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Published: August 31st 2018
There are very few absolute certainties in life. "Death and taxes" is a common lament, which only serves to emphasize this point. I guess that if I were to list those things I knew, with absolute certainty, I would still be able to count them on one hand. For instance, there is only one sun/star in our solar system; socks that go missing in the washing machine are never found; and there is only one equator encircling our planet, right? Well, imagine our surprise when Fi and I learned that, at least in Ecuador, there is not just one, but at least three
equators, as we've been assured, that run parallel to one another. I'll get back to that later, but first want to bring you, our faithful readership, up to date since our last check-in.
On August 7th, we finally crossed the border from Ipiales, Colombia, into Ecuador. The border crossing itself was unlike anything we've ever seen before. As most folks are aware, Venezuela is having big problems these days, with one million percent inflation and where a box of a dozen eggs costs two weeks' wages. Unsurprisingly, more than 10%!o(MISSING)f its 32 million people have left
Border Crossing near Ipiales, Colombia
This photo doesn't really do justice to the scene where more than 25,000 Venezuelans line up for 4+ days to get into Ecuador.
the country, creating a regional crisis, as countries such as Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Chile try to absorb an unending number of economic migrants. Many travel through Colombia to get to Ecuador and Peru. Driving towards the Colombia/Ecuador border, we saw dozens of groups of mostly young adults, many carrying/dragging small children and infants, numbering between five and twenty per group, making their way southward. On the day we arrived at the border crossing, there were over 25,000 Venezuelans lined up at the highway bridge leading to the Ecuadorian border; most waiting 4+ days to work their way forward to one of several immigration service windows. At night, they try to sleep while still maintaining their places in line, where at 10,000 feet above sea level, temperatures drop to near freezing, often accompanied by rain and wind. (Non-Venezuelans like us were queued up in a separate line, which only took us 5 hours to negotiate until we could get our passports stamped and obtain our vehicle import papers.) From our chats with several Ecuadorians we've since met, their is a lot of empathy towards the new arrivals, but the feeling of good will is deteriorating as many feel that the
This is where the line from Colombia stretches over the bridge into Ecuador. Venezuelans we met were waiting in line for up to 4 days to get entry permits into Ecuador.
added competition for jobs, strain on social systems, and anecdotal data suggesting rising crime rates, are adding fuel to a growing anti-immigration fervor. Ecuador has recently taken steps to stem the numbers of Venezuelans entering the country by turning away anyone who does not already have a passport, which most Venezuelans do not. Time will tell how this all plays out. Most of the Venezuelan folks we spoke with at the border were very decent and kind to one another, seemed quite resilient, and in good spirits, despite their ordeals. When asked, all had a very negative opinion of their governmental leaders (hey, that's something that maybe we all have in common!). While we were there with them, I couldn't help but wonder how chipper a bunch of Americans, who complain when stuck in the McDonald's drive-through for more than 4 minutes, would be if they were compelled to wait in line, cheek-to-jowl, for 4 days for anything. In fairness, I'd probably be the first impatient American to crack.
Once into Ecuador, we made our way to a very relaxing and picturesque campground run by a jovial German guy named Hans (Finca Sommerwind). We stayed there for
A really nice spot. We almost never left!
about a week, then went off into the mountains to do some camping and hiking, before returning to Sommerwind for several more days. At the end of two weeks, we realized that we needed to push on, or we'd probably have ended up staying there for a year, as others have sometimes done. With dry, warm days and cool, clear nights, it was tough to leave. We also were able to reconnect with several other overlanders that we'd met previously, including Marcel and Graziella from Switzerland, whom we've really enjoyed spending time with. While there, we also had to fill our propane tank. In South America, refilling propane has come to be a bit of a headache. It typically involves handing off the tank to a truck driver who then enters the propane refilling facility (I'm never allowed to enter, and they are guarded like military bases). The truck driver will re-emerge about 45 minutes later from the gates of the facility with my re-filled bottle and park a short distance away. This is where I pay anywhere between $5 and $10 in exchange for my propane bottle, in what more resembles a drug deal than a legitimate payment for
service. Sometimes, while waiting at the facility entrance, I can peer in through the cracks in the steel gate to see what they're doing. I've noticed that the drivers of the delivery trucks carrying large numbers (50-100) of big propane cylinders, take great care to make sure they're all wedged in against one another and that all cylinders are standing neatly upright before they leave the facility. Sometimes they use straps to further secure them in place. That's why I'm perplexed when I see these same drivers do nothing when their trucks exit the facility, take their first sharp turn onto the open road and cause all of the refilled cylinders to topple over into one another like bowling pins. Despite the terrifying sound of 100-lb cylinders crashing into one another and rolling around in the truck bed, they just speed off to make their deliveries. The first time I witnessed this, I was about 20 meters away, waiting for my own propane bottle. Slack-jawed and sensing a fiery doom, I thought, "This is it; this is how it ends!" I guess I'm pretty used to it now though.
From Sommerwind, we headed a short way south
to one of Ecuador's premier attractions: the Equator. Ecuador has such high confidence in the commercial touristic potential of the Equator, that they've added at least two more Equators, each running parallel to one aother along different lines of latitude! We visited a tourist attraction that, we thought, was the sole equatorial latitude line, jumping back and forth between northern and southern hemispheres, with one foot hopping each like a couple of monkey-imbeciles. Still high on the euphoria of straddling the world's principal demarcation line, we walked southward towards some buildings that, we thought, might include a cafe or something. About a hundred meters away, we came across our second
equator! That's right, another one! This one was quite a bit more modest, but its informational plaque still espoused that it was the Real McCoy, and not to listen to any of those stuck-up prima donnas at the other "so-called Equator". That's when Fi recalled having visited a third
touristy-looking equator monument 18 years ago, when she was living with a family in Quito for six months as part of her university studies. A little bit of internet sleuthing revealed that this third equator, a few miles west of us
was on yet another line of latitude, but still parallel to the other two. In fairness, my smart phone's GPS feature concluded that the first equator that we visited was the real thing, but I still have to hand it to these Ecuadorian entrepreneurs. They know how to promote and capitalize off a good idea when they see one.
From the Equator(s) we headed to Quito for a real treat: we booked a penthouse apartment through Airbnb for 5 nights. I have to say, I was really impressed with Quito as having some really modern infrastructure, good roads, while still maintaining some of its history (its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site). Sleeping indoors overlooking the city and 14,000+ ft. mountains was quite nice too. I think there are fingernail claw marks on the wall from when Fi had to drag me out of there at the end of our stay. While in Quito, we did some hiking in the surrounding mountains, and went to visit Fundacion Esperanza (i.e. Camp Hope), the kids' center that Fi volunteered at during her six month stay, 18 years ago. The center provides day program education, therapy, and learning
Dirt Road from Lake Mojanda
It doesn't look like it here, but this 20km dirt road sucked, taking us over 2 hrs to negotiate to get to (and from) the mountain lake.
to developmentally disabled kids. It also serves as home for orphaned kids with disabilities. It was a very nostalgic, emotional reunion for Fi as she was reacquainted with now-grown kids and staff that she worked with nearly two decades ago. They do great work and provide a lifeline to kids and their coping families. The volunteers (many from North America and Europe) and staff all have big hearts, limitless patience and do great work... I can see how Fi was drawn to this organization and how she fit right in.
So that brings us up to where we're at now, not too far from Quito, staying at another campground, this one owned by a Dutch expat who's been here for over 25 years. Tomorrow, we'll get back on the road towards Cotopaxi National Park: a big volcano that reaches over 18,000 ft. Fi climbed to the top of this when she was here in 2000. I don't think that's in the cards for me, but I'm looking forward to seeing it... from a safe distance and with a beer in my hand. Until next time, thanks for checking in. There should be at least 31 photos below
Fuya Fuya volcano, 4270 metres asl
We hiked to the summit of Fuya Fuya from our campground at Mojanda Lake.
for your amusement.
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