Patchwork fields of small farms.
Farmers harvesting their potatoes., but check the background.
Rugged mountain views of the Andes
Good roads wind through high arid lands.
Everybody's always got washing to do. We work our way up the mountains and then down into the river valley.
Sheer rock faces rise up from the road.
A snap shot of the passing locals.
Locals sunning themselves in the main square of the Old Town in Quito.
The sun reveals the snow capped peak of Chimborazo volcano, Riobamba
Interesting small communities all along the way
... interesting sights within each of the communities.
... such interesting people along the road side.
Every bit of land is tilled right up into the mountain tops, industrious locals work the land with basic tools. We watched this lady work and were surprised to see her age when she turned around!
Cuenca flower markets.
... Colourful people in the colourful markets ...
Bargaining with the locals is expected.
More wonderful mountain views.
It's a hard way of life, especially for the woman.
We pass rolling hills and small farms.
Eventually we arrived in Loja .
Looking back at the road up from the valley.
Never ending great roads and curves.
The mountain scenery becomes more arid ...
...and we enjoy the shapes, colour and texture of the lanscape.
Next page will take you on to Peru.
At the Ecuador side immigration was quick and easy and for the first time our Carnét was useful for the bike. We had to chase down a customs official though and get him to acknowledge that we wanted to bring the bike into the country. No charge at the Ecuador side either and we were on our way within an hour an a half.
Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America and today we would cross the equator, but surprisingly as soon as we crossed the border the landscape seemed to change. The mountains were just as impressive but there were more signs of agriculture and the mountain sides were a patchwork with fields of various crops. The road too was excellent and as good as any in the USA as it wound it's way up and down and around the many mountains. Most major roads are toll roads and unlike Colombia we have to pay, but just 20cents for the motorcycle.
I don't think there is a flat bit of road in Ecuador and very few straight stretches and I couldn't help thinking to myself how fortunate we are to be riding in this beautiful country on these fantastic roads, on the best motorcycle in the world listening to the Rolling Stones, BB King, Van Morrison and others on the stereo. How good is that. The Ecuadorian drivers are also quite civilised and well mannered compared to their Colombian neighbours and exhibit none of the daredevil antics we've become accustomed to. I'll wager there are no racing drivers from Ecuador.
Quito is only 250km from the border but it took us 5 hours to get there, not that the road was that slow but because we had to keep stopping to take photos. We thought the scenery yesterday was the best we've seen but, there's more! We rode across the the Andean high plateaus with the two parallel ridges of the Andes either side with some of the peaks reaching an amazing 6000m. We passed though lush farmland then desert mountains then lush farmland again before more dry areas on our way to Quito which at nearly 3000m is the second highest city in South America. Even though we're on the equator, at this altitude it's pleasantly cool, even cold in the evenings.
What a surprise Quito was. I don't know why but I had imagined Ecuador to be a poor country with an undeveloped infrastructure. Our guide book indicates that less than 3% of people own a car and the country has an average of about 1 radio for every 3 people and 1 television set for every 12 people. Ecuador also has an average of about 3 telephones for every 100 people. With stats like that what are you supposed to think, and while some of the villages on the way down would support this, Quito is nevertheless a vibrant modern city.
Evening light shining through the city smog.
Arriving at rush hour, just for the challenge, we again asked some locals to recommend a cheap hostel and again they said, 'follow me' and took us to a clean comfortable hostel just outside the old centre. A little expensive at $20.00 but El Toro did get to stay in the secure art gallery attached to the hostel. (Ecuador has adopted the US dollar as the official currency in an attempt to combat rampant inflation. It's probably worked but does mean that prices are higher than we would like).
A short walk from the hostel to see the surroundings and I'm really surprised how cosmopolitan Quito is. This area is almost European with numerous cafés and bars and lots of internet access. Locals are extremely friendly towards us. Tourism is a big part of the economy in many Latin American countries and since 9/11 there has been a sharp decline in tourists so when the locals see us they tend to welcome us with open arms - its a good feeling. They probably think we've got money - can't help bad luck.
We're up early to make the most of the city and the views of the volcanoes that encircle Quito before the clouds build up and the smog obscures the views. A 30min walk along one of the main streets toward a large park and then a $5.00 taxi ride up to the Panecillo which overlooks the whole city. From here there are 360 degree views of Quito but the smog was already too bad to take good photos. We took the cab from here to Plaza Grande, next to the cathedral and the city hall in the old part of town and walked along the streets for a while. Quito is divided into the old town and new city and many of the local women in the old town still dress in brightly coloured clothes and wear bowler or trilby hats.
Walking through the old city does not feel safe and we clutch onto our bags in fear of loosing them. We've heard stories of bag snatching and pocket slashing so we keep alert.
That night we had a choice of cuisines but choose to go to a Ecuadorian Cafe to taste some of the local tucker. (more later in the food section, promise!!!)
Time to move on again on our southward journey, but a late getaway as we had some phone calls etc. to make. One of the big hassles of large cities is getting out and although we got directions and everything was going well just one instruction was misinterpreted and we went under instead of over an overpass. We still made it but had to deal with the traffic instead of hitting the main road - no big deal really but we could've done without the extra delay. I must say though that the drivers in Quito are very well mannered and polite and don't try to push us off the road or (generally) try to get in front of us. There is very little horn blowing and after Colombia it's actually a little boring!!!
Quito is a huge city and although the population is supposedly only 1.2 million, the outlying areas sprawl on forever and today's ride of about 200km to Riobamba took ages. It should have been spectacular as the road is called the 'valley of the volcanoes' and we rode along with volcanoes to the left and right of us. Unfortunately, it was overcast and the clouds coupled with the smog that gets trapped in the valley meant that viability was poor.
Arrived in Riobamba 5 minutes too late and just caught a thunderstorm before checking into a clean cheap hotel for the night.
Riobamba is a popular destination because of its snow capped volcanoes and we were keen to see the highest, Chimborazo, at over 6000m. Unfortunately it was raining in the morning and the low cloud obscured everything, but within an hour the rain cleared and we got a good view of this towering peak with fresh overnight snow on the top of the cone. Riobamba is about 3000m above sea level and it was cold here with the winds blowing off the snow. We don't mind though and are enjoying the cool conditions after all the heat we've endured. Wearing extra clothing also makes the packing easier.
The temp gauge reading as we head south again.
A short ride around this small city before heading south for Cuenca about 250km away. We were pleased to have planned an easy short hop as the scenery was absolutely stunning and this was probably the most spectacular leg of our journey. I know I tend say this every day but honestly we can't believe what we're riding through today with mountains and volcanoes either side of the winding road with interesting small communities all along. It would appear that each family is given a few hectares to farm and the hillsides are a patchwork of small houses and worked fields.
The hillsides are steep here, and this huge expanse of land is cultivated entirely by hand with the women (in traditional dress) hoeing and digging alongside the men. What a colourful spectacle with the green mountains, the black volcanic soil and women in bright traditional dress.
The majority of the Pan American Hwy here is extremely good but a bit unpredictable depending on how the rain has affected it. We rode on dirt for about 5 kms and dodged potholes for a further 40kms.
Arriving in Cuenca we had to find the right hotel with secure parking for the bike. Our guide book let us down and the place we headed for was unsuitable (too expensive) and we ended up getting caught in a huge storm before finding a comfortable hotel.
'Cuenca was founded in 1557 on the site of the Inca settlement of Tomebamba. Much of cuenca'a colonial air has been preserved with many of its old buildings constructed of the marble quarried nearby. It's cobblestone streets, flowering plazas and whitewashed buildings with old wooden doors and ironwork balconies make it a pleasure to explore. The climate is springlike but the nights are chilly. In 1999 Cuenca was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.'
It was soon dark but we wandered the streets feeling quite safe and shared a del de dia, (meal of the day), at a small cafe for $3.50
We're not sure whether to go south to the Peruvian border at Macara or west then south via the coast road which is more popular and the route the buses take. The thing is that we've seen about 3 or 4 maps and they all give differing indications of the road conditions, particularly in Peru. We don't want to get caught with several hundred kilometres of bad dirt road but the southern route should have the best mountain scenery - and be cooler - than the coastal road.
We need to explore Cuenca a little before leaving so armed with the camera we set out to take photos and get some info on the roads. Well the road info we got indicates that the southern route will be OK, so that's decided, but we spent too much time photographing the sights, the traditional people and exploring the textile and produce markets of Cuenca to be able to leave today. There's so much more to Cuenca than we expect and the usual bit of rain in the afternoon gives us time to catch up with a bit of housekeeping and rest up just a little before the next leg into Peru.
Haydn tries on the Panama hats hand made here in Cuenca...
...and I'm allowed to mind a local shop so that I can have my photo taken.
A bit of early morning rain delayed our departure but we exited the city and easily found the Pan American heading south for Loja about 200km away. The road is good but again the scenery is so spectacular that we end up averaging about 60kph as we pass through ever changing vegetation from farmland to arid almost desert to scrub and to forest and then back again as we climb and descend the high sierra.
At the risk of repeating myself I won't say that today is probably the best riding and scenery we've enjoyed but, it probably was. The rolling hills, the small farms and the people and their small villages made today very special for us. (Dianne took 270 photos!) The roads were mainly good but there were a few mud slides and some muddy riding.
We now have a brown Harley and need to find somewhere to wash the poor bike soon.
Eventually arrived in Loja about 3.00pm and although we probably should have tried to make Macara a further 200km we felt we should stop for the night and found a comfortable hostel with secure parking for El Toro. Tomorrow we'll have to make up time.
Just opened an email from good friends back home and they asked an interesting question. "Just wondering, do you ever feel scared? tired? intimidated? overwhelmed?" Well the response is yes, yes, yes and yes.
There are things that are scary like some (most) of the roads and the traffic. Even just being stopped at traffic lights in some cities and wondering if someone will try to rob us, or walking the streets and not always feeling secure. We hear so many stories about street crime and we can't afford to loose anything.
Feeling tired, well after a long day for sure, but sometimes also exhilarated. However, after more than 6 months of constant travel we do sometimes feel tired and could do with a break. Probably sounds strange to be wanting a break from utopia but just a short break would be nice. To maintain our endurance though we do try to have one day off in seven, though it doesn't always happen.
Intimidated, well we hate the border crossings but that's about the worst it's been. Fortunately we haven't had any problems with corrupt police or any other authorities and generally the local people are very helpful and accommodating.
Overwhelmed. Constantly by the incredible things we've seen, the wonderful people we've met and the fantastic experiences we've had. This tour has been awesome and we've certainly got no regrets. We also now have a far better appreciation of our life, our lifestyle and of the country we call home. We still find it difficult to come to grips with some of the absolute poverty that so many people in these countries endure.
Left Loja early heading for the border and another new adventure. Fairly cool as we left and we're both wearing our thermal tops. Within half an hour we're both pretty chilled but then we started to descend to the Loja Airport 35km from the city on a flat bit of ground. We must have dropped at least 1500m and we were suddenly feeling hot. The temperature in this region is totally dependant on altitude and as we rode on towards Macara we experienced several temperature extremes.
Yes, some more of the best and dramatic scenery we have ridden through!! The vegetation changed as we neared the Peru border and became more arid with ochre and red coloured mountains. Quite a change from all the green we have gone through over the past few days and brilliant blue skies enhance the experience. The roads to, twisted up and down through switchback after switchback and again we're wearing the sides of the tyres and not the centre, the best way to get good tyre life.
Arriving at Macara we were glad we had stopped at Loja as this is a bit of a ram shackle border town with very little in the way of accommodation. An efficient border crossing out of Ecuador although it seems the $4.00 per passport exit fee may have been a way for us gringos to 'share our wealth'' with the local immigration official.
Next page will take you on to Peru
|©Haydn and Dianne Durnell 200|