Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 25 Jan 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970125.rpt
Sunday January 19
We drove in the Mitsubishi through the village of Isnos to the Salto de
Bordones, a spectacular waterfall. Along the way we gave a ride to a
lady, her two daughters, two chickens, and a large cube of panela.
We then drove to two other archaeological sites, Alto de las Piedras, and
Alto de las Idolas. both of which were in many ways more interesting than
the main park outside of San Agustin. The latter of the two sites was
situated along a grass-covered mountain saddle, and included numerous
burial sites and statues. The burial sites are characterized by a rear,
stone lined chamber, guarded at the front by stone statues or pillars.
One stone statue, standing solitary near the center of the saddle, was
more than 12 feet tall.
In the evening Gerardo, Ronnie, and I went to watch the cockfights which
are held every Sunday night in a small building at the edge of town.
Admission was P500. Inside there was a small circular ring, maybe 30 feet
in diameter, with a dirt floor, and around it were three tiers of seats.
The seats on the first level were reserved for those gambling on the
The roosters, specially bred and trained, have the feathers trimmed back
from their legs and sharp spikes about 1" long are affixed to the backs of
their legs with a wax or glue and tape. The fight is generally to the
death of one of the birds There is a timer in the ring, though we could
not figure out exactly how it was used.
The two birds are paraded around the ring so the bettors can see them.
Then they are allowed to go at each other briefly before being separated,
again so the bettors can evaluate the birds. Then initial bets are placed
with a lot of money changing hands.
Finally the ring is cleared out except for the two trainers and the judge,
and the birds are held by their respective trainer, facing each other, and
released at each other. The birds immediately go at each other with a
frenzy, using their sharp beaks, and jumping up and kicking with the sharp
spikes on their legs. If the birds become entangled the trainers move in
and grab their birds, wipe any dirt or sawdust from the birds eyes, give
them a good-luck kiss on the back of their neck, and throw them back at
Eventually one of the birds begins to get the upper hand, landing a
crippling blow. The birds know to go for the head. It wasn't uncommon
for one bird to be disabled to the point where it was walking around in
circles, not really in the fight, but until one bird is down the fight
goes on. I'm not a hundred percent sure what the critereon for ending the
fight is. Several times it seemed like the bird could go on, but most
times the downed bird was clearly incapacitated. During the fight, as the
odds changed, more bets were placed and money thrown into the ring. There
was much cheering and routing for the bird being bet on. The crowd was
maybe 75% men, 25% women. In between fights, while the next birds were
being prepared, you could buy snacks and refreshments along the side of
I was glad I went and saw the cockfights. It is very much a part of the
culture in most Latin-American countries, and most medium to large cities
will have at least one arena. It's definitely a violent, bloody sport
however, and I don't have any desire to see another in the future. While
a bullfight, which I would go watch again, has a lot of pagaentry and
spectacle of the charging bull, the cockfights are more purely violent.
On the other hand one could argue that at least with the cockfight, the
two sides are relatively evenly matched.
Ronnie and are both leaving San Agustin tomorrow; both heading to Quito
ultimately. I give him the address of the South American Explorers Club
clubhouse there where we may contact each other if we're in the city at the
same time. Gerardo too is leaving, returning to Bogota. His friends however
are remaining in San Agustin, having found a house they are renting for a
month for about US$30.
Monday January 20
I leave San Agustin in the morning in a light drizzle and ride back
through Isnos, the Purace National Park, and Coconuco to Popayan, dirt
road almost the entire distance. From Isnos, most of the way through the
National Park it rained off and on, making the road quite muddy and
slippery, and preventing any view of Volcan Purace. At one point, while
completing a pass of a car, the backend kicked out on the muddy road, and
only a well-placed dab saved it.
Between the National Park and Coconuco were several spectacular road-side
waterfalls, plunging down the green mountainsides, and Coconuco itself had
a backdrop of a waterfall spilling down the mountain above the village. I
debated spending the night in Coconuco, since there are some hot-springs
just out of town, but in the end decided to put some more miles on today.
I continued on through Popayan, finally stopping at a small roadside hotel
in a small village between Popayan and Pasto. The whole village was
having water problems, and when I left the next morning there was still no
Tuesday January 21
In the morning before leaving I checked my front brake pads and discovered
that two of them were feathered right down to the backing plate.
Fortunately when I put this set in in Guatemala, I had kept the old set,
so now I dug out the old set, found two that had about a 1/16" of material
left, and put those back in. I sure hoped the new sets of brake pads that
I had Paul Thompson and Cal BMW send me, were waiting for me in Quito when
I arrived. I was also glad, that at the last minute I changed my mind and
had them sent to Quito and not Lima Peru.
Just before the Ecuador border I detoured 7 km east of Ipiales to visit
the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Las Lajas. As one approaches along the
road from Ipiales, and looks down into the canyon, one sees this immense
church, set on a bridge spanning the Rio Guaitara, a beautiful sight. At
the village, as one walks down the stairs into the canyon to the church
below, the walls along the sidewalk ans stairs are covered in small
plaques asking for blessings from the Virgin. The walls are literally
plastered with these plaques. Thousands and thousands of them. If not for
the sheer number and their intent, they would be a blight on the natural
beauty of the place. The church itself is of Gothic style, with the rock
face of the canyon forming one wall of the sanctuary behind the altar.
The facade of the church faces a plaza extending across the bridge to the
other side of the canyon. On the canyon wall facing the church a large
waterfall drops to the river below. Kind of a magical setting. The
Sanctuary is supposedly second only to Lourdes in the number of miracles
claimed for it, though the church recognizes only one, and every year
there are pilgrimages to it from throughout Colombia and Ecuador.
I grabbed some lunch in the small village by the church and struck up a
conversation with some men from Nieva who had seen the bike parked several
blocks away. With me in my Daytona boots, pantlegs tucked inside, it
wasn't too difficult to guess that it was my bike. One of them asked if
he could have his photo taken on the bike so when we finished eating we
walked back to the bike and took some photos.
The border crossing to Ecuador was very straightforward. Since I had the
Libretta, i just used it, though from what I hear it is no longer
required, and within 10 minutes was on my way.
About 100 km south of the border, while passing through Ibarra, a university
town of about 80000 people, I encounter another blockade, this time by
university students. Trucks, busses, and minivans are backed up alongside
the road. I pick my way past about half of them before stopping to ask a
truck driver what the problem is. He says the university students have
blockaded the road into town, but that it should open by evening. Ahead
there is thick, black smoke from burning tires in the roadway, and boulders
can be seen in the middle of the road. Another truck driver says he thinks
they will let me through. So I continue along the line of trucks to the
front of the line and slowly ride up to a group of students near the
blockade. I simply ask if I can pass and they say yes. However they want
to know more about the bike, where I'm from, and where I am headed and I talk
with them awhile. In the meantime a crowd of other students and young
children gather around the bike, which I'm still sitting on. I never am able
to understand what their protest is about. They finally waved me through the
blockade, but I believe a casualty of the blockade was my Kryptonite cable
lock. It had been locked but fastened to the back of my Givi topcase solely
with a nylon strap. Lateer that evening when I arrived at my hotel in
Otovalo, the strap was still there, but open, and the cable lock was gone.
Now it is remotely possible the strap came open by itself, but I think that
is extremely unlikely since those straps are usually very difficult to open
even with your hands, especially once they become a bit dirty. I think a
more likely explanation is that while the crowd was gathered around the bike
at the blockade, some young thief at the back of the bike noticed the lock
was held on only by a strap, and swiped it, even though the lock was locked
shut and was going to do him no good. I had carried it this way since
leaving California, but in retrospect should have had it looped around
something and then locked it.
I continued on to Otovalo, 32 km further south, where I stopped for the
night. It was dusk asI arrived, and I pulled over to check my guidebook as
to where the Resedential Isabelita was located. I knew I was in the
vicinity. A man walks by, sees me looking at my book, and asks what I'm
looking for. It turns out he ran the Isabelita and followed me the half
block to the hotel where he opened the gate and I rode the bike into the
Wednesday January 22
Otovalo is best known for it's huge Saturday market, when indigenous
people come from the surrounding mountains to sell crafts, livestock, and
produce. However even during the week Plaza de Ponchos is filled with
stands selling crafts, clothing, baskets, leather goods, weavings, and
numerous other items.
I spent the day in Otovalo, checking out the market area nad the town
plaza, but was feeling a bit ill with a stomach flu, and took a long nap
Thursday January 23
>From Otovalo it was only 121 km to Quito. On the way I crossed the
equator, which I witnessed via my GPS switching from North to South, but
was a bit disapointed not to see the monument or marker which my map
indicated would mark the spot. I had wanted to get a photo of the bike at
the equator. They were doing a bunch of construction in the area, so I
either missed it or it wasn't there. I was later told it was a very small
marker, if it was there at the time at all.
Quito lies at 9350 feet, the second highest capital city after La Paz,
Bolivia. It is set in a small valley at the foot of Volcan Pichincha, and
because of it's altitude has a nice cool climate, despite being only 25 km
from the equator.
I went straight to the clubhouse of the South America Explorers Club
(SAEC). The first person I meet is Rob, from NM, and after talking a bit
he says, "Are you the guy who was posting his trip reports to the
GS-list?" He had been reading them before he left the States in
mid-November. He is currently volunteering at the clubhouse, but will be
leaving shortly to go to Peru and Bolivia. He wants to do a trip like
this by motorcycle and had been looking at the new R1100 GSs. I advise
him to look into a used R80 G/S or even a R100 GS.
I check on my packages and find I have 2 waiting for me, one of which is
being held at DHL until I pay S100000 (US$30) duty, the other is from Cal
BMW and contains a catalog of Triumph accessories and a sales brochure of
the newly-imported-to-the-US F650. I'm somewhat baffled as to why they
went to the expense of sending these to me here in Quito until I find the
two spokes taped in the middle. I had asked for some front wheel spokes to
be sent and evidently they were sent seperately.
I have a name and number at DHL to call, and also an address from the
clubhouse files, but have to go elsewhere to make the call. While
wandering around the clubhouse I meet Don Mantague, the founder of the
SAEC, who just happened to be visiting at the time. He and I spoke
several tmes in the early stages of my planning for this trip.
While outside showing the bike to Don, Rob, and several others, Alex
Morillo, a bicycle enthusiast and tourist guide, who gets referrals from
the staff at the clubhouse, introduces himself and says I can stay at his
house, He quickly adds if I don't mind his mother, who he adds, keeps to
Alex is leaving shortly to go by his house and says I can follow him there
so I suit up, and follow him, in an old Toyota Landcruiser, the 4km back
north near the airport to the house where he lives with his mother.
The house is a beautiful brick 4-story house set on a hillside
overlooking thew airport. It is quite large and includes 4 apartments
which they rent out. Their home is on the top 3 floors and has four
bedrooms, 3 on the 3rd floor and one on the fourth floor. The 3rd floor
has a balcony looking down onto the living room below. From the 3rd floor
you can look out and see the planes landing. I am given the room on the
top floor, with my own bathroom. Alex gives me a set of keys for the
house and the gates in the surrounding brick security wall and asks that I
be sure to lock everything each time I leave. I've known Alex for less
than 3 hours and have complete access to his house with permission to come
and go as I please. This is typical of the generosity and trust of people
I meet along the way.
The first thing I do is call DHL to confirm they still are holding my
package. They are and say that they can deliver it here this afternoon
if I have the maney to pay the duty. Of course, since I haven't gone to a
bank or ATM machine yet in Ecuador, I don't have S100000 and I don't want
to use my dollars, so I tell her I will call back in about an hour after I
have the money. I ride back downtown, using my GPS to record the route so
I can find my way back. I find an exchange house were I can exchange my
remaining Colombian Pesos at a better rate than at the border. That gives
me enough to pay DHL, so I return to Alex's, call DHL, and then wait for
the package, which arrives about 5:30. No shiny red and white DHL truck
like you always see in the DHL advertisements. No sir, not here in Quito.
It got delivered in a beat-up blue flat-bed steak truck.
Ahhh, nice new, thick brake pads, two complete sets. One set is Galfer,
which I've been using so far this trip and wear like they're made of soft
butter, and the other set is Ferodo, which Kari says are harder and will
wear better. We shall see.
The other covetted items in the package were a new modem cable and a new
AC power adaptor for my palmtop, both items to replace those stolen in San
Jose Costa Rica. There were also several maps for Peru, Chile, and
Argentina which I had asked Paul Thompson to send me from home.
Thanks again Paul, and Cal BMW as well, for getting this stuff to me here
in Quito. It's great having a support crew back in the States. In fact
it's invaluable, if not necessary.
I called my Mom, to arrange the sending of documents I had to sign and
have notarized regarding the fraudulent charges on my stolen credit cards.
She said she'd send them by DHL and I should have them by Monday or
Friday January 24
Today was a day for doing errands, and I was happy to get four major
things done. Before leaving the house I installed the new Ferodo brake pads.
I had gotten less than 5800 miles out of the last set of Galfers! Incredibly
lousy wear rates. I dropped off my laundry first thing and they promised it
by 6pm. Then I stopped off at Tie Die, a local dirt bike shop Alex had shown
me yesterday on the way to his house. Alex used to run a bicycle shop
next door until he discovered there was more money to be made in the
tourist guide business. I was due for an oil change and surprisingly the
only oil they stocked was Mobil 1 Synthetic. High class outfit. I changed
my oil in their work area. There were about a half dozen late model
XR600Rs, some KTMs, and an assortment of other brands in the shop.
Surprisingly they had no decent tires in my size, front or back. They did
have an IRC rear but I decided to wait for the moment.
They gave me directions to Clinica de Motos, another cycle shop Alex had
mentioned, and I rode there next. It was closer to downtown. They had a
Pirelli MT60 rear for S337500 (US$112), which wasn't a bad price. It's
about what you'd pay in the States for a Pirelli.
My philosophy is to always buy the best tire I can find, regardless of the
price (within reason). My experience is that the better quality always
makes up for the increased cost. Several weeks later in Banos, Ecuador I
would meet a German biker on a KLR650. He had bought a cheap Taiwanese
rear tire for US$30-40, but after only 800 miles it was almost shot. One
good name-brand tire would have got him farther than five of the cheap
tires and cost him less, to say nothing about having to change the tire 4
The same goes for tubes, as I always try to buy the heavy-duty Michelin or
Metzeler Enduro-Cross tubes. They're made of thick, high-quality rubber
and are very resistant to punctures. I carry one of those tubes, which
did get a puncture and which I've repaired, on the back of the bike around
the Givi topcase, and the locals are always commenting on how thick the
My front Bridgestone still had a lot of tread so I decided to go with it
till Lima or Santiago, Chile and try to replace it there. I was lazy, so
rode a couple blocks to a tire repair shop, where I removed the rear wheel
and had them mount the new tire. That cost me US$1.60.
On the way back to Alex's I stopped off at a store and bought a sponge
and some other cleaning materials. At Alex's I washed the bike. The
right side base gasket continues to leak, a bit more than a seep, but
still acceptable and I'll live with it unless it gets really bad. I do
have spare gaskets with me but am not inclined to change them unless it is
Saturday January 25
In the morning I adjust the valves. The right side valve cover gasket has
a slight tear around one of the small outer mounting stud holes which
allows a bit of seepage along that stud, but it's minor and I decide not
to replace it with my spare. I am a bit shocked when the main center stud
on the right-side valve cover seems to pull out a bit when installing the
cover. I remove the cover again to look at the stud more closely and it
does indeed appear to be coming out. I had helicoiled this stud before
the trip. I am able to thread it back into where it should be, and decide
to carefully install the cover and watch for signs of leakage or further
problems with the stud. I'll have to be very careful with that nut the
rest of the trip. On the other hand, if I'm going to have to repair it,
doing it here in Quito would probably be the easiest place.
Alex is an inveterate tinkerer like me. He has built numerous recumbanent
bicycles himself and his current project is a cross between a mountain
bike and a motorcycle, except electrically powered. He just got the frame
back from the welders while I was here. The front forks and suspension
are off-the-shelf commercial mountain bike units. The rear suspension is
via a single hydraulic shock behind the seat. The handlebars resemble
clip-ons from a racing motorcycle, giving the rider a crouched forward
seating position. He plans to implement the electric drive by magnets
mounted on the perimeter of the wheels and coils which are electronically
switched to provide the motive force. In principal it should work, but
I'm not sure that he'll be able to achieve the speeds and torques he wants
with his constraints on weight, wheel size, and packaging size. He's done
a fair amount of research on it and has information on similar designs
used elsewhere, but his approach is tinker and try since he has no formal
engineering training. However he has a library of technical books on
subjects ranging from aerodynamics, to race car design, to solar and wind
energy, which rivals mine at home.