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Published: October 30th 2009
A reminder you can find the associated photos at my Flickr Site
Ecuador is starting to feel like my second home. I have met so many wonderful people and made friends that returning here is such a joy.
If you have kept up with my blogs, I spent January to March 2009 in Otavalo, Ecuador studying Spanish, and flying with the gliding club in Ibarra on weekends (Ibarra is about 20 kms north of Otavalo). I was fortunate to make many good friends with the club, and I renewed these friendships for my first two weeks in Ecuador on this trip. This trip I stayed in a hotel in Ibarra. As circumstances worked out, I was able to fly some mid-week days as well, so over the course of two weeks I flew 17 flights and had a couple over an hour in length. Most of the flights were instructional, and I was proud to be able to recommend two students to be allowed to fly their first solo flights. Flying here is very much a social event, and usually we would go for a nice meal somewhere after the equipment had been put away for the day.
It was also nice having two weeks away from the daily travel routine. It allowed me to catch up with a few things like giving Motosan an oil change and lubrication, wash, and general check-up. I got some laundry done, and spent a few evenings with a needle and thread mending clothes that have started showing the effects of continual use.
I was most impressed with the hotel where I stayed in Ibarra. The Hotel Montecarlo (N00.3505, W78.12318) was great, very friendly staff, and had many facilities that I didn´t use such as a swimming pool, jacuzzi, and sauna. Wireless internet, and a big breakfast was included in the $22 daily rate. They also had secure parking for Motosan; he was pleased with that.
Over the course of my trip I have been keeping in touch with other motorcycle travelers heading south via an email list I set up on my email server and advertised via horizonsunlimited.com, a web site for moto travelers. I have about 20 subscribers to it so far (to subscribe, go to broomhall.ca and follow the link to the email list). The email list is a bit self-serving for me as a way to meet other travelers while on the road, but also provides a means for everyone else to keep in touch and meet up as well. I was lucky while in Ibarra to meet four other travelers who caught up with me and overnighted at the Montecarlo. Tina and Rue came in for our third meeting on the road, the previous encounters were in Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca in Mexico. Tina and Rue are from Brighton in the UK and are traveling two-up on a V-Strom 650, the same as Motosan. I think the last three hangovers I have had in this life has been after spending evenings with them... I certainly enjoy their company!
While in Ibarra, I used some of my free time to start planning my venture into Peru. I read my travel book and did some internet searches and I think I have my route picked out including visiting the Huascaran mountain park area around Huarez, visiting Cusco, Lake Titicaca, and Arequipa before heading south to Chile. I should also have some time in Lima on the way down, but big cities still intimidate me. I also decided that I should see about new tires before getting to Peru, the chances of finding new tires there would be slim, and I don´t know if the tires would last until a bigger centre in Chile. I left Ibarra on Monday the 19th of October, and headed for Quito to go tire shopping.
I visited Quito for a few days last March before heading home to Edmonton, and I stayed in the “Mariscal” area, also known as “gringolandia” for its attraction to tourists (Crossroads Hotel S00.20225, W078.49126, secure bike parking, internet, $18). The area is stuffed with bars and restaurants, and is a good place to stay for a few days. I was able to arrange delivery of some new shoes for Motosan the day after I arrived in Quito. My back tire replaced in San Diego still appears to have good wear left on it, so I only had the front tire replaced, and I will be carrying a spare rear tire until such time it needs to be mounted.
While at the Crossroads, I met another moto traveler, Eric Stieglitz, not only from Canada, but Edmonton, my home city. We spent some time together, going out for a couple of suppers. The second night we had supper with a fellow named Ricardo Rocco and his wife, a somewhat larger than life moto enthusiast here in Quito. He seems to meet many of the travelers coming through Quito in one way or another.
I left Quito Wednesday morning the 21st of October and rode to San Vicente on the coast to visit my friend John Brock. Quito is a big city, and is organized in a North-South direction in a valley. I was headed south, and it took me about 90 minutes to get outside the city traffic and congestion. I think there is a ring-road that would have been faster, but darned if I could find it. My GPS was a bit of a help but not much. Garmin does not offer much south of North America, and what they did have was just main highways for each country. It didn´t do much inside of Quito but show me which general direction I was going. Eventually I was outside of town and on my way to San Vicente. What continues to be an adventure is how the highways dump you into towns and then end, usually with no indication on how you find your way to the other side to continue on your way. I had a few of these on my way to the coast, and wound up taking a wrong turn somewhere. I still wound up in San Vicente, but had to endure about 20 kms of a very rough road. Except for that last bit, the highway was surprisingly good, mostly freshly poured concrete.
My friend John Brock lives in a lovely beach-front condo just north of San Vicente, this was my second time there after spending a week with him earlier this year in March. We relaxed lots, and got out quite a bit to sample the local seafood and beer. John has met many of the local expat community, and on a Saturday night we were invited to the lovely beach home for a party where about 30 or more Americans and a few Canadians got together for some good food, drink, and conversation. I have found that expats are generally a little more interesting than your usual folk; the fact that they have relocated to a strange country immediately indicates that they have a something of a sense of adventure and an open mind. Some of the expats I met had been in Ecuador for over 10 years. One fellow was a retired university art professor who started a chain of tatoo parlours. Another woman was a Canadian artist who had lived in Ecuador for 16 years. Others came to Ecuador and bought bars, restaurants, and hostels to cater to foreign tourists. A few were sailboat people who came to Ecuador, liked it, and stayed. Expats all have a great thing in common, and that is interesting stories on how they came to be where they are, and survival stories on how they are getting on in a strange country. One of the common threads is that Ecuador is simply a very inexpensive place to live; a dollar just goes so much further here. I got some interesting glimpses into Ecuadorian culture as seen through the eyes of people who are adapting to it.
The day before I left San Vicente, a couple arrived to visit John for a week. We all went out for supper in Canoa that night for another seafood feast. The next morning I packed up Motosan and headed down to the beach to catch the ferry across Bahia de Caraquez. The ferry is like a landing craft with a drawbridge at one end that it drops on the sand beach for vehicles to climb aboard. There is no dock for the ferry, vehicles have to drive across the beach on both sides. Because the ferry only loads on one end, most vehicles approach the ferry and then turn around at the last minute and back on. Motosan boarded last, and negotiating the loose sand on the beach was fun on two wheels. The advantage was that I was first off, and avoided the mess when most vehicles get stuck in the sand on the way off, and need the ever-present crowd of helpers to push them through.
I was headed for Cuenca, but didn´t expect to get there in one day, my plan was to overnight somewhere around Guayaquil. This concerned me, as Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador with well over two million people. I was worried about getting dumped into the city and never finding my way out. A little map reading before I left helped me find a ring-road north of town that took me around the city, missing most of the madness. It dumped me close to the bridge that I needed to cross the river Guayas to head east into the Andes and up towards Cuenca. About 2 PM I found myself in a small city about 50 kms east of Guayaquil called El Triunfo, and there was a reasonable looking hotel by the highway where I stayed for all of $10.
It was nearly two years ago when I spent my first winter in Ecuador, studying Spanish in Cuenca. During that stay, I took a 4-day bus tour to the coast, through Guayaquil and north to Manta where we visited a number of different beaches including Canoa, north of where I was staying with my friend in San Vicente. What I learned that year was the unpredictability of the roads between the sierra and the coast. There is a wide coastal plain from the foot of the Andes out to the ocean, probably in the neighbourhood of one hundred kilometers wide in the area inland from Guayaquil. On that coastal plain are thousands of banana plantations and rice fields. The moisture from those fields gets sucked off by the sun, forming clouds that are pushed into the mountains by the prevailing westerlies. The resulting rains cause havoc with the roads, they are constantly getting washed out. To their credit, the Ecuadorians are well rehearsed in repairing large washouts rapidly, the roads are seldolm closed for very long. The problem is that the quality of the roads suffers. From sea level most of the way to the 8000 foot level or so, the roads are in pretty rough shape. The roads are repaired with gravel, and the fine particles get quickly washed away leaving boulders to drive on, with lots of ruts, potholes, and you-name-it. I actually felt fortunate riding Motosan because I had a much better ability on two wheels to navigate the choice bits of the road that would have been impossible on four wheels. That said, it was pretty slow going for about 20 kilometers or more. As the altitude increased, so did the quality of the road as the air dried with the moisture being left below as rain. During my climb away from the coast, I soon climbed above the coastal deck of stratus clouds, and into the sun. I was fortunate not to have any rain that day, the road was mostly dry. It was a gorgeous blue sky above me, and a floor of clouds below me, and lots of interesting geography as I continued to wind my way around and up the valleys and slopes of the western Andes. The climb continued up to over 12,000 feet, and the roads got better the higher I went. The asphalt was pretty consistent above 8000 feet and my speed increased. I was expecting a summit and a drop of altitude on the other side, but it never really happened. The next town of consequence was Cañar sitting at about 12,000 feet. The highway south of Cañar towards Cuenca climbs up to close to 14,000 feet before dropping down to the 8000 foot valley where Cuenca sits.
I arrived in Cuenca about 3 PM and drove through familiar streets to the home of my hosts Norma and Fernando. I lived with them for two months in early 2008 while studying Spanish. The school arranged home stays for their students, and I somehow found myself in the home of two medical doctors. Even at that time, I was preparing for this trip and I had an invitation to come back and stay with them on my way south. The security guard to their building announced my presence, and Norma was soon downstairs to greet me. Norma showed be back to my same room, and I stood and looked out the window down to the river Tomebamba. Many fond memories from my first stay.
My plan was to stay for only two nights, then head south to see Vilcabamba before crossing the border into Peru, but Norma had other plans for me. I showed her my planned route on the map and she suggested I stay longer and cross the border at Huaquillas, which is only a day´s drive from here. Norma explained that the coastal route was much prettier and less harsh than the deserts found on the interior route. I still want to see this route, and visit the town of Vilcabamba, but I will save this for the return trip. I do like the ability to spend a few more days here in Cuenca.
As I write this I am a few days away from entering Peru, and, as every new country, I don´t quite know what to expect. My reading has told me that there is a large desert in northern Peru that I will have to cross. The mountainous terrain in the Andes is also very high. Many peaks over 6000 meters, and roads and towns that are well over 4000 meters - some approaching 16,000 feet such as the road south of Cusco. I wonder how I will adapt to lengthy periods at such high altitudes. Internet seems to be everywhere these days, so I know I can stay connected. It is not always possible to plug in my travel laptop, which is about the only way I can upload pictures to any extent.
Looking into the future and entering into Chile, I notice that the first 1000 kilometers or so is desert as well, the famed Atacama. I also discovered that there is a ferry that runs down the bottom third of the country, from Puerto Montt, along the coast and it would deposit me close to Tierra del Fuego. I´m going to investigate this. My favourite saying about motorcycle travel is that I am not into self-abuse. Riding that bottom part of South America only needs to be done once in my estimation, and so I´ll probably save it for the way back.
Stay tuned for my next blog, from somewhere in Peru.
Juanito y Motosan
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