So where does the name "Latitude Fifty Four" come from?
The final destination for this motorcycle adventure was the city of Ushuaia located in Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina.
The latitude of this city is 54° 47' South.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Day 109

February 20th, 2006: Cuenca, Ecuador to Loja, Ecuador

We took our bikes out of the lobby of the hotel this morning and did a bit more driving through the mountains again. I got a flat tire on a small piece of wood and we had to do an emergency repair on the side of the road. The bike was teetering precariously on the rocks we had propped it up on since the rocks were so soft they started crumbling away! We were pretty scared that the bike would tip over when the rocks finally gave way so we had to do a very hasty repair. It only took us a few minutes and we were on our way again! Other than that episode it was rather uneventful as far as storytelling goes, but the scenery was just breathtaking, so I will leave the pictures to do the explaining again today!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Day 108

February 19th, 2006: Chunchi, Ecuador to Cuenca, Ecuador

On the morning of the 19th we drove from Chunchi to Cuenca. It was very European feeling and we got some killer ice cream in a Dutch inspired restaurant. I also snagged a pair of runners at Payless Shoes. Go figure! There wasn't anything too eventful happening, but the city was pretty nice, so I'll just post these pictures up and leave the posting at that!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Day 107

February 18th, 2006: Salcedo, Ecuador to Chunchi, Ecuador

Today we drove through the mountains from Salcedo to Chunchi. Only a few minutes after we left Salcedo we saw the much talked about yet elusive cuy. Cuy is the Spanish name for "guinea pig". Those little critters that you see roasting on the spit are indeed sizzling guinea pigs. We, of course, couldn't help but dig in!! We particularly liked the little rotisserie unit they were spinning on. Okay, okay! We actually had roasted pork, not cuy, which is what you see us snacking on in the pictures. Aside from being a little apprehensive of eating them, the guinea pigs were $12-15 US each! To put that into perspective, our dinner in the evening was $2.50 which included two bowls of soup, a plate of meat, rice and beans, and two fresh papaya juices. No wonder it's a delicacy....those suckers are expensive! This particular restaurant also offered a typical drink of some sort called chicha, which is made from fermented maiz (corn), rice or yuca (kind of like potato). The closest thing that I can say it resembles is perhaps a cross between the taste of apple cider and mashed up corn, and the texture of pear nectar. In doing some additional research on it, I have just read that in some rural parts of Ecuador the fermentation process is augmented by human saliva. "Chicha makers (typically women) chew the ingredients and spit them back in the pot to brew". That truly concerns me a great deal, as I was just about to comment on my sampling of chicha out of an old Shell oil jug from a native out in the rural parts of Ecuador. It tasted much worse than the chicha from this morning...horrible, really, and packed a bit of a fermented punch to it, but I didn't have the heart to refuse her offer. Perhaps my kindness would have been ditched had I know that saliva was high up on the list of ingredients. In the mountains there is still predominately native populations. They wear the traditional clothing, which is often very ornate and colorful, but can be dark colors as well. They generally wear hats, but they seem to differ slightly in shape and colour between regions. We were very surprised at how small the natives were. Often fully grown men and women would be well below should level. We were told that perhaps their diet might have a factor in that. They plow the fields manually with bulls, and mules are used for labour as well. At this particular area we stopped to see them planting some type of grain after they dug through the soil with an old wooden plow. The plow consisted only of a metal tip that dragged through the soil. We talked with them for quite awhile, but it was difficult to understand at times because they do not actually speak Spanish, but Quecha. There are many differences between Quecha and Spanish, but a few things are universal, such as smiles and gestures, I suppose. After we said our goodbyes we continued snaking our way through the mountains. It began to get really cold up there and we were so high up that we started driving through the clouds. It was beautiful at first, but soon after we entered the clouds, they turned from mist to a blanket of fog. We were not only cold, but we were now soggy too, and our visors had fogged up as well. We had to ride with our helmets open so that we could see properly, and then the blanket of fog turned into rain. To add to the dismal scene the dogs in the mountains rarely see motorcycles so they absolutely honed in on us when we drove by. I counted 17 dogs that were dangerously close to becoming speedbumps, but that count only started after I clicked into the fact that a lot of dogs were chasing me. Since it was pretty slippery it was very dangerous to dodge them, so we just had to hang on to the steering the best we could and hope to outrun them. I also took over my dad's bad luck with animals and had an encounter with a suicidal donkey that decided to jump out infront of my bike. Thankfully I anticipated his move and was able to dodge him in time. But, by far, the highlight would have to be that it is currently Carnival in Ecuador. Carnival is some sort of festival that they have here, that is totally beyond my comprehension but somehow involves kids throwing water at people. I can see that might be fun in the hot lowlands, but a water balloon in the neck at a 100km/h when you're desperately trying to keep warm and dry on a motorcycle is not exactly cause for celebration in my mind! We stopped in the very first town we could find. It was probably the smallest town we have stayed in so far. They actually had only one hotel..which wasn't a hotel so much as a very small hostal. It was pretty spartan, but anything was welcoming by this point in the day even though I was really hoping for a hot shower so I could warm up a little!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Day 106

February 17th, 2006: Quito, Ecuador to Salcedo, Ecuador

On the 17th we left Quito, and back tracked a little bit north so we could official say we had been to the middle of the earth. At 0 0 0 degrees latitude there is a giant monument with a globe on top and lines painted on the paths leading up to the monument which designate the latitude. We stood with one foot on each side of the lines, so we could tell people that we've been in both halves of the world at the same time. My dad had a fun time trying to synch his GPS with the latitude showing on the wall. It was a rather eventful stopover since there were a few busloads of children and one very memorable family visiting the site. An older lady from Ecuador that was visiting the site with he family walked up to me and started saying "ahhh!! MILAGROS!! UNA CHICA... MOTOCICLETA!!!" (miracle! a girl! motorcycle! was the gist of what she was saying) She shook my hand, and even gave me a big hug followed by a kiss on the cheek. She was so friendly and her entire family kept waving like crazy every time we looked back at them. Then, when a group of the school kids walked by my dad said "Buenos Dias" to them and suddenly all in unison the entire group responded with a very excited "BUENOS DIAS!!!!!!!!!!" followed by nervous giggles. It doesn't appear that they get a lot of tourists in Ecuador, so the kids were very excited to practice their English on us by saying "Hello!" and "Where are you from?" every chance they got. We were taking some pictures infront of the monument when one of the children noticed and said "photos!! PHOTOS!!" Suddenly all of the kids were pushing and shoving to get infront of the lens. I also stepped in the group for one of the pictures. All the children were gathering around and a few of them tried to hold my hand or grab onto my shirt for the picture. It was really cute, and I think "those two strange people on motorcycles" will give them a little something to talk about when they get back from their school trip. After we had seen all there was to see we headed back south through Quito again, towards Salcedo. The drive ridden with stinky smoky diesel buses and trucks. Some even had two or three mufflers to disperse the smoke in all directions. Further into the drive, once we were a little outside of the city it was a much more pleasant drive. We drove through some pretty high mountains, and even saw some snow capped peaks of the Andes. In Salcedo we found a very nice hotel called Hotel Jarfi. They were nice enough to lock our bikes up beside the hotel so that they would be safe ovenight. We spent a good part of the evening chatting with the owner and the man that worked in the restaurant. Later in the evening we took a walk around the center square of town, and I snapped a few pictures of the cathedral which looked lovely all lit up. Then we headed back to the hotel and talked a little more with the owner and his son. The little boy wanted to see the pictures of the cats and dogs on our computer. It was hilarious because my Spanish is still horrible so I had a lot of difficulty communicating with him. We resorted to facial gestures and giggling, instead, and he tried to teach me a few new words. I showed him how to scroll through the pictures on the computer, and later he made a very colourful picture in Paint. We had a great time, and the next day we took some pictures infront of the hotel with the owner, his son, the man that worked in the restaurant and his bike.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Day 102 to Day 105

***Hey everyone! I'm on a roll now! There's more postings below too, if you haven't checked the site lately***
February 13th,2006: Flew from Tocumen, Panama to Quito, Ecuador
February 14th, 2006: Quito, Ecuador
February 15th, 2006: Quito, Ecuador
February 16th, 2006: Quito, Ecuador

On the 13th we finalized the plans to begin the South American section of our trip. We brought our bikes to the Girag Cargo Airline terminal in Tocumen, where we got some snazzy official badges that allowed us into the terminal area. We just had to show them off to the camera, especially since the last two days we showed up we skipped the security checkpoint by mistake so we never got the official badges. After the paperwork was completed we had to disconnect the battery, and then
drain the gas out of the tanks. When that was finished the bikes were loaded onto a skid whereby we waved them a sad goodbye and hoped like mad that we'd see them again in Quito, Ecuador. In the cargo area they had a brand new, plastic wrapped Maserati, so we felt a bit better knowing that the car would be more likely to go missing before two worn Kawi's. Another great highlight of the day was when the "snack truck" showed up. A man drives around the city with the rear gate of his minivan open, whistles a very distinctive whistle to alert everyone of his arrival, and you then you can pick what you want from the trunk. We bought two large orange juices out of McDonald's-orange-drink-style coolers, which turned out to be pretty darn tasty and sure were welcome in the sweltering heat. When we were finished at the cargo terminal, Nestor, the operations manager from Girag drove us to the Tocumen International Airport. It was very nice of him to drive us there, and we were very pleased with all the service we received at Girag. He even helped us bring our baggage into the terminal! Once at the airport we arranged the tickets for our own flight to Quito, Ecuador. We flew Copa Air, which is a division of Continental. The flight only took a few hours and we arrived in Quito, shortly after 9:30. The next day it was Valentine's Day, which they have in Ecuador as well. First thing that morning we headed straight to the Aduanas area of the airport to pick up our motorcycles. What a commotion that turned out to be! We spent a greater part of the day just trying to figure out where the offices were! The next day we went back again, this time to more seriously inquire about where our motorcycles were. After the ordeal the previous day, we smartened up and enlisted the help of an aduanas agent, his boss, and a lady that worked in the aduanas area where our bikes were apparently being held captive. Another full day of getting photocopies, running across town, and arguing with customs officials still got us nowhere. We were now up to 75 papers and photocopies thereof, and still no bikes, but we did get one little slip of paper with some cryptic numbers on it in return. Finally on the 16th, we asked the guy who's secretary was giving us hassle about what papers were actually required, joked a bit about eating Mickey Mouse, and shmoozed him into getting things into order a bit quicker. He was the key to the whole process, being higher up in the foodchain. What took 2 days of arguing previously was now done in 15 minutes over the lunchbreak of the secretary, who ended up in a cat fight with the other ladies in the office for not having things done properly. 86 photocopies later we finally had the papers we needed, and the last step was now picking up the bikes in the airport's storage units. The guy working at the storage unit said "What??!! You did all of this without an agent?!" "Yeah, and it only took 3 days!! Sheesh!"

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Day 97 to Day 101

*** Hi Everyone! Sorry for the delays in posting...We were busy booking flights and arguing with custom officials for a few days (I'll get into that ordeal later), and thereafter we were in some "interesting" places where Internet is not quite as available as elsewhere in the world. Sorry for the novel which follows, but it's been an eventful few days! ***

Day 97 - February 8th, 2006: San Jose, Costa Rica to Neily, Costa Rica

Day 98 - February 9th, 2006: Neily, Costa Rica to Santiago, Panama

Day 99 - Febrauary 10th, 2006: Santiago, Panama to Tocumen, Panama

Day 100 - February 11th, 2006:

Day 101 - February 12th, 2006:

After the bikes were all fixed up it was time to head towards the Panama border. We drove high up in the mountains. It was fairly chilly up there so we stopped for a hot cup of coffee at a small restaurant alongside the road, where the man working there agreed to take our picture. You can see the altitude (3100m) painted on the wall behind us. That evening we stopped in a small town close to the border and stayed in some funky cabinas that had a Chinese restaurant/reception desk combo. Over dinner I had what was supposed to be an authentic Chinese tea which turned out to be lukewarm water with gelatinous looking leaf globs floating in it. At first glance it was hideous, but thankfully it tasted much better than it looked. In our cabina we encountered the scariest looking shower insofar. There was a breaker switch which had exposed wires leading up to a PVC pipe with one metal knob of the kind generally seen only on outside taps. There was no showerhead, so only a solid stream of water came out of the pipe. End result? One very intimidating shower that didn't have hot water in the long run anyways! Thankfully it was fairly hot in that particular area of Costa Rica so the cold shower was bearable.

The next morning we were off to Panama. As per usual the border crossing was a bit of a headache. At this one in particular we had an even more difficult time since the border official was unable to decipher which photocopy of our documents went with which of the original documents, even though he could have simply matched up the names on the papers. He also did not understand that when we gave him two different bike registration papers, two different licences and two different insurance copies that it meant there were two different motorcycles. While my dad was off arguing with the officials a Panamanian police officer approached me and began to ask me questions about the motorcycle. I figured it was more trouble with the paperwork, but he started off with the usual first question of "how fast does the bike go?". The answers that I give never seem to be fast enough so I've gotten into the habit, instead, of just pointing at the speedometer (maxes out at 180km/h) and letting them draw their own conclusions. The second question, of course, is "how big is it?" (I guess size really does matter!) Although 650's are average, or even on the small side for Canada, most motorcycles here are no larger than 250s, including some of the police bikes. After asking a few more questions the police officer was on his way. We had heard that the police could give you trouble in Panama, but the officer was really quite friendly, and even thanked me for talking with him upon departure. When we finalized the papers we had to put our bikes through an insecticide spraying machine, (which resembles the wax part of the drive-through carwash) and drove away from the border reeking like pesticide. The drive through Panama was suprisingly desolate. There was not much after the border aside from a few houses, some gas stations and the occasional restaurant. It was a gorgeous drive, though, and we only had one obstacle along the way. A tree had fallen onto the road blocking the cars from passing. Of course, it only took a volunteer with a chainsaw, a few hands to clear the way, and one good semaritan to act as traffic cop before we were on our way again. In the afternoon we stopped at the only restaurant we had come across in a good couple of hours. We only noticed it after we passed by it, so we had to quickly make a U-turn infront of a no U-turn sign to return to the restaurant, whereby we realized that the car that was approaching was a police officer. He gave us a quick wave and was on his way. Phew! The lady at the restaurant was really friendly. She told us about her family, and also asked us lots of questions about Canada. We showed her a Canadian quarter and she said it was nice that there was a "chivo de navidad" on it (ie a christmas goat). She also seemed to our choice of the pelican on the loonie. She knew a lot about Princess Diana, and asked us our opinion on why Prince Charles would marry an ugly woman. She also told us that the drinking water in Panama was just as good as the bottled water, and gave us some samples to prove it. She was very kind and wouldn't leave our glasses empty after that! She even refilled our water bottles for the road, and we have to admit the gesture was very much appreciated! Shortly after we left the restaurant we noticed some very small shacks alongside the road. They were little more than a few poles, pieces of tin, or some plastic sheeting, but all were actually places that people lived. There are still very many Natives here in Panama. They wear very colorful dresses and intricately beaded collars around their necks. The Native population does not speak Spanish. The lady at the restaurant had explained to us the differences between certain words. We drove a little longer until we hit a very inviting hotel. The La Hacienda was a fairly sizeable and grandeur looking place, but the rate was reasonable by North Amercian standards and they even let us park our bikes up on the main entranceway so they would be safe for the night. Another highlight of the room was of course our 2002 TV which resemebled a giant soccerball and was even designated as the name in "TV for exciting sport". After Santiago we headed towards Tocumen which is where the cargo airport is located. We got a little lost on the way (ie were totally befuddled) and stopped at the Corridor Norte office. A police officer of some sort (there are about a handful of different departments with different functions) escorted us through the city and showed us the fine art of 'traffic weaving', 'cutting people off' and 'ignoring all traffic signals' while a concert of horns took place behind us. After we got to the main toll highway into Tocumen, he pointed us in the right direction and asked for a few bucks for gas. We were more than happy to oblige given we'd probably still be battling our way through the city to this day without his assistance! One thing that struck me when we passed by Panama city was that there seems to be a huge disparity in incomes here. There were giant skyrise buildings with all the amenties, condos and shopping malls, and directly below them just off the side of the highway is a small population of people that I suppose never relocated from the area when it was being built up. They have little hand carved fishing boats and live in little more than shacks. We stayed at the Airport Hotel in Tocumen, since we had a lot of asking around to do regarding shipping our bikes to Quito, Ecaudor, and we figured the location would benefit us even if the hotel wasn't quite worth the price. After we went to the cargo airport on the 11th we had a bit of time to kill so we got our laundry done at a small shack on the side of the road. We sat there for some time watching all the buses go by. All of the buses are painted in wild colours, have tassles hanging from them, and sport interesting names like "Amor Amor", "Siempra Mas", or "The Terminator". We even saw a "Fiddy Cent" bus which drove by blaring music, came complete with a picture of the rapper painted on the back doors and had ever shade of neon imaginable on it. On the 12th we made another trip back to the cargo airport to sort out a few more details, but we had a great part of the day to relax. We stopped for a bit of lunch in Tocumen, and my dad was the attempted victim of a pickpocketing. A man approached us wanting to sell us real Hugo Boos (no, that's not a really was genuine Hugo Boos!). The cologne, of course, is only the first introduction to his scam. He then pulls out the real gold chain, but it is a very secretive bargain so he must show you the necklace on your lap instead of placing it on your hand or the table, making sure to keep his hands moving at all times in hopes he can make a grab for the wallet. When we pushed him away he realized that it wouldn't work, so he tried to sit down beside my dad in hopes to get nice and cozy with him finally getting an opportunity to steal the wallet. Fortunately our scumbag radar was on full alert and the only opportunity we gave him was to walk away empty handed. After our eventful lunch we took a trip to the Panama Canal at Miraflores. We watched a short movie on the making of the canal, toured the museum and watched some very large boats make their way through the canal. The pelicans would sit and wait on the gates so that they could catch all the fish that became disoriented as the gates opened and closed. The Dole banana trucks pics are just for you Wendy. I know you would have laughed at Bobby Banana and his crazy antics. He skateboards, he plays soccer and he dances too! He's a banana of all trades.