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Published: December 17th 2009
We only have 3 days in Ecuador but it takes us 5 hours to get into the country. Why? - they have modernised the vehicle entry system and introduced computers, only the link is so slow it takes 30 minutes to register every bike. What's more its quite cold and we have to queue outside, I spend most of the 5 hours ferrying cups of coffee backwards and forwards from the little coffee shop supplying everyone in the queue with warm drinks (its generally agreed that the term coffee cannot be applied to the liquid in the cups!!). We even supply some to the one little customs man who is looking rather overwhelmed by the large queue of foreign motorbike owners. When we finally get our permit and step into Ecuador it is to a setting sun and we still have 100 miles to travel. We team up with 2 other bikes and head off into the darkness round lots of sweeping bends up and down the mountain sides - I expect it would be really scenic if we could see anything. From experience we know that tarmac roads have a habit of turning to dirt round a corner and that
Our 1st View of Ecuador
yes I know its all fuzzy and blurred but that's how it looked to us too after waiting for 5 hours at the border to get a bit of paper signed
there are often animals, landslides etc. etc in the middle of the road so not being able to see anything is slightly worrying and hence progress is slow. We roll into the hotel at 9:30, the last members of the group get in at 11:00. At least its a nice friendly hotel and the staff have been persuaded to stay on to feed and water the late arrivals.
On a Saturday in Otovalo there is a big local market here but today is Friday so we didn't expect much to be happening and were pleasantly surprised to find lots going on. We just sat in the main square people watching spotting all the different colourful costumes. Its a nice little place with a good atmosphere, you could easily while away a few days here. Little being the operative word - we are back in the land of small people and I feel tall again, even the benches in the park are too low for me to sit on!!
Heading south towards Quito we cross the equator and stop off at the monument for our tourist photos - the GPS reads 00.000, I suppose that's not too surprising but
I found it exciting. Quito itself doesn't seem to have a heart to the city - there are 3 large main squares surrounded by grand architectural buildings and churches but there are no trees and benches, no people milling around or sitting putting the world to rights, just big open, almost sterile spaces and people rushing past on important errands.
Continuing south we travel down the avenue of volcanoes - now we are travelling through the snowy mountains you expect from the Andes. Its also very rural; people walking along the road with bundles of sticks on their backs, people travelling in the back of pick up trucks, traditional outfits of multilayered skirts and bowler hats - a total contrast to very westernised Colombia. The little towns and villages we pass are also different - always very colourful with pastel painted houses. As usual there are lots of 'desvios' and new roads being built. Here they just seem to be laying a 6in layers of concrete over the old tarmac road. Somehow the road works always seem to coincide with patches of thick mist when you can only see a few feet in front of you - still makes
park benches in Otovalo main square
yes they are even too small for me to sit on
for interesting riding and I suppose climbing into the clouds is the price you have to pay for swooping up and down all the mountain roads. And its pretty spectacular when you emerge above he mist and look down over the mist filled valleys. We have two days of riding through the mountains from Quito to Cuence to Macara.
On the trip a new verb has been created; 'to Lorraine it' i.e. why bother to google it or look it up in a guide book when you can just ask Lorraine what to see en-route or where to go when you arrive in a new town. Unfortunately when we arrived in Cuenca it went a bit wrong. I confidently told people 'out of the hotel, 2 blocks to the left, 7 blocks to the right and you'll be in the main square with the cathedral and a couple of good restaurants'. We set off following these instructions ourselves but we became a bit suspicious as the streets got narrower and darker and more deserted. We turned round before completing the full 7 blocks. However, the others had such confidence in me that they followed the instructions to the letter
and ended up down some dark alley - the problem, the guide book showed the hotel on the wrong side of the road so everyone was wandering off into the dimly lit, dodgy, backstreets. It was a great relief to see everyone present and unharmed at breakfast the next morning..
When you're not in the dodgy backsteets Cuenca is a very pleasant old colonial city - its the place Panama hats come from (they get their name as they were exported from Panama via the canal). Lots of nice leafy squares, old churches, street markets, cobbled street, flower sellers and a nice river. Another place where you could while away a few days but we have to keep heading south.
Macara is a tiny little town right on the border with Peru. I don't think it sees many tourists, there are no big flashy hotels or restaurants. We have taken over two small guesthouses and the local restaurant has been persuaded to stay open late to feed us chicken & chips but its one of the nicest meals we have had - its in a down to earth local place and they are dashing round doing everything possible to
make us feel welcome including going out for more beer!!
So that's it - in 3 days we have ridden the 700 miles across Ecuador from the northern border with Colombia to the southern border with Peru. But there is so much more to the place, its another country we have to come back to too see properly. Tomorrow its Peru.
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