The worst road in the world ?

Trip Start Jul 17, 2012
Trip End Nov 30, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Friday, September 21, 2012

    On leaving Bogota all the hotel staff piled out to have their photos taken one by one - not with us - with the bikes ! Managed to navigate our way out of the city (pop. 8 million so it's no picnic) on to the correct road south and pulled into the town of Nieva once we had done our miles for the day. Picked the first hotel we saw and unloaded our kit. It just looked like a busy main road with nothing really there but once out on foot there was a bank, cafe and restaurant all within 20 yds. Hotel 15 for the night was perfectly good with WiFi, Aircon, TV etc and the restaurant was perfect for what we wanted and just as cheap. Everyone continues to be friendly in Colombia and it's sad the country still has it's lingering bad reputation. Riding along the hills are getting bigger and I can feel the Andes approaching !  

     Our next objective getting to the Colombian border produced a day to remember. Leaving with a planned 270 mile day we thought it would be straight forward to get to our overnight stop of Pasto. Left at 9am and covered the first 200 by 2pm no problem. We then had what looked like a quick cut across country (according to google maps) to rejoin a main road into Pasto. Refueled and on speaking to the attendant and his wife (who wanted their photo and their kid's taken with the bikes as well) she told us Pasto was five hours away and made some shivering jestures. We also got the impression gravel was involved ! There was no alternative route so we pressed on through the next town having to ask many times for directions due to no signs. We then suddenly hit the gravel. Not nice flattened, even gravel but basically an unmade road you'd have trouble walking along -massive rocks, gravel, potholes - the works. We also had no money, no cashpoint within 70 miles and running low on water and having not eaten all day. Oh, and the bikes were borderline overheating from the constant 1st gear riding. Sounds familiar - how do we keep getting in this mess ! There followed the toughest riding day of my life along a version of the road of death in Bolivia. The road was used by goods traffic but was often only one vehicle wide and had lots of tight blind turns over the mountain pass with gigantic drops to the side and of course no armco. I was seriously worried my bike and tyres would not survive the battering. 25 miles up (2 hours), 25 miles down (2 hours) and then more griefy roads for the last 30 odd miles (another hour) so the woman was spot on. 11hrs solid riding and we rolled into Pasto 2 hours after dark, still faced with the task of finding our hotel. A really exhausting day but the views from the pass were great and I won't forget the riding in a hurry - retrospective enjoyment might materialise in a year or two ! The bikes really are showing their abilities and toughness (touch wood). GS stands for Gelande Strasse - off road - and it's proved what it can do. The Heidenau tyres appear to be made of Kryptonite too - that's the Germams for you.

    I looked up the road later on the internet and it is in fact known as the Colombian 'Road of Death' or 'trampoline of death'. I'm not surprised. I'd put it well towards the top of the world's most dangerous roads list - I guess I can add it to the Stelvio Pass in Italy, Trollstigen in Norway and Dalton Highway which both me and JB have already done but this road truly was in a different league. Also took the opportunity today to ride up a one way street the wrong way right in front of a police van. They just stopped and gave us directions. None of the police in Colombia have batted an eyelid at us apart from checking out the bikes and have all been nice as pie when asked for directions. There's also loads of army around but they also leave us alone. The best thing about Colombia though is all tolls are free for bikes - there's a special lane and you just zoom through.

    Ecuador was our 10th border crossing and on the approach stopped to chat to some cyclists resting halfway up a massive hill. They were from Holland and Germany and I think had joined up on the road. One had simply cycled off from Holland and had been going 18 months. Likewise at the border we met an English couple who had done Europe, overland to India and were now heading north from Buenos Aires having gone through Uruguay and Bolivia. We exchanged some info on routes and road conditions. We warned them about the road to Mocoa ! 

    We were soon following a taxi up into the hills near Otavalo to a mountain lodge at 10,000ft. A guest house to ourselves - beautiful inside and incredible views of the Imbabura volcano. The track up from town was a major challenge. Losing traction, bumping between ruts and getting bogged down on a fully laden 400kg bike is a bit of a handful ! But it was worth it. A day off is just what is needed and the surroundings couldn't be more relaxing - proper food for a couple of days will be good too - I've forgotten what breakfast and lunch are. The place is run by Frank and Margaret who have been in Ecuador for 25yrs and it's fascinating to hear about how things have changed - may be sometimes not for the better. We're treated to a four course dinner in the main guest lodge and I'm starting to think perhaps staying here for the next two months might be a good idea ! Spent some time planning our onward routes. Seems we should be about right timings wise - our big target date is Osorno, Chile by the 20th October where we will get the bikes serviced and new tyres before the ride into Patagonia. Also spent a morning on a horse ride around the local hills and spotted our first snow capped Andean mountain. Bit of an interesting moment when a cow got startled by my horse dragging it's securing rope taught right across the path at horse head height. That left me needing to do some extreme limboing to avoid getting dragged off the back !

    On the downside I'm feeling a bit under the weather again. I think a combination of travel weariness, dodgy digestion, the physical demands of riding every day, not eating properly and possibly the altitude has sapped my strength and I really do need a couple of days rest. My shoulders are permanently aching from the riding position and my ears ringing from the noise - woe is me ! The remaining miles in South America feels like a massive mountain to climb (literally in some places, I guess) and I do have moments when I wish I could just stop and fly home. The road conditions, navigation and traffic makes the journey feel like trying to run through golden syrup - very hard work ! Still, noone said it would be easy !
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Mark on

And the moment you did you'd realise what a foolish thing to do it was. Perseverance in the face of this "hardship" will be so rewarding at the end, knowing you can do it.

Focus on the wonderful part of the trip, the scenery, wildlife people and experiences and the thrill of doing something that only a handful of people around the world ever do and be proud.

v5rcb on

Thanks for the support. We've got every intention of making Ushuaia - it's a warts and all blog though - don't want anyone thinking it's a walk in the park !

cristina baker on

Not sure I can be as sympathetic as Mark! But I agree with his view. You are doing something that lots of people in the world never get a chance to do. So, stop your moaning, please. It seems that you are too busy focussing on the negative, and only the negative….

Looking forward to the next blog being from a happy, chirpy Rob!

Rick Scholey on

More epicness! I can really empathise with the long days in the saddle, sore shoulders and riding a GS on rough terrain. Just done 2k around Spain with the boys and we put some milage but thankfully oir roads were a bit better ( but 2 of the guys got hit for 100 euros each for a minor infraction) so really living your blogs.
PS bloody envious!!

v5rcb on

Glad you had a good trip Rick. Really impressed with the GS so far - but would be a lot more fun without full panniers, top box and a tyre on the back !

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