Day 53 New mask added to Christer’s collection and Ecuador

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July 20th 2015
Published: July 21st 2015
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Day 52 New mask added to Christer’s collection and Ecuador

Distance driven today: 141 miles / 227 km

Cumulative distance driven: 9,455 miles / 15,216 km

Today’s trip: Pasto, Colombia to Ibarra, Ecuador

International border crossings: 1

Today both of us slept in after the long ride yesterday. After breakfast, Zoe decided to stay at the hotel for a few hours and start writing drafts for her college applications. These are due during in the fall, and what better time to start writing the essays than during this trip. Christer took a taxi to one of the big market places in Pasto, hoping to find a good artisan mask for his ever growing collection back in Seattle. Buying a wooden mask from Pasto in Colombia has long been on the PanAmerican highway to-do list, and Christer started off the day by finding a great mask at a very reasonable price at the marketplace in Pasto.

We started riding around noon, and were happy to discover that the road to the city of Ipiales, which is the last city in Colombia before the border to Ecuador, was in a good condition and with relatively little traffic. Two hours later we arrived at the border. Zoe and I had prepared ourselves mentally for another lengthy crossing, full of bureaucratic rules, fees, forms etc., only to discover one of the most organized border crossings any of us has ever experienced!. There were clear sings on every building, the various steps/stations came in logical order, and there was a general sense of calmness and order in the entire border area. This was totally different from say, the crossing from Costa Rica into Panama, where more or less total chaos dominated the border area.

However, the passport control at the Colombian side took an hour longer than it should. While about 80 people were patiently waiting in line to have their passport checked and stamped, only one out of a total of 7 immigration passports control positions was open. This caused an unnecessary long line, and we had to wait in line for an entire hour. As for the customs control when exiting Colombia, they only required to see the motorcycle import form – the very same form that took two whole days to issue in Cartagena, when the motorcycle arrived from Panama. Unlike our experience in Cartagena at the customs office, the Ipiales customs officer spent all but 5 seconds looking at the document and then declared us good to leave the country.

When crossing borders and having to exchange currencies, we make sure to have looked up the exchange rate in advance in order to avoid being completely ripped off. When we were done with the Colombian customs and immigration, we found a money exchange handler and suggested the price we wanted to pay for selling Colombian Pesos and buying Ecuadorian Sucres. However, the exchange handler kept quoting us U.S. dollars all the time, and for a moment we were convinced that he was trying to pull some sort of scam on us. And then it dawned on us that after many decades of instability in Ecuadorian Sucre currency, the country decided to enforce a so called currency substitution, i.e. to let the U.S. dollar replace the Sucre as Ecuador’s main currency in 2000. This is the second country we travel through in short time that has “dollarized” its economy, as Panama also substituted its Balboa currency many years ago for U.S. dollars. However, all the promises of a more stable economy in Ecuador by adopting the U.S. dollar did not seem to yield the desired results, as Ecuador defaulted on its national debt in 2008. I guess that it takes more than just using Uncle Sam’s greenbacks to build a prosperous economy!

Our first impressions of Ecuador so far are very positive. The Ecuadorian passport and customs procedures were fast and painless, and in no time we were riding on a newly paved dual carriage way into the northern district called Carchi. Overall, our impression so far after half a day of riding in Ecuador is that things appear to be more organized on this side of the border compared to Colombia, roads are in way better condition than its northern neighbor, traffic is calmer, and drivers seem to actually follow the traffic rules.

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