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South America: The Trans-Amazonian Challenge

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Ken Freund

The first Trans-Amazonian Challenge joint venture tour by MotoDiscovery and Motolombia is a daunting undertaking for participants and guides alike. A huge loop of northern South America is planned, more than 8,700 miles in 45 days, through eight countries. The route starts in Cartagena, Colombia, near the northernmost portion of the continent. From there, we’ll head south through Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana, completing the circle by going through Venezuela and back to the starting point. The group consists of experienced riders from the United States, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, and even Zimbabwe, including two married couples riding two up, and three people over 70.

On Our Way: Ecuador

We leave Cartagena in a festive mood. Soon the steamy lowland coastal roads give way to cooler mountain passes, but on day three a vital road is freshly blocked by landslides. Working our way between hundreds of parked trucks and buses to the site of the collapse, we watch a single backhoe do a herculean job its manufacturer would never have dreamed possible! Finally we’re among the first through the gap, and on our way.

The countryside is a lovely lush green, but the roads are teeming with trucks and traffic. On the way through Colombia we stop at a coffee plantation and pick beans and buy fresh roasted coffee to take home. By day seven the mountains become brown and drier as we cross into Ecuador. It’s 104 degrees in the shade, but there’s little shade. A couple in our group takes a bad fall on spilled diesel fuel but soldiers on. A little while later we cross the equator, and everyone stops to take their keepsake photos in front of the tall monument.

Reaching crowded Quito at sundown, we overnight here. Come morning, the dry canyons we pass look like Death Valley. A steep descent from 8,300 feet brings us into a rich, humid rain forest within a few miles!

To Peru

We languish for more than five hours at the Ecuador-Peru border crossing, followed by two and a half hours riding in the dark to Máncora. With people and animals walking in the road, and cars, trucks, and motorbikes without lights, it’s a wonder we all made it through intact. In Máncora we stay in comfortable bungalows near the beach for a rest day, working on our bikes and doing laundry. 

From there we follow the coastline, then turn inland as jungle yields to desert, with vast sand dunes as far as the eye can see. Mountainous, desolate terrain continues all the way to the town of Nazca, where the Nazca Lines are located, about 250 miles south of Lima. These ancient geoglyphs were made by etching into the gray desert soil. Experts believe the Nazca Lines were created between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D. Due to the dry climate the lines have mostly been preserved. There are hundreds of geometric shapes with more than 70 depictions of animals such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, monkeys, and humans. The largest figures are more than 660 feet across. They were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2016 back issue.