not unheard of. So seeing as there were a few trucks here and there on these roads, and many of them in varying states of repair, its not hard to imagine that some things fall off here and there. That’s what we told ourselves must have happened when we noticed that Daryl had a screw in his rear tire. Flat tire numero dos.
This was something that we managed to do quite quickly last time, so the task its self was not what raised the biggest issue. What was really unfortunate was that it was the Husqvarna that had the flat, because this is the bike that had an 18″ rear wheel. If you have read the account of the first day of this journey, you’ll remember that when my 17″ rear tube went flat I had to use the 18″ tube because of a bad spare 17. We now needed to remove the 18″ tube from my bike and stick it in the Husky, and then patch the old 17″ tube to go on the DR. Okay… two changes instead of one is a bit of a pain in the ass, but not impossible. What is in fact very impossible, is patching a tire tube without a tire patch of any kind. So we needed to get that sorted out, while on the side of a mountain, many miles from any towns or stores. While we were dismantling motorcycles in a tiny area of shade during the heat of mid day, I saw a guy coming up the hill on small motorcycle. I flagged him down and asked if he had a tire tube patch and he whipped one out of a fanny pack faster than I could finish the question. Almost as if to say “Are you kidding me? Who doesn’t carry tire patches??” Well this was a big relief, he gave us two patches and we gave him 5$. Again, he looked at us like we were out of our minds, but he put it in his pocket and took off. The next hour and a half was pretty boring. Unless sitting in the dirt using rocks to scuff an inner tube sounds fun to you, we can just fast forward to setting our chain tension again and hopping back on the bikes. A second passerby had told us there was gas “at the bottom,” so we continued to descend the mountain road. Two setbacks handled, and we were back on track.
We coasted down the steep decline, sometimes actually shutting the bikes off to conserve fuel and made our own dirt bike sounds out loud in our helmets as we quietly made our way to “the bottom.” It was getting warmer and more humid as we descended, but not to the point of discomfort. It was actually a really beautiful day, and the vegetation and scenery was changing. It was a really cool contrast to go from one ecosystem high in the mountains, all the way down to a temperate rain forest setting in only about 50 miles of riding. Eventually we reached what appeared to be… at least for the moment.. the bottom. There was no gas station, no town, nothing at all except for one small home and a fork in the road. There were some people sitting on the front porch of the home just watching the day go by, (which seems like a popular passtime in these areas) so we stopped to ask them where we could find gas. An older guy said something to a little girl, who then told me to come with her. I followed her to a little house where she asked an old woman if there was any gas. I guess grandma is in charge of the fuel in this family. She gave me a dusty plastic bottle with about one gallon of gas in it. We gladly paid them $2.50 for it which made their day and once again we took off for the next destination on our itinerary. The next place we were going to come to was San Luis de las Mercedes. This place had a motorcycle shop where we hoped to buy some more tubes and find a gas station near by as well.
We arrived in San Luis in the early afternoon and immediately found the motorcycle shop on the main drag in the town center. There were actually a few motorcycle shops which was not something we saw anywhere else. Also, there were a ton of motorcycles everywhere in town, even some that would be considered to be relatively “sporty” machines. There were two stroke bikes, bikes with loud exhausts, and guys flying around, going too fast, and showing off. No one was wearing helmets, there were babies and small children riding on gas tanks and even kids on scooters. It was cool. It seemed like there was a real motorcycle culture in this little town and less of a strictly utilitarian view of bikes in general. These guys were enjoying their motorcycles, not just using them for functionality. Needless to say, we were a big hit at the motorcycle shop and they really liked our bikes and our gear. We also managed to buy some spare tubes there, so we were smiling too. We hadn’t stopped for any food yet and we were all starving so we parked in town and found some delicious food that a lady was making on the sidewalk outside of her small store. It was some sort of roast pork with onion, lime, and corn. Out of this world flavor and very satisfying. I wish we could have stayed a little longer and checked out the town a little more. There was a river right through town with tons of kids fishing and swimming in it. Many people socializing in town and old men playing cards in the cafes. It had a lot of character and if I had to sum it up with one descriptor, it would be Badass! On our way out of town we stopped at the long anticipated gas station and filled up all three of the bikes.
After we left San Luis we rode on pavement for a little while and through lots of farms, but these were different than the ones we had seen up until this point. Instead of the steep hills with rocky pastures for live stock or rows of crops like potatoes, these were more like plantations or orchards. Huge flat sections on either side of the road growing things like cacao, palms, and fruits. We were riding pretty fast along the paved portion, and like I have mentioned in previous posts, I had no working GPS on my bike so I was relying totally on my companions for direction. There was some discussion at most forks in the road and intersections about how we might not be actually on the road the GPS was showing but we were “close” or “heading there.” Again, with no navigation tools of my own its tough to really explain what happened there… but we ended up getting a little creative with our route. This was partially because we may or may not have been on the wrong road, and partially due to needing to make up even more time… because the patch on my tire tube finally gave up and I once again was changing a tire on the roadside. So tire change number 4 was going well and as I was finishing up a woman came out of her house to talk to us. She asked where we were going and where we came from and if we needed any help. We told her that we were trying to get to Quevedo and she insisted that she direct us a different way than we had been heading. That sounded pretty good to us given our uncertainty of direction at the particular moment. I finished my tire change, confirming that the exhaust pipe is hot as hell by burning my arm on it in the process. Then we hit the road in a new direction.
The directions we had seem fairly straight forward and we were able to find our way relatively easily. We did encounter a very interesting toll both of sorts a long the way though. We had been riding a dirt path for a while and had seen almost no houses, and then out of no where there were a couple buildings on the bank of a river and a wooden bridge. As we approached a man came walking out in the street and informed us that we would have to pay him if we wanted to cross the river. Now at this point I’m looking at this river and this makeshift bridge and thinking that this is backwards because you would have to pay me to ride this big loaded down motorcycle across that. But, given our options we decided to pay the guy a dollar and give it a shot. A kid came out of the shack… I mean toll both… and moved the rope for us to pass. It was a little intense but we made it across no problem and we soon came to a sign which said something very encouraging. “Quevedo.”
By the time we made it to Quevedo it had just gotten dark. We stayed at a hotel called Hotel Oplimpico, which had kind of a weird vibe, but overall was pretty nice. We were tired, hungry, and dirty so we checked in took showers and got ready to go eat dinner. Quevedo is sort of like an industrial type city. Not much to see honestly, but clearly a lot of business going on. The Chinese have many investments in Ecuador at the moment mainly because they want some oil I was told, but either way, Quevedo has a large Chinese population. We were given the name of a restaurant we should go to and try some of the best “Ecuadorian Chinese food”. None of us felt like hoping back on the bikes, so we opted for a cab instead. When the cab arrived we got in and the cab driver asked us where we were from in perfect English. We hadn’t come across anyone who spoke English since we were in Quito so we were very surprised. We told him that we were from the united states and we wanted to go to this Chinese restaurant. He knew where it was and said it was very good and we started driving. We started some small talk along the way and as it turns out, the cab driver used to live in the US. Not only that, but in our home state of Connecticut. What are the chances? It doesn’t end there though, turns out he lived in the same town I work in now and he worked at a restaurant with a guy who now works with me. Yes, on the other side of the world in a random nondescript city, the cab driver and I had mutual friends. Crazy.
The Chinese food was okay. Honestly, I’m still not sure what the hype was about, but it wasn’t bad. We laughed over dinner and some beers about the crazy day we had and about how nothing ever seems to go as planned but it all works out in the end. We called our new friend the cab driver to come back and pick us up and he obliged. Back at our weird kind of, sort of nice hotel we enjoyed a night cap and then hit the hay for some much needed sleep. Tomorrow was going to be another long day that would also not go exactly how we may have expected. Thanks for following along, and Long May You Ride!