Ecuador

Day 1659 Friday 1st May

The Peruvian customs and immigration offices were not that obvious to us, consequently we rode over the bridge to the Ecuadorian offices. I tried to get stamped in, however the lady asked where is the exit stamp from Peru. As I did not have one we rode back over the bridge and got out of the country legally!

Diane spotting a cafe near by and having coin to spend we had beans and rice one last time, this time in no man’s land.

Back in Ecuador we had no problem, the officers being very exact with the forms concerning entering the country and the T.I.P. for the bikes. A couple of times our customs officer ran out to photograph a vehicle that had tried to bring in ‘contrabando’! He had a camera for taking pictures of registration plates and V.I.N. plaques. So he was in demand for obtaining evidence of contraband runners.

Riding from Macara to Catacocha was a wonderful series of hair clip bends through rainforest type of scenery. The curves coming every few hundred metres made it feel like I was constantly leaning right or left and not upright at all! Rounding one corner not too from the border, unexpectedly the tar went to compact sand for fifty metres. It did not dawn on me till later looking at the hill-side further on that the sandy bit was where the road had been washed away. There was many more parts where the gullies and road side showed evidence of landslips. The towering hills above also had great channels carved into them.

Eighty km in and we were stopped by the national police at a checkpoint in a tiny village high into the mountains. They asked for passports, which were taken to a fellow officer with a huge ledger and presumably entered our details for keeping a check on where their tourists go?

I take my hat off to the people who cycle around this country, we had been here for a few hours and saw two groups of them. The total ascent from south to north on the main route is forty km, that’s one bike ride!!

Catacocha appeared round a corner, in the fold of the mountain at about four PM. The only hostel offered garage parking and cheap rooms with no breakfast. However we did get a receptionist who did not understand us at all, and laughed a lot at our attempts to ask for the kitchen she would not let us use. So we ate heaps and drank sweet (yuk) coffee a great road side cafe for five dollars.

Day 1660 Saturday 2nd May

Getting to the bikes early we were surprised to find them blocked in by four cars. Asking the early shift reception lady she said it was no problem. So we packed, filled the chain oilers and installed fuel from our huge spare container that we carried across the desert, just in case. Still no owners came to let us free. Now it was seven-thirty and we wanted to get gone, the day was heating up. The lady from last night arrived and laughed, (not a good start with our fraying state of mind) she agreed with the first lady that we could carry them passed the cars, as this was our only option as the owner of the vehicle blocking our exit ramp was not coming back today!! The other vehicles by now had moved, and this was now our only hold up. She laughed again long and loud and said for us to go and eat breakfast. “Maybe tomorrow it moves”. She left the garage, laughing. With a strip of packing tape I got the car door open and started to push it back when the owner walked in. She looked fairly surprised ( as I would have), but just got in and reversed it out like it happens to her a lot. We rode off to the cool air of the mountains, to rid our ears of taunting laughter.

Although it was only three hundred clicks to our next town it took six and a half hours, with a ten minute fuel stop and thirty more for an early afternoon snack. Rice, beans and yummy cold salad with hectic hot home-made chilly sauce. The twisty roads while great to ride were slowing us to an average of fifty kph. On our final descent from our three thousand five hundred meter high the bright green fields contrasted with the dark green of the fir trees that had taken over from the eucalyptus from the higher ground. The whole steep valley sides as far as one could see was criss crossed with thin white streams and waterfalls. Words don’t really describe it and photographs did not capture the immensity of its scale.

We had G.P.S. Co-ordinates which took us straight to our lovely hostel where our bike were soon in the entrance foyer out of sight of the dark skies.

Walking the old town we found the cathedral with two distinctive domes tiled in white and blue. They had shone in the afternoon sun as we rode down out of the mountains. As dusk gathered the bell towers and some of the higher masonry was illuminated by L.E.D. Not sure what the architects of the building would have thought but it was pleasant, in my opinion. We had arrived early enough in the day to find out if it was worth a second night, it was a delightful place. We explored till late as the majority of the stores would not be open tomorrow.

Day 1661 Sunday 3rd May

After a great breakfast of eggs, warm toast, jam, butter and mugs of delicious coffee we updated the blog and uploaded pictures. Filling our morning, no point in rushing out to browse the street stalls as they don’t set up till eleven or so.

Having walked for hours in the almost hot sunshine an unnecessary appetite had crept up on us. As the sun vanished behind clouds and torrential rain fell we dived into a small cafe where we had a salad supper with baked spuds and herbs.

Day 1662 Monday 4th May

After another great breakfast we packed and headed north from Cuence to Riobamba, via El Triunfo. Not the most direct route granted, without street direction G.P.S. we had taken a wrong turn and headed west, back to ocean level, from our three thousand metre lofty heights. Checking our map we turned north-east and tried again, successfully this time, arriving an hour later than planned. Our hostel offered secure parking but not undercover for the first time.

Having a kitchen to use found us carrying a bag full of veggies to make soup, enough for two days, the cost, two dollars. The fruit costing slightly more, but such fruit as you can’t buy in the northern hemisphere. Strange long melons, as big as shoe box, shaped like star fruit, tasting of mild lemons,. Tomato fruit and a cannon ball sized, grey/green coloured soft thing that we scooped out the centre and ate on bread, yum!

Day 1663 Tuesday 5th May

Spent our day wandering the markets and successfully not buying anything but lovely strawberries!!

Diane made a couple of enquiries to hostels, the first offered secure undercover parking and was the cheapest. The second made no mention of any at all. She emailed and asked for his best price, the reply was, “you can have a clean bed in a dry store-room where we keep old paperwork for five dollars”. Can’t argue with that.

Day 1664 Wednesday 6th May

For once leaving a large town was blissfully easy. Out the door turn right, right at the top and out onto a main road that took us to the highway and Quito. Unlike a lot of the Pan Americana highway in Ecuador this stretch of Ruta thirty five was nowhere as twisty as it stayed out of the higher mountains. We made good time to the capital, stopping for hot coffee to warm our numb fingers.

For some reason the city seemed easy to navigate around, we went directly to our first choice of hostel, only to be to told the prices quoted on the flyer was per person and not per room. So we headed of to the second, only one km away, and closer to town. Casa Helbling surprisingly enough (!!!!), was owned by a German guy and his, I think Ecuadorian wife. The hostel was great, all we could ask for, except an included breakfast. It also did have parking behind gates so we settled in.

Quito has an old town and a new town that overlap slightly, the new town main drag was ten minuets walk. We found a plethora of local shops, from bakeries with wonderful displays of bread, cakes and pastries, fruit and veggie stores with shelves stacked with now familiar fruit, restaurants and cafes offering Chinese, Mexican, Indian and the globally required burgers and pizzas.

Too late to be bothered to buy and cook we opted for a Chinese which was really good, very filling as the portions were huge, tasty and cheap.

Heading back in the dark we were seduced by a bake house selling large croissants so we bought four for breakfast, feeling guilty at this buttery filled gluttony, a mango, grey/green cannonball, banana and lemon melon was bought to make it look healthier…..

Day 1665 Thursday 7th May

Deciding to walk rather than bus it to the old town was a great way to walk off yesterdays excess of supper. We had the co-ordinates of the museums and churches we wanted to visit so hopeful to avoid fruitless wandering that can fill your day and tire your legs. Some of the churches were closed and the others made a charge but they were well worth the entrance fee. To see such attention to detail and lavish decoration was a sight to behold. Some permitted photography and some did not, however we risked our souls and took some pictures discreetly. I did witness one visitor explaining to a security man that he was taking video, on the second telling off he was asked to leave…

Grazing on fried sliced banana and potatoes during the day we settled for a light Indian feast of green curry and masala, rice and a huge jug of squeezed orange juice.

Day 1666 Friday 8th May

As the bikes were two thousand clicks off a service we took our lives and wallets in our own hands and jumped on a trolley bus to the north of the city to buy replacement oil filters. We have a pair to use, but being in a city it made good sense to me to get more as one never knows where the next ones won’t come from. The KTM shop was easily tracked with the GPS and a filter was purchased for twenty (!!!) bucks. The Honda shop was a couple of km walk back into town, however it was sales only, so a taxi took us to the parts shop where they had no stock. We walked back to new town via large tree filled parks with ice cream sellers, courting couples and families enjoying the sunshine. I thought there were a lot of working age men that on Friday maybe should have been at work! We passed through a couple of malls selling the same stuff. And soon ended up at our Chinese for one last feed.

Day 1667 Saturday 9th May

Taking a slight diversion to Mitad del Mundo, a monument on the equator I was slightly surprised to have read that the large stone structure with a large globe atop of it was two hundred and fifty metres south of the centre line. So we rode passed it and around the corner till my GPS read 00.00000, just that no north or south. While I took the camera for a shot of this historic reading the numbers changed, I was standing still!! They now read S00.00010 so maybe the exact middle earth moves according to greater forces than mortal people.

Surprisingly just out of town was a three to four lane freeway. With little traffic on it we made good time, reaching speeds we had not achieved for weeks, eighty, ninety even a hundred was seen on some stretches. The only thing that slowed our progress was the numerous sets of robot lights that showed red when a farmer needed to cross his goats, cows or sheep to the fields on the other side. I guess the road split the farms into two halves, so a crossing was needed, a bridge over, too expensive. So stop the traffic and risk having animals running up the freeway instead of pastures new!!

Unknowingly booking into the most noisy hotel in town we dumped our gear and hit Otavalo market.

The market was advertised as an enormous Saturday street affair, offering produce bought down from the mountains. Including bags, fruit, rugs and a guy who fret sawed and filed coins. He picked out the letters, numbers, heads, flowers or whatever took his fancy. It sounds simple, the end result was both intriguing, unusual, arty and attractive. Giving a new dimension to everyday items. We bought a one pound coin as a necklace off this effervescent guy who was dressed in stripy bright shirt and pants. Also giving him a few Peruvian coins we found in our bags. Much to his delight.

Alas the rest of it looked very similar to the rest of the items for sale continent wide. Made a nice walk though and we found another Chinese eatery where five USD filled both our bellies.

Day 1668 Sunday 10th May

Waking early after a very noisy night we left the deserted town for the border with Colombia.

Seeing some Peruvian registered trucks reminded me of the Bolivian border where a quite a few of the trucks and many trailers still carried their French, German, Polish and Swedish registration plates. Thought these should have stayed in their country…

The final part of the road out of Ecuador was the same sharp twisty hairclip bends as when we entered. Great fun through great scenery of green folded valleys, countless waterfalls and spindly bridges over deep gullies.

Unusually we did not have to fill in an entry form to gain a visa for Colombia. A few question were asked in perfect English and my page was carefully stamped in one corner, rectifying the haphazard thump by his colleague as we entered from Peru. Now making it possible to have four stamps on the page as opposed to maybe only one. It sounds petty but with hopefully ten more countries to visit our passports will last out the trip.

Our money changer was thwarted by either his boss or mentor three times in giving us Pesos, so we left the very helpful Ecuadorian and Colombian officers, and the rain at the border.

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