Ecuador

My 2018: Year In Review

An exhausting and refreshing 5 month bicycle journey in 2017, I felt rejuvenated to get back into the swing of things at the office and tackle new challenges. 2018 was a busy year with work, but it was also packed with adventures near and far.

Every year I like to reflect on the past 12 months to see where I spent my time. 2017201620152014, 2013, 2012 were all memorable and I’m glad that I’ve taken the time to keep a log. It will be fun to look back in the years to come.

Now that I’m 35, it’s been decided with Charlie (my friend of the same age), that we’re “almost 40.” Wow, that’s a crazy thought and a reminder that life is short and meant for living!

January

After some wonderful family time back in New Hampshire it was back to California. I was all by myself for a little while longer because Amber and my sister were on a Prius road trip from the east coast to west coast. My sister was starting a new job in northern California and Amber volunteers to drive cross country with her.

We had the privilege to host our first traveler of the year, a fellow cycle tourer (albeit the 1-wheeled kind), Ed Pratt, on his 3 year tour around the world. It felt good to repay some of the hospitality that was given to us on our trip. While at our house, he edited a video series from his in New Zealand. Check it out on his YouTube channel.

Since I moved to California in 2012, I’ve been flying to China every 6 to 8 weeks. With a 6 month hiatus, I was back on a flight across the pacific for the first China trip after our bicycle trip, and for the first trip of the new year. The timing was perfect and I was able to join the company’s annual holiday party. My colleagues were stunned to learn that in the USA, its not customary to create and perform a dance on stage during the holiday party…

However, this wasn’t an ordinary trip… I flew into Shanghai and then a few days later departed Shanghai on a flight to Germany. Another few days in Germany and then a flight to San Francisco. I had just flown around the world! That’s a first for me…

After the business meetings were over in Munich, I visited The Dachau concentration camp. Walking through the camp, where so many people were forced to suffer, was an intense experience. Although hard to fathom the atrocities, the site is now a beautiful memorial, museum, and reminder. Let us never forget…

February

I saw it every year… My favorite holiday in Chinese New Year! Because I work for a Chinese company, there’s always work to be done, even during US holidays. But during Chinese holidays, my email is quiet and I can enjoy a little peace. To celebrate, Amber and I flew to Colorado and spent the week visiting friends in Denver and Boulder, some whom I haven’t seen since I graduated college! It was wonderful to connect with so many friends and spend time in beautiful Colorado.

Remember those crazy suits from the above holiday party photo? Well… I took a few back to the USA. Charlie and I put them to good use during a morning bicycle ride.

Amber had a bit of an adventure herself this month too as she flew to Germany just a few weeks after I returned. A friend of ours had a business trip and Amber went along to help take care of the baby. I left a “love lock” on bridge and I gave Amber the key and directions on how to find it. She loved the scavenger hunt and the feeling of connection with me, despite being a third of the way around the world.

March

Family time. A fun weekend of hiking with my sister, Abby.

Kazuhiro is a young Japanese guy who is super friendly, humble and hardcore. The kid cycled from New York to San Francisco, by taking a northern route in the middle of winter! We hosted him at our house and I joined him for a few miles on the last day of his trip. Here we are taking tourist photos at the Facebook head quarters.

After our Japanese traveler left, we hosted an Italian moto traveler. Of course we had to try out the unicycle (that we purchased after hosting our Unicycle traveler in January). Fortunately, he didn’t have to test his health insurance coverage during his visit to California.

April

A month in motion… It started off with China Trip #2 and then a flight directly to Utah to join Amber at the American Occupational Therapy Association conference. We pitched our app, SnapType, at the inventors showcase (a.k.a. Shark Tank) and were wonderfully surprised to be the winners of the contest! The judges loved what we had already done with SnapType and for its future potential. This was a great accomplishment, especially for Amber to get the recognition and support from her fellow occupational therapists.

After the conference we spent a few days in the southern Utah deserts and national parks with our friends, David and Haley. We love them and had such a great time filled with scenic hikes, delicious meals, awkward photos, and belly laughs. Here we are twisting our way through an intricate slot canyon.

We drove back to Salt Lake City and I flew out that day for China Trip #3. But rather than share a photo from my time in China, enjoy this picture from a week later when a few of my Chinese colleagues came to California. I treated them to an authentic Mexican meal. This may be the best way to unite the citizens of the world… with an enormous plate of tacos!

And we welcomed the arrival of spring by celebrating the Hindu festival of Holi.

May

Hey, how about another trip to China? Sure… China Trip #4. I had a custom t-shirt made with a Mandarin phrase that rolls off the tongue – 帅老外 (Shuai Lao Wai). In English, it translates to “Handsome Foreigner” and my colleagues loved it. They deserved a good laugh.

Leaving China it was a bus ride to Hong Kong, then a flight to Los Angeles, then Phoenix, then Flagstaff, followed by a 2 mile walk to meet Amber who was sleeping in our tent at the Overland Expo. Jet lag was no match for the energy of being surrounded by thousands of overland travelers. We gave several presentations about our travels by bicycle, motorcycle, and 4×4. When not presenting, we were catching up with friends and checking out all the seriously cool overland rigs on display. Ideas were planted, and we’ll be looking forward to more overland travel in the years to come.

Back in California and back on the bicycles for a weekend of bicycle touring and camping! We rode our bikes to Half Moon Bay to wish our friends, Christian and Persephone, bon voyage as they move to Boston for a new adventure. After the BBQ, we setup camp at the hike-and-bike site at the State Park. In the morning a fellow cyclist had his bike stolen! He was in the showers when someone came over to the site and rode away on his bike. No one realized what had happened until it was too late. Amber set off on her bike to try and find the thief while I broke down camp (she’s the tough one, not me). Unfortunately, he was long gone by then and the harsh reality set in that this traveler, who was on his way from Seattle to San Diego, would have to find new wheels. It’s a sad reminder that you can’t be too cautious with your gear…

Our friend Andrew and his Dad were on their way from San Diego to Maine and made a stop in with us for the night. We love hosting travelers and seeing our hometown friends!

June

Amber’s favorite vegetable is the artichoke, so when the annual artichoke festival in Castroville came around, we knew we had to attend. Although we enjoyed spending time with our friends, John and Betsy, it turned out to be a bit of a bust, with a fairground full of vendors selling crummy imported trinkets. We reluctantly took a farm tour though and were glad we did because it ended up being extremely interesting. We learned about the different types of artichokes and they let us cut some of our own to take home.

The tail leg of China Trip #5 was exhausting and wonderful. I managed a 20 hour layover in Japan on the way out. Rather than undertake the lengthy travel into downtown Tokyo, I stayed at a hotel just a few minutes from the airport and I spent a day walking around the small town of Narita. Wow, what a great decision that was! Narita has magnificent old temples, shrines and parks. Small ramen noodle restaurants are everywhere and the whole vibe was so pleasant. Hard to imagine that it’s just down the street from Japan’s busiest airport. The best bit? I loved this simple and inexpensive “bridge” that enables people to cross the river without stopping the flow of water. How ingenious!

After Japan, it was time to cross the international date line for a 10 hour layover in Honolulu, Hawaii. Making good use of my time, I walked from the airport to Pearl Harbor. This was a stark contrast in world history to where I was just hours ago.

Back at the airport and a short hop to the island of Kauai for a meet up with more of my family to celebrate my cousin’s wedding. We all had a wonderful time exploring the island. Congratulations Matt and Jess!

June also marked the start of high school summer vacation. Our 16 year old nephew, Justin, joined us in California for the summer. Excited to workout and make some money, he got what he asked for right away by being the hired muscle to move Amber’s gymnastics into a new building.

July

Since our friends Danny and Mckinsey moved to San Diego a few years back, we’ve missed hanging out with them and their family. So when they told us they were coming to Carmel, we jumped at the opportunity to have some fun with them. Here we are out on the lake in a pair of canoes.

China Trip #6 and a free Sunday. Bicycle riding with my colleagues! All was going well until the clamps on my folding bicycle let loose mid-ride and suddenly I lost all control of the steering! Oh China…

Overnight backpacking plans in the Sierra’s were shut down at the day before departure due to the California wildfires. Last minute, we changed our destination to an even more challenging route much closer to us. Justin and I hiked 18 miles of the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail in the Santa Cruz mountains. He did great. My old-man-knees eventually hobbled into the campground where we met up with Amber for a night of camping. We filmed the hike together and then later on Justin edited the footage into a video. Welcome to nature!

August

Another traveler to host! Issei is a classic rock loving college student from Japan, working his way down west coast of the USA. We indoctrinated him with a classic Californian meal.

Hot summer days and an offer from a colleague to go boating and tubing had us driving to the Sacramento Delta. We spent the day on the water getting whipped behind the speed boat. Simple pleasures.

With the end of the summer approaching, it was time for Justin to make his way back to New Hampshire and start his Junior year in high school. But before he left, we scheduled a tour of local colleges, Stanford and Santa Clara University. Teenagers love having their picture taken in public…

September

To celebrate our 3 year wedding anniversary, I had a painting commissioned by a talented artist and fellow bicycle traveler. She created the art while in Nepal and we had a friend of friend pick it up from her in New Delhi, India to hand carry it back to the USA – truly a world-gift! She makes beautiful watercolor paintings and the photos from their travels are really stunning. Take a look at their blog. We’ll cherish this painting at the memory of our Silk Road journey for years to come!

China Trip #7

A friends weekend of camping and mountain biking in Downieville, California was just what the doctor ordered after a hectic month of work!

The next weekend it was off to Mariposa, California for our annual pilgrimage to the Horizons Unlimited meetup. Time spent with fellow travelers, away from cell phone coverage, was quite refreshing. We gave several presentations and enjoyed soaking in presentations about Russia, Africa, and Alaska…

Our long time family cat (Fastball / Fatball) died this month. We were sad to see him go, but happy to have had nearly 17 years of fun memories together with him. He loved playing ruff and being spun in circles on the floor. I even taught him to reach up and give me a high five whenever he wanted to be let out of the house. He will be missed.

October

Celebrating my second favorite holiday of the year… Chinese Golden Week! My friend Salil and I headed back to South America for a week of motorcycle riding around Ecuador’s backroads. The guys at Freedom Bike Rental set us up with DR650s which were perfect for the remote dirt road riding we embarked on. I also had the opportunity to meet my niece for the first time! Amber’s sister lives down in Quito so it was a double-win.

Enjoy this video we created with highlights from our journey around Ecuador.

Flying (indirectly) from Quito to Shanghai for Trip #8 and a visit from Amber’s mom wrapped up October.

November

Forest fires were raging this month in Northern and Southern California. The devastation to those communities is hard to comprehend. Even though hundreds of miles away, the smoke created terrible air quality throughout the Bay Area. Thankfully, the day before Thanksgiving, rain fell to help tame the fires and clear the air just in time to enjoy a lovely west coast gathering with my sisters, Abby and Molly. We worked off the calories with a bicycle ride through the neighborhood.

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December

As the end of the year rolled around, we were about to embark on our most remarkable and challenging adventure yet…

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A week overdue, our son arrived happy and healthy, and we are in love! It’s been a hectic few days since. Day and night blend into one and we are seriously sleep deprived. But Amberlynn’s mother has been visiting for a few days and we are so thankful for her help. We really hit the jackpot – she’s been a labor and delivery nurse for 25+ years.

This will be a new stage of our lives, and we’re looking forward to the journey!

What went well in 2018?

  • We created a human! Out of all the crazy, beautiful, insane, exhausting, and wonderful adventures in life, this moment and the years to come may just be the most adventurous.
  • Despite not visiting any new countries (a first in nearly a decade), I still had the opportunity to re-visit a few old ones. China (obviously), Japan, Germany, and Ecuador.
  • After the travel adventure in 2017 followed by an exhausting year in the office, Amber and I continue to realize that we want more out of life. We both enjoy our careers and we’re happy to ride this wave for a while, but we’re certainly keen for a non-conventional life filled with more adventure in the future. Sharing this grand vision with my partner feels good.
  • Continued success with our app, SnapType. Our user base is growing and we’re making a modest but healthy revenue. Winning the AOTA pitch contest was another avenue for validation and it was marvelous to receive it. We also took some big steps this year in developing the next generation of SnapType and although we’re not ready to launch it to the world just yet, it’s great to see progress being made towards that goal. We get heartwarming emails from teachers and parents each week and we know they’re going to love the new features that we’re developing for them. I spent more hours than normal this year on SnapType so we could put together the plan for the future. And when we release a pretty big bug in the middle of the year, it was a hectic week putting in a fix, but our users really appreciated the quick improvements and customer service they received. It’s been a lot of work, but also energizing and rewarding.
  • I was able to jump back into my day job and hit the ground running, even with being away for 5 months. Throughout the year I provided a lot of value to my customers and my team. It certainly wasn’t a walk in the park, but overall it was a positive experience and I’m glad that I could be of service. Although I missed out on a good amount of income while being on the road, it was well worth it to live out our dream. Business continues to be strong and it’s great to be involved in the company’s success along side my talented colleagues.
  • We continued documenting our bicycle tour with a series of more than 50 mini-episodes on YouTube. Amber does most of the hard work when it comes to editing and I come in and touch them up before they get published. We receive heaps of comments and thanks for our videos. We know we’ll be happy to look back on them later in life and we’re pleased to know that they are inspiring and educating other travelers. Even though the trip is over, we still hope to create and share videos of our future adventures. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and get notified when new videos go live. In a world where we consume so much, it feels much more fulfilling to create.

What did not go well in 2018?

  • I tried to keep up with my language learning but I quickly realized how much Russian I had forgotten. Since I travel to China for work, I thought I’d pick up my Mandarin lessons again. The education didn’t last long and after a few months I gave it a rest and have yet to pick it back up. I really like taking the time to study and learn but with such a busy year of work, my mental energy was running low.
  • Yoga… I keep saying that I’ll do it. The benefits are well known to me. But I keep putting it off… Perhaps there has been so much urgency in life life this, I didn’t spend the time to focus on the important, but less urgent items.
  • I visited New Hampshire a few times and had some great visits with family, but it always felt too fast. I miss having family down the road and hanging out with them more often.
  • My step-father has been gone for a year and a half. It’s gotten easier over time, but I still miss him. Every once in a while I’ll think of something that I’d like to share with him, but then I remember he’s gone. Rather than be sad, it makes me smile to remember him. Life goes on and he’ll always be with me.

Looking ahead

2018 was certainly a memorable year. Content from our twice-in-a-lifetime adventure, we didn’t undertake any grand travels, but we enjoyed the pregnancy progression. Nevertheless, we are already looking forward to the year ahead and to making memories with friends and family in 2019. I hope to put a few more miles (pun intended) onto the BMW R1150 RS motorcycle that I’m bike-sitting for a friend. The day job will be interesting as we continue to grow and diversify but hopefully engaging and rewarding  as well with certainly more than a few trips to China. The future of SnapType is bright and we’re really excited to share the next generation with our users – we know they’re going to love it. Learning to be a father and spending time with my son are going to make 2019 wonderful, demanding, exhausting, and fulfilling.

I hope that one day my son will look back on these writings and see that his old man was once a cool guy (with a little hair still left on top of his head). May he be inspired to embrace curiosity, seek out adventure, do good as he goes, connect with community, and be happy in life.

How was your 2018? Are you happier now than you were the same time last year? Have you made progress on your personal goals? What went well for you this year? What could have gone better? Send me an email or leave a comment below, I’d love to hear form you.

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Categories: Bicycle Touring, China, Ecuador, Germany, japan, Uncategorized, United States | Leave a comment

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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