Friday, April 29, 2011

Salto Fraile (Jumping Priest)

This Priest was at least 65 years old!!!!!

Untitled from Shona Rubens on Vimeo.

The legend goes that a lovelorn priest jumped from these rocks to commit suicide rather than to face a life of celibacy without his true love. These days men dress up as Priests and jump off the cliff in order to entertain passers by and earn a few Soles in tips. If you ask me its pretty nuts to jump into that rocky mess! And this guy truly was pretty old! But good for him I guess...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Inka Kola

We finally left the friendliness of Ecuador and headed into Peru. Its
amazing what differences an imaginary line can create not only with
people but with landscapes as well. As we crossed the border we drove
from endless green banana plantations into desert... like serious
desert. And it began right when we crossed over the bridge that
separates these two countries. As Ecuador is on the up and up with
their new president (or so we were told by the people) Peru seems to
be slipping into disarray with an election in a couple months and only
the option to choose the slightly lesser of two evils. Some people are
even removing their money from the banks in fear that the new
president will freeze all their assets to divide equally among the
poor. In a world where Inka Kola rules over Coca Cola it seems
slightly like an upside down world.
That being said, as in all the other countries we have found amazing
beauty, even within the sandy desert of Peru's western coast.

A sign in the glass... It was too cute to let me pass it by without a

One snapshot from the cool city of Cuenca, Ecuador where we spent a couple of days. Thanks to Christian for showing us around!!

Leaving Ecuador... the very official Aduana station... 5 kilometers before the border

Its official!

Surprisingly there are some amazingly white sandy beaches on the coast. We began to think we were back in Mexico!

We stopped for Easter at the surfer's haven of Mancora, rented a surf board for a few hours and enjoyed the sun we had been missing for the past month! Easter is possibly the biggest holiday in Latin America and the Peruvians were out in full force!

Some of the simple dwellings scattered through out the desert. This was possibly one of the more luxurious ones.

More desert shacks

I wonder if they can hear the highway from that location?

Sand... Sand... and more sand... 1300kms to be exact.

There were some amazing rock formations along the drive

The scenery really was beautiful. This is on the road heading up to Huaraz in the mountains. Actually the Cordillera Blanca, the second highest mountain range in the world!! More to come on that epic section in the next blog.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Just Cant Wait To Get On The Road Again

We headed out of Quito and only had to turn back once to get a last
minute touch up to our axle. Our next stop was the town of Ambato
where we had been invited by Kim and Xavier of the Pichi VW club to
spend some time in their town! Its always awesome to experience towns
which you would otherwise not go to and be greeted by some friendly
faces, this time it included nearly half the VW club!

One of the girls treated us to a classical Ecuadorian song upon our arrival. It was great to see our little travel guitar getting well used by a classically trained guitarist!

How many Ecuadorians can you fit in a Vanagon? This time it was 12 but with room for a few more!

A small sampling of Xavier's wicked car collection.

Xavier very kindly gave us a van of our own for the dashboard. We were delighted to name it Bellita after Bella, the 1978 Combi of our friends Sarah and Marc who we travelled with through El Salvador!

On sunday we headed to Banos, a popular getaway town for the locals. On the way we stopped at the market town of Salasaca and watched the women bringing their goods in from the surrounding villages

A couple of the amazing waterfalls in the area surrounding Banos.

Heading to the waterfalls on a crazy cable tram with Kim and Xavier

Im not quite sure what "Motorcycle mountain bike horses" are... But I'm pretty sure I want one.

Back on the road, driving through some of the beautiful countryside of the Ecuadorian Andes

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Get 'Chur Motor Runnin

Great news! The parts finally arrived on Wednesday ( just 9 days after
arriving) so we could get down to work and get Kumu back up and
running again.

Transporting our engine Ecuadorian style to get out a broken bolt......

But before the engine could be put back together, all the parts had to be cleaned- and there were a LOT of them.....

Still cleaning.....

Diego torquing the engine bolts after the painstakingly long FULL day of putting the pistons back in the engine. Note Shona serenading the group. Its definitely NOT all work and no play with these guys...

Thus, after 3 full days, the moment of truth came- turn over the engine to see if we did everything properly. Sure enough, started first try. YEAH Diego!

Thanks to Buddha and the "Catso" VW club in Quito for hooking us up with Diego and his gang to do the repair - and of course for showing us a great time while we were here.

Diego and his gang... L->R Diego, Joselito, Christian, Santi.

Fixin' cars isn't the only thing Santi's good at.

Thanks very much to these guys for working so hard and putting everything else aside to get us on our way as quick as possible. They did a great job, and welcomed us into their home (the garage) in our time of need. We owe these guys big time.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Disfruta el momento

Disfruta el momento. Enjoy the moment.
When you are living and sleeping in the cluttered, smelly confines of
your mechanics garage, one may think that is is difficult to really
enjoy the moment. I have to admit, there are times when my heart aches
to be on the road with Kumu eating up the miles like she knows how,
just the two of us, exploring and drinking in all that South America
has to offer. That being said we ARE living in our mechanics cluttered
yard and we DONT have a working engine so like the old saying says,
"When life throws you lemons, you make lemonade". I LOVE making
We have definitely been making the most of things here in Conocoto, a
suburb of Quito. Surrounded by new friends, we have been learning
about their country and enjoying some of their past times. Our new
friend Juan, owner of the local VW club has been overwhelmingly
helpful. Not only did he help us realize a truly important part of our
trip by taking us to the Mitad Del Mundo (equator) he has taken us to
meet his friends, introduced us to the rest of the VW club, forced me
into singing karaoke, danced up a storm and most importantly taken us
to an insane national football (soccer) game (see below for more
details on that crazy night!!
Meanwhile, Diego, our trusty mechanic has gone over countless options
with us about our engine, finally settling on ordering parts from the
United States to be sent to a friend in Miami who would Fed-Ex them
here ASAP. He has taught Andrew many of the ins and outs of our water
cooled Vanagon, while keeping us informed on the local Ecuadorian
news. Diego and his wife Paulo kindly invited us to their children's
school to watch them in their pep rally and race around the block.
The other two mechanics, Santi and Jose, have been endlessly patient
as Andrew slowly talks to them in Spanish (which is improving
drastically day by day with these guys).
We are now regulars at a nearby internet cafe and have enjoyed many
walks up to the square testing out all the different Panaderias
(bakeries), and I have now officially seen all three original Star
Wars movies!
All in all, if we have learned anything from this trip it is to go
with the flow, for many times the best times are those not planned
days in advanced, but rather the ones you stumble upon unannounced and

The middle of the world!!!! After driving over 32000 kilometers we
made it to this huge milestone!

Watching the crazy goings-on in Diego's Garage. Putting a new ( okay, still old, but newer than the old one) body on a newer chassis.

Hey mom's! It could be worse!

Sophia (Diego's oldest) getting ready to cheer her heart out at the school pep rally

Diego and his kids Sophia, Martina and Juan-Diego after the rally

Which brings me to the soccer game. We watched two teams from Quito play in the National League. There are some pretty huge supporters from both sides, but we were on the "Liga" side. We started off the evening joining all the Liga fans on a long parade to the stadium. During the parade some crazy fans paint bombed the police! Spraying them head to toe in bright red paint!! We thought that might be the end of the night right there, but surprisingly nothing came of it, except for arresting the perpetrators, and the parade went on as planned.

Graffiti on the way to the stadium "I only want to live".

As we were parading the Liga soccer team drove through in the team bus, it was crazy to see the fanatical fans pounding on the bus and cheering them on.

The parade down one of the main streets

To give you a little perspective on the crazy fans here is a little video of the Liga team coming into the stadium! I think the Liga team fans were the crazy ones as on all sides of the crowd the police were lined with their full face helmets and big shields! The other team had hardly any police. We didn't sit down the whole game, and the Liga fans didn't cease chanting and cheering for one second throughout the whole 90 minute game!

At the end of the game, we tried to head out early and avoid the crowds. However, because there is so much animosity between the teams, they had to let out the other team first while penning up all the Liga fans for about 20 minutes so there wouldn't be fights after the game! We were right up front near the doors and the line of police when people started yelling and pushing, singing a chant that basically said "hey police, when you get home your girlfriend is going to be in bed with another man!"
Our friend Juan suddenly started urging us towards the mens bathroom and a girl in front of me anxiously said, "cover your face and mouth, they are going to spray gas!". We hustled into the bathroom and I looked back to see a night stick raised in the air. I held my breath for a few seconds before they opened the gates and the antsy crowd rushed forward, all problems evaporating into the night.

As for the engine status: right now we are just waiting on the parts. Turns out we had some burnt valves and needed to get them machined so they would make a proper seal in the cylinder heads. Andrew is busy cleaning the engine and we were just informed that the head gasket set coming from Miami will arrive tomorrow morning or evening (depending on customs) and we hope to be on our way by Wednesday or Thursday!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


On extensive road trips such as this one, sometimes things occur
perhaps not exactly in the way you dream of. It is something you learn
to cope with, work around and not become to frazzled by.
Which is why, instead of celebrating our crossing of the center point
in the world with smiles, pictures, laughs and perhaps an adult beverage as the
way we had imagined it when we went south from the Arctic circle, we
celebrated something like this:

Shona: I think we are probably passing the equator about now
Andrew: Awesome... I hope Kumu makes it to the mechanic without giving 
up in the middle of Quito!

Not exactly the scene we had imagined.

Our trusty steed Kumu has valiantly carried us over 30 000 kilometers, 
rolled over thousands of deathly speed bumps, maneuvered nimbly around 
what seems like millions of central and south american potholes (these 
are different to north american potholes... not so much potholes as 
perhaps meteorite craters) and lumbered along numerous roads that 
probably have never been seen by another 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon. 
Needless to say, she is tired. But she is not giving up. And, as if she 
knew we were bringing her to a place for some tender loving care... a 
sort of spa for volkswagens, she pushed through right till we rolled 
up to the gates of Diego's Volkswagen Paradise Garage. Okay its not 
actually called that, but I like to imagine that this is what it 
should be called. We recognized it right away by the numerous VW bugs 
parked all the way along the street and felt a tiny bit of tension 
give way as we realized we would be in good hands. Diego greeted us 
warmly and without skipping a beat dropped what he was doing and 
centered his attention on Kumu.

We were directed to Diego by Alvaro Orrego Brito, a member of the 
Volkswagen Club of Ecuador. We Volkswagen fanatics always to stick 
 After a couple hours of dissection and discussion we were 
told the two words we had dreaded to hear. Head Gasket. Now to me, 
that means close to nothing along with almost everything else to do 
with cars, but I knew it wasn't good.

Fast forward two days later and the engine has been removed from the car, 
washed and the real exploration surgery has begun. Although we haven't 
actually found a replacement head gasket, the guys seem confident they 
will be able to rig something up. Even if it means getting one of 
their buddies to just make one. It sounds scary and it sounds sketchy, 
but for some reason I have confidence in these little Ecuadorian 
mechanics (seriously, we are giants here).

Only time will tell what the fate of our beloved Kumu will be. In the 
meantime while our engine lies in pieces, I am trying to keep myself busy by sending healing vibes to our little house on wheels, and enjoying the amazing hospitality offered 
by Diego and his wife and kids and mother and father and cousins and 
aunts and uncles. But really, there are so many people here, always 
coming and going... I'm pretty sure they are all related, but at the 
same time, every time a new one comes in the house they don't react 
with any surprise at all when they see me randomly sitting in the living room. 
So who knows what is really going on? All I know is that we are taking 
everything in stride, looking at the positives (Andrew is becoming a 
MUCH better mechanic) and trying to enjoy having a peak into the lives 
of a great family in a foreign country.

The view from Diego's Garage

A sure sign that these guys love their VW's!

Putting on a brave face as I sit beside the engine that has brought us through 11 countries, truth be told I was feeling a little queasy!

Andrew and Diego dissecting some section of the engine

Andrew and the... cylinders? The place where the head gasket sits? Cylinder head? Something like that anyway

At least no one is going to come rob us here. Bad ass broken glass

Pure beauty

Monday, April 4, 2011

Apparently we took a wrong turn......

After saying goodbye to ze Germans Daniel and Ramona, we continued on
our journey south and stopped in a town called San Agustin, which is
known for the ancient statues guarding the entrance to the tombs they
protect. Again, the people here were very friendly and helpful. They even told us there was a much faster route to Pasto through a town called Macoa, rather than going first to Popoyan. Unfortunatley, what I didn't realize until today, just now, when updating the map, is that there are 2 roads from Macoa to San Fransisco...... one looks great on the map and the other, well the other is the one we took. It was 80 km long and climbed 3 vertical kms in 22kms at one point. Oh, did I mention it was a one lane gravel road? So yes, it was very slow going, in fact I calculated our average speed on this road to be 12 km/h. Don't get me wrong it was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on but it was  very, very scary- at times looking over the edge you could see straight down over 500 meters!!!!!

Before Ramona worked her magic...

Thanks Ramona for the great haircuts

A few of the great statues

Maybe we could guard tombs too?!?!

I guess we should have taken the number 10......

This is not the number 10....

Neither is this....

I have to say after all that, it was a very cool trip with views North Americans have rarely ever seen.