Ecuador

Ecuador – Aluasi, Cuenca, Loja and the border

The three musketeers left Riobamba and set off for Alausi to take the Nariz del Diablo train (Devil’s Nose). The train is famous for winding through the mountains with passengers sitting on the roof. However, we learned that passengers are no longer allowed on the roof. It’s all fun and games until someone gets decapitated… The tickets were also sold out so we decided to press on for Cuenca where we attended a football match. Marty insisted we sit in the student section and it was crazy. We quickly learned the chants and continued to scream and clap.  On three occasions dynamite was set off in the stands and we ran for cover as our ear drums were nearly blown out. Unfortunately, Cuenca lost but before the game was over some fans got in a fight right in front of us and dozens of police came to restore order. We climbed up the rafters for a better view and Marty snapped this photo.

Cuenca Soccer Game

The next morning I split from Marty and Charles. We had different timelines and aspirations for the journey so I decided to part ways and keep on solo (you never know, we might meet up again down the road). Charles is riding with Marty for a bit. You can check out Marty’s blog at: http://martysouthamerica.wordpress.com/ Diego sent me a knobby tire from Quito and flew it into Loja so that’s where I headed. I got the tire and now have a some fresh rubber for when I hit Bolivia.

Bright and early I left for the border from Loja. I chose the Macara border in the mountains. It was far more scenic than the coastal panamariana crossing (which I’ve heard terrible rumors that it’s the worst crossing in South America). The ride was beautiful through the mountains. I’ve noticed that I always say that these roads are beautiful. Well… it’s true! I’m so fortunate to explore this beautiful land.

The border was ridiculously easy and after the usual chit chat I’m off to Peru…

Categories: Ecuador | 1 Comment

Ecuador – Quilotoa Loop, Ambato, Chimborazo & Riobamba

OK, time for some riding. It takes a while to ride south through Quito but eventually we get off the Panamaricana for what’s known as the Quilotoa Loop. The road starts out as windy pavement that goes up into the highlands of Ecuador. It’s fascinating to see the people change as we climb. A quick stop for lunch in a local village and we keep on.

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A third of the way through the loop is the Quilotoa Crater Laguna.

Quilotoa Loop Stitch

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The road turns to gravel just after the lake. It’s slow going with tight switch backs and lots of washboard.

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We’re riding swiftly when around the corner comes an old Land Rover. I’m able to swerve to the inside and rest on the bank. Charles, behind me, has the option of swerving off the cliff side to the right (not a good option) or low-siding the bike and crashing into the truck (not a good option either, but better than going off the cliff). He does so and his front end slides under the Land Rover. There’s some silence then we pick up the bike. His rack is severely broken now but he’s able to continue on. Unfortunately, there’s no photo of the accident. Moral of the story: ride faster and take more chances.

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The dirt continues as we make distance. About an hour later Charles swerves off the road. He has a flat front tire… The daylight is getting short and we still have far to ride so there’s no time to wallow. We work together and get the tire changed and we’re riding again in about 45 minutes.

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We’re now racing against the clock to make it back to the autopista. The road conditions are sketchy and it’s not the kind of place to be riding at night. Dodging potholes and large rocks, we find the autopista well after dark. There are no hotels in this small town so we continue down the dark autopista for an hour tailgating trucks so we can see the road. Finally in Ambato safe but tired and hungry at 8pm we grab some pizza by the square. Serendipitously we spot Marty. He has a tiny little one bed hotel room (the only thing left in the city because it’s carnival). We persuade the hotel manager to let us sleep on the floor in his tiny room. Ambato’s not a tourist town but they have one great party for Carnival! We hit the streets and it’s not long before we’re covered in foam.

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But don’t you worry. Cans of spray foam are $2. We load up and fight for our lives! Here’s Marty and I back to back protecting one another. We were great big gringo targets and everyone loved to shoot us (especially the little kids). The foam started to burn our eyes and skin. What a fun night!

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With a few street shish kabobs in our stomach we call it a night. In the morning this old woman starts speaking to us in tongue. Who knows what she said but she was a hoot. I think she could fit in Charles’ pannier and come along. We know she’s a fan of Canada.

 Old Lady Canada Flag

Hauling in the daily catch.

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Today we ride up to Volcan Chimborazo. With a 6,300 meter summit it’s the tallest point from the center of the earth. As we ride through the pueblos we’re continuously accosted by water balloons and buckets of water. What better target than a motorcyclist? The kids run to grab their water pals as they see us coming down the road. Often they miss us because they misjudge the speed and timing. But let me tell you, a water balloon or pail of water when riding at 60 mph is like getting hit with a brick. Not only that, now we’re soaking wet and riding in the cold. What a wonderful adventure!

The road climbs into the clouds and we stop to put on our cold weather gear.

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Continuing up the road becomes dirt. The washboard roads are fun to ride. (Thanks for the photo, Marty!)

 Volcan Chimborazo

The road ends at the refugee. It’s 4,800 meters (15,600 feet) up here and it’s the highest altitude I’ve ever been. It’s a chore just to walk a hundred meters up the slope to view the monuments.

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Remembering those who gave their life to the mountain (there are many of these).

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No Starbucks?

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And as it is everywhere we go, we become the tourist attraction. Posing for pictures with families is a daily activity.

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Upon leaving Chimborazo we pass through the same pueblos we did on the way up. The grenadiers are ready and we do our best to dodge the water grenades. We don’t always succeed…

We spend the night in Riobamba and there’s a lively water fight going on all over the streets. Marty jumps in his rain suit and hits the streets with a pail of water.

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More to come after the break. Stay tuned!

Categories: Ecuador | 7 Comments

Ecuador – Quito

Marty took this photo of me riding through the mountains.

Ben Riding

Back in the days of Central America I was doing a border crossing every few days. Having spent 3 weeks in Colombia, I was excited for a new country. Marty and I crossed the border with ease. I did have to change over some currency. I usually try to deplete my local currency before reaching the border but it didn’t work out this time so I had to change the equivalent of $35 USD. I negotiated with the money changer for a good rate and then when he punched it into his calculator I could see that the math wasn’t right. His calculator was rigged and he tried to scam me out of $7 USD. I found another money changer instead who didn’t scam me. All is good.

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As we continue on we ride through gorgeous mountains laced with farm land that runs up each steep slope. It doesn’t take very long to arrive at La Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) a.k.a. the equator. I’m finally in the southern hemisphere! We spent a few minutes taking some goofy equator pictures.

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My GPS power cable broke in Mexico and I haven’t used the GPS since. I’ve really enjoyed riding with the GPS. I spend less time looking at my mileage, average speed, riding time, and location. I spend more time looking at the world around me and asking people for directions. Although, I had to pop in some batteries for a GPS on the equator picture. Close enough I’d say.

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Onward towards Quito. Marty and I drop our bikes of with Diego, a mechanic I met through ADVrider. Diego’s offered to help us fix a few things on the bike and install my heated grips (Remembering those first few days in the cold rain and snow in the northeast USA, I’m so excited for some warm hands).

With the bikes safely stored in Diego’s garage, we catch a cab over to my friend Jess’ apartment. Jess lives in Quito and her Spanish is scary good. It’s great to see a familiar face and have a local guide for the city. For dinner she takes us to this street corner downtown that serves delicious street food every night. We stuff ourselves silly for $3 (ya, they use the US dollar down here for currency).

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Her boyfriend Marcos meets up with us and takes us for a stroll through the old city. We take in the sights form the back of his pickup truck. The next morning we head to the mountains to take the cable car up to 4100 meters (~13,000 ft.) for a beautiful view over the city. It’s tough walking up at this altitude!

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Probably the most beautiful panorama I’ve ever seen. Thanks, Marty.

Ben Mountain Stitch

Marty is 6’4” tall. He stands out down here… Marcos calls him the Gringoso or Gringo Monstroso. As the legend goes, the Gringo Monster eats Ecuadorian children. Here’s Marty scoping out his prey.

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Back at Jess’ place it’s time for some laundry in the washing stone on the roof of her building.

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Marty’s bike is ready and he takes Jess for her first ever motorcycle ride. 

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Charles eventually shows up that night. He tells us that his rear shock blew out riding the dirt roads from San Augustin. He’s basically riding an old Cadillac that bounces and bounces and has no dampening. He’s tired and we’re all ready for a beer. Here we are sitting on the street corner outside Jess’ place.

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Marty departs early the next morning and Charles and I run some errands. Early afternoon I meet up with Diego and my bike is ready to go. Thanks for all the help, Diego!

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With a fresh bike I took Marco for a ride around the neighborhood. Marcos, it’s time to buy a bike and ride north to the States!

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Marcos then invited Charles and I too his family’s party. It’s the start of Carnival this weekend. Carnival is defined by music, drinking, pouring water on people, and spraying others with foam. It’s pretty amazing and we had a great time at the party.

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Chowing down on Cuy (guinea pig) after getting splashed in the face with cornstarch.

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Harassing the caged cuy. “I’m going to eat you!”

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Gringo Monsters love to eat Ecuadorian children.

Ben eating baby

Hungover and sucking in diesel fumes made the next morning a challenge. Charles and I said goodbye to Jess and rode up to another Mitad del Mundo monument. Thank you Jess and Marcos for hosting us and showing us a wicked good time!

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North vs. South.

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More southern hemisphere adventures ahead. Stay tuned!

Categories: Ecuador | 3 Comments

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