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Mar 8th - Mar 20th 2011

Ecuador

 

08/03/2011

Start Mileage - 35,452

Miles - 24

Namballe (Hospedaje Binacional) - Zumba (Ecuador (Pension Sarcoy))

Not much sleep last night what with the quake and the storm so up around 07:00. Still a bit drizzly and the road through town is just a mud bath .. think we might be in for a hard slog! Caffeine levels back to normal, Lorraine panicking because of the weather, normal, and we’re off to a wobbly start.

We still don’t have any maps for the GPS so we are just on the base map.

We were hoping to get to Vilcabamba for tonight’s stop, a good five hour ride on a dry dirt road, possibly won’t make it tonight. 5KM’s and 30 minutes later we got to the border, the road was not too bad, a bit rocky where the top dirt had washed off but drying out quickly considering the amount of rain that had fallen.

Getting out of Peru took a little while as we are at a very small crossing, not used much apart from by the locals and the odd truck or two. At the border there is one portacabin where customs and the police hang out, two restaurants/café’s, a general store and a hostal ... We go to the police first and  get the required papers and stamps then we are directed to the office next door for customs, in we go, it is the same guy from the police office! After checking the procedures the customs guy told us we needed to get photocopies of our passports and the bike paperwork. The only photocopier in town isn’t working, problemo! Customs guy goes back to his manuals to check what he has to do now … we go for a coffee.

Half an hour later and customs guy calls us back to the office, paperwork stamped and we are out of Peru … not quite!!!

He has to walk 50Mtrs to un-padlock the barrier and let us cross the bridge into Ecuador but it’s lunchtime … we go for a coffee.

20 minutes later, customs guy gets off the barrier where he has been leaning all this time chatting up the local Chica’s that are just wandering through, unlocks the padlock and waves us through.

Ecuador is a mere 150MTR’s over the bridge, slightly bigger this side than the Peru side with a few more shacks and a few more officials. 1st stop police, 10 minutes and we are stamped in and headed for customs to sort the bike paperwork. We were expecting delays as all the info we had on this crossing pointed to it being a sleepy one, we didn’t realise how sleepy. We found the customs office, no signage but it had a computer and printer so figured it must be where we needed to be but nobody manning it. After a few shouts of “Hola” and no response Lorraine went back to the police who told her we were in the right place and to wait, someone would turn up. 10 minutes sat on the walkway outside the office and still no one around.  It might be bigger than the Peru side but it is just one street, we came in at one end and walked to the other end in less than a minute, we must have been seen! Maybe if we hang around inside the office we might look suspicious and someone will turn up .. Then we heard  someone snoring loudly from the back of the office, that’s why no one had turned up, he was already there, asleep. Much banging on the counter and shouting got his attention at last. Another slow process while books were checked and phone calls made to get the correct procedure to let the Gringo’s through, or was it because we woke him up???

12:30 and we are on our way again. There are two roads out from the border, one is a single track, steep, muddy and rocky the other is back the way we came .. we didn’t go back. Good fun and hard work for the first kilometre or so, lots of switchbacks with the back end of the bike kicking out off the rocks and sliding in the mud on the steep inclines … Lorraine isn't very happy on the back and once again no photo’s get taken. As the track starts to level out it got a bit wider and nearly looked like a proper ripio road, then it ran out. We ended up in a very quiet little village at the end of the track with no road that we could see leading out. One of the villagers came over to chat while we were looking at the map so we asked if he knew the road to Vilcabamba. A lot of map studying then he called over an old guy that was sat in the shade. After some discussion, more map studying and drawing pictures in the dirt they told us we have to go back the way we came to the barrier and then turn right …. but that’s back to the border and back into Peru …. the map says there is a road we can take somewhere near here, surely we don’t have to go back into Peru and detour a couple of hundred KM’s to another border!! More pointing at the map and telling them we want to get to Vilcabamba and they keep insisting we have to go back to the barrier. One little word was all it took to solve the problem, when we were clarifying with the old guy that we had to go back to the “Barrera de Aduana”, Customs barrier, he realised why the stupid Gringo’s didn’t get his directions, we had to go back to the “Barrera de Ejercito”, an Army controlled barrier just 2 or 3 KM’s back down the road. It’s all clear now, we remember passing a turn off that had a barrier across the road and ignored it because we thought it was a private farm road.

We thank the locals for their help get ready to move when one of them comes running over with a bundle of what looked like huge pea pods, it’s Guava, you break it open and suck the white fleshy fruit off the huge stone, tastes a bit like kiwi fruit and banana.

Back down the road to army barrier where there is a small wooden shack with three soldiers hiding from the sun, paperwork checked and we are waved on in minutes. The road is still very rough and rocky and a few small water crossings to contend with one of which was just before a bend and very muddy. Giving it some throttle to clear the muddy exit threw the back end of the bike out. Result … I didn’t make the bend and ended up in the ditch with the bike on top of us … bugger!! Bike upright and pannier re-attached we carry on without any more mishaps.

We got to Zumba around 14:30, gagging for a coffee so we pulled into the bus station at the edge of town. Vilcabamba is still a long ride away so we decided to call it a day and find somewhere to stay here …. That was a long and hard 24 miles!

We have arrived in town in the middle of Carnaval, the pre Easter celebrations that are held all over South America, usually involving elaborate costumes and a lot of throwing of water. No costumes here though, just a lot of water throwing and a lot of very drunk people. I stayed with the bike while Lorraine checked out the accommodation and very soon I had a “friend” who offered me some of his drink, he babbled on for ages, I couldn't understand a word he was saying but at least I was safe from the water while he was there. Lorraine came back looking a bit soggy, she didn’t have a protector with her so got a soaking :-) Not much in the way of accommodation, the hotel we had parked near was over priced and had dodgy parking. There was a cheap hostel at the top of town that we could have parked in their hallway but the door wasn't wide enough and the army barracks across the road wouldn't let us park there. We did find a little Pension that had a huge back yard and was cheap, we could park up but the room keys wouldn't be available until 17:00, not a problem. We bought some food, Humitas from a street seller while we waited amongst all the ducks, geese and other assorted wildlife in the yard. 17:00 turned into 19:00 before the room was unlocked, just a basic shed with two bunks built from old pallets and a luxurious one inch thick mattress … it did only cost $5 and we slept well.

 

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09/03/2011

Start Mileage - 35,476

Miles - 81

Zumba (Pension Sarcoy) - Vilcabamba (Hosteria Las Ruinas de Quinara)

It rained heavy again last night, heavy enough to kill a few ducklings that were unfortunate enough to be caught in it, their bodies being ceremoniously hoofed over the hedge by the owner when we got up.

The road out today was a lot better and dryer despite all the rain we have had the last couple of days. It was a little slick in some places and there were a few recent landslides along the way maybe due to the quake the other day.

Stopped in a friendly little village called Polanda for coffee and lunch, we should definitely make Vilcabamba today, maybe even Loja. We stopped for a break along the way and heard a bike in the distance, sounded too big to be one of the local mopeds, it was a DR650 heading the way we had just come, he stopped and we chatted for a while, Dan tells us we have another 20 minutes of really rough stuff then a lot of very dusty road works before the road gets better.. He wasn’t wrong!

We arrived in Vilcabamba at 16:30 and headed straight to the plaza and the tourist info.

Located in an historic and scenic valley, Vilcabamba has a reputation for having an above average lifespan for it’s inhabitants, it has been said that some have reached ages of up to 135 years. The reasons for this aren't understood but it might be due to the plants and vegetables that are only found in these areas and the high concentrations of minerals in the drinking water …. others say it is because a lot of the youth moved out to the cities!!!!

With the influx of tourists and foreigners, mostly American ex pats, buying up properties and pushing up prices the locals say they have lost the way of life that gave them their longevity.

After trolling around most of the hostels around the plaza which were quite expensive and being harassed by a Dutch woman to stay in her hostel before all the rooms were booked we headed for a coffee before we decided where to stay. We met an American guy on an old Norton with a sidecar who was headed for Ushuaia before he got way laid here (Chica!) he told us about the hostel he was staying in, cheap and comfortable but a bit out of town. He was just leaving so we gave  up on the coffee and followed him out. Not far up the road he pulled in to another hotel, he thought it would be better for us as it was closer to town. Turned out it was the right choice, the same price as the one he was staying at but this wasn't an ECO lodge so it had electricity and 24hr hot water etc.  For US$8 each a night it had parking, hot water, kitchens, pool, Jacuzzi, spa room, sauna, restaurant, TV and wi-fi .. Bargain!

Found a little locally owned restaurant for dinner, wandered around the Plaza then bought supplies to take back to the hotel.

Downloaded maps for the GPS.

 

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10-11/03/2011

Vilcabamba (Hosteria Las Ruinas de Quinara)

10/03/11 - Spent the day hunting down maps without any luck. Same restaurant for dinner tonight. Then the rain started.

11/03/11 - A day by the pool .. having a holiday!

 

12/03/011

Start Mileage - 35,557

Miles - 159

Vilcabamba (Hosteria Las Ruinas de Quinara) - Cuenca (Hostel El Capitolio II)

Went to pay up and the bill was half what we expected, they had only charged us US$8 for the room not per person.

We had planned to go to Cuenca today and maybe visit the Ingapirca ruins, the only remaining Inca ruins in Ecuador.

The map says that the road to Loja from here is ripio but it was paved all the way. A good run to Loja then we are in the big city and get lost pretty soon with the GPS not helping. Asked a taxi driver for directions to Cuenca and then picked up the signs again only to be foiled by an accident that had closed the road, all traffic was being diverted and we lost the signs again. We could see the road we should have been on but every logical turn we took to get us there took us further away .. how does that happen???? Stop and ask again, this time we are directed up a dirt path and assured it was the right road.

The track took us around the mountain rather than on to the Pan American. A good gravel road with no other traffic and a nice ride through farmland and little villages. We stopped in one of the villages for a coffee, just a small dusty village with not a lot happening. The coffee stall we stopped at had a fire pit with a big pot of pork bits bubbling away in a pot of oil, a couple of pigs heads hanging up on skewers and a selection of fly covered meat laid out on a plank of wood in the shade so it didn’t go bad in the sun! It was the stop for local busses passing through, people would jump off get there little bags of fried pork and jump back on the bus.

We carried on just enjoying the ride, not even sure if it was the road we were supposed to be on, then all to soon we meet up with the junction for the Pan American, no other roads in sight so we turn right and head on to Cuenca. Got to Cuenca just as the rain started, not good on the cobbled streets.

Found a cheap hostel with separate parking. Read a bit more about the Ingapirca ruins and decided that as they were still a bit of a distance away and after the sites in Peru they might be a bit of a let down so opted to give them a miss.

 

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13/03/2011

Cuenca (Hostel El Capitolio II)

Spent the day sightseeing around town, most things were closed though we did mange to find a Libreria that was open and had decent road maps of Ecuador.

 

14/03/2011

Start Mileage - 35,716

Miles - 257

Cuenca (Hostel El Capitolio II) - Banos (Hostal Carolina)

Paid up at the hostel and went to get the bike from the parquedero. When we got there we told the woman we had come for the bike and handed her USS4 - US$2 per night as she told us when we arrived, no not good enough, the price has gone up, she wants US$11 -- 3 per night and 5 for the day. I told her we would pay at the hostel but she wasn't having any of it and she shut the gates saying we pay or the bike stays here. Went back to the hostel to complain and they weren't interested, it is her car park not the hostels, it cost us US$10 for the parking in the end.

We set off with Riobamba set into the GPS and soon were out of Cuenca. Things started to look a bit wrong when we noticed we were riding through El Cajas National Park which wasn't on the route we should be on. Today should have been a nice all asfalto ride through the lower parts of the mountains but here we are at over 4000Mtrs in the cold and wet. A quick look at the map and we see we can carry on towards the coast and pick up another road to Riobamba but it will add a few miles. It was a good ride although there was a lot of up’s and down’s, cold and hot.

We were late pulling into Banos at 18:45 but had no trouble getting a hostel. Unpacked, food, beer.

 

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15-16/03/2011

Banos (Hostel Carolina)

15/03/2011 - Banos, the second most populated city in the Tunguruhua region and a religious mecca for Catholics after the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared near the waterfall.

We came here because we had heard from lots of travellers that it was a must see on the Ecuador part of the trip. We should have known better, just another tourist town full of hotels and tour offices and with tourist prices.

Located on the Pastaza river it is “The Gateway to the Amazon” so we plan to take a ride out to the falls at Puyo tomorrow, maybe that will make it worthwhile. Today we head to the thermal baths, not the best we have been to.

16/03/2011 - Lots of rain and very stormy overnight and it is still raining today so we decided not to take the ride to Puyo.

 

17/03/2011

Start Mileage - 35,973

Miles - 125

Banos (Hostel Carolina) - Quito (Hotel Americano)

More rain again today but it stops long enough for us to get the bike loaded. Pay up at reception and again we only get charged half what we were expecting, are we misunderstanding the tariffs?  nope the price list says US$6 per person, maybe it’s because we are good guests .. Well if they can’t do the maths we don't mind, as long as it’s in our favour.

The plan today is to ride along part of the Avenue of the Volcanoes which has a large number of active and inactive Volcanoes. These include, Cotapaxi, the second highest active volcano in the world and Chimborozo, Ecuador's highest mountain and the closest point on earth to the sun due to it’s position on the equator. We started off from Banos in relative dryness but the pattern of the last few days continued and it rained, heavily, we even had hail stones the size of marbles that hurt and I thought would break the screen. We pulled in to get the wet weather gear on before we got completely soaked and guess what? The sun came out, not for long though and we were soon in amongst it again.  We didn’t see a thing the whole way from Banos to just outside Quito. We haven’t been so lucky with the rainy season in Northern Peru and Ecuador so far.

We arrived in Quito with no idea where we were heading. It is huge and split into two sections, Old and New Quito, we chose Old Quito. We chased around for ages checking out hotels that were on the GPS, most of them too expensive, a lot no longer exist and a few “Love” hotels. Eventually one came up trumps, a bit of a dive but cheap and with parking and possibly another Love hotel, rooms with by the hour, six hours and overnight rates! It was clean.

 

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18-20/03/2011

Start Mileage - 36,098

Miles - 8

Old Quito (Hotel Americano) - New Quito (Backpackers Inn)

18/03/2011 - We are staying in Quito for a day or two but don’t feel safe leaving any gear in this hotel while we are out so we pack up, find a tourist info and get addresses for backpacker accommodation in New Quito. A much trendier part of town with lots of brand name shops, bars and clubs for the youngsters! We tried a few hostels but the first was the cheapest by a long shot at US$21 so we headed back there.

19/03/2011 - Today we are going to “Mitad el Mundo” - “The Centre of the World” about 35KM’s out of Quito.

We came to the entrance of the monument which was off a roundabout but I kept on going with Lorraine shouting that I had missed the turning, I wanted to get the picture of the S00.00.000 reading on the GPS. The reading turned over a few metres up the road, right outside another museum to the Equator that I had forgotten reading about.

The “Inti Nan Solar Museum” is supposedly on the real equator, calculated by military GPS back in the 1980’s it is precisely on the equatorial line whereas the monument to the “Mitad el Mundo” which when built was believed to be on the equator is about 200 metres out.

At La Mitad del Mundo there is a small village which contains the monument, there is also a museum that contains a model of Quito, a planetarium, various exhibits (all at extra cost), several restaurants, an open arena that is occasionally used for folkloric-dance performances, and a small chapel where couples can marry with one spouse standing in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern.

The Inti Nan Solar Museum which claims to be on the real equator was worth the visit for the interactive tour and of course the photo on the “real equator”. We were shown various experiments including the famous Coriolis effect, water draining down the sink in opposite directions either side of the line, watch the video and see if you come up with the same reason as I did for the effect! Other experiments were showing that on the equator it was easier to balance a raw egg on a nail head (you get a certificate if you succeed, I didn’t), that we lose some weight standing on the line due to there being less gravitational pull and how hard it is to walk along the equator with your eyes closed while both magnetic forces are pulling at you ….. All good fun but trickery I’m sure. There is also a museum to the indigenous people which was an interesting visit.

 

20/03/2011

Start Mileage - 36,143

Miles - 152

Quito (Backpackers Inn) - Tulcan (Hotel Alejandre)

Woken early by the cleaner trying to move us into another room so she could clean this one for the next people in .. we don’t need to be out until 12:00,  leave us alone!! Deliberate slow pack up.

With hardly any traffic and good roads we took our time, we weren't going to be crossing the border tonight so no rush. The rain hit us again as we climbed up into the mountains and stayed with us for the rest of the day.

Arrived in the border town of Tulcan around 16:00 and started to look for somewhere to kip.

A cold, wet, foggy night.

A short stay in Ecuador and we missed a lot, if the weather had been better we would have spent a lot more time here.

 

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