27 - ECUADOR
Quito to the Border - 28/5/04 - 09/6/04
So we were on the road again. It had taken a supreme amount of effort but we were off.
We didn't get far that first day. We left early and even though we had been given a great route out of the city it still took about an hour.
Back on the bike and all was well. We hoped to see Volcan Cotopaxi but it was covered in cloud as it often is. We had been recommended by Rich & Sylvia to stay at a hacienda near by so headed off for a relaxing afternoon.
It was an amazing place, a long tree lined drive lead to a courtyard with a grand fountain and stairs to an impressive building. As we rode up a doorman appeared. We were ushered in and shown around. It was a Spanish colonial style house set round beautiful gardens. There were so many staff all wanting to help unpack the bike and carry our stuff, it was a bit overwhelming.
We were transported to our room with a big open fire, yeay... it was freezing up there. We tried to light it a couple of times ourselves to no avail and then someone appeared with a big bottle of gloopy orange firelighter fluid. It roared in to life and we settled in for the evening....perfect.
The next morning we started off with a couple of guys trying to help us pack. Then a few more arrived to watch, then a few more. In the end we had the whole staff, cooks, gardeners the lot.
R decided he had to take a picture and the rush to look at the little screen was insane. We eventually got away, waving all the way down the drive.
We were now truly in rural Ecuador and it just got prettier. We went through a market town which was buzzing. People everywhere. We maneuvered slowly through town avoiding run away sheep and pigs asleep in the road.
I've never really got over thinking it rude to look at people as they go about their lives but I have slowly realized that we are the curiosity, out of place and being stared at all the time. Me finding a sheep being led along the pavement on a lead unusual, must seem comical.
Next stop was Riobamba. We walked up to a little park overlooking the town from where you can see the volcanoes Chimborazo and Carihauirazo on either side.
Candy Floss Sky - Riobamba
In the main plaza, is the Santa Barbara Cathedral which has a beautiful stone facade unlike we'd seen before. It was almost sun set as we got there and the sky was beautiful, delicate blue with candy floss clouds.
As usual we were besieged by shoe shine boys desperate to polish our trainers. We just ask for a photo now and give them money for that. Much easier than being followed around.
At a horribly slow internet cafe we got emails from Dan & Trys which made us laugh and made us miss them.
Now we were really in the Andes and the next morning knew the further we got before the mist came the better. The Pan-American winds through the mountains, perfect asphalt and amazing mountain views to the town of Alusi, perched high.
From Alusi on, the road gets worse and worse until it turns to dirt for a long twisty section. By this time the mist was coming in and our views were disappearing. We'd get glimpses every now and then and suddenly Elephant Man fog and nothing.
We arrived at Ingapirca (Inca ruins) in the rain and in need of a stop. We wanted to put the bike under cover somewhere and were very kindly found a cupboard. Bit tricky but nice and dry.
We mooched round in the rain and saw our first Llamas.
The road in to Cuenca was closed, a landslide we think, lots of rain so we had to do a mad detour. It went through villages and up very steep roads where we were glad not to meet buses or lorries coming the other way. We couldn't really figure how they would get through at all.
We arrived in Cuenca and found an excellent hostal we'd had recommended to us. They let us bring the bike right in to the hotel and park it in the breakfast room. We felt kind of bad as it was a bit muddy, but they didn't seem to mind at all.
The Old Cathedral - Cuenca
We stayed a few days and visited the Archeology Museum, found an English Cafe, where R had the biggest breakfast I've ever seen, and I fell over....Made a complete idiot of myself and ended up with a huge lump on my knee!
It rained a lot while we were in Cuenca and the roads south showed it with numerous mudslides, big machines trying to clear the way and a few detours.
It was misty and wet and not much fun. We got to one slide and there was a car either side wondering which way to go. R, as if he had had some sort divine intervention decided in a split second not to be his usual cautious self and wait and see what the cars did. Oh no, not today! For some reason he deduced that the pile of mud to right of the road was not in fact mud but a hard surface.
Before I knew what was happening we were pannier deep in mud and stopped. The Ecuadorians on either side must have wondered what the hell the mad Gringo's were up to. As did I.
The poor bike was steaming, R was laughing, I was panicking. I then had to get off and start wading. "No.... come back, take the camera!"
So with mud almost to the top of my boots I had to go back & take the "how tough am I?" picture.
As R paddled the bike out the car pulled up beside him, through the much shallower bit, and they sat and laughed and chatted....until I pointed out that perhaps they should get a wriggle on as the mountain was still actually sliding.
We had intended to get to Vilcabamba that night but we didn't know what the road was like, it was still raining and we were very muddy. We stopped in Loja.
The Pan-American Highway!!
Next morning was still raining but a few miles out of Loja the sun came out and we had a gorgeous ride to the little town of Vilcabamba.
What a weird place. Really pretty, but we slowly realized that we didn't feel very welcome for the first time in ages. Vilcabamba is famous on the Gringo trail for it's hallucinogenic cactus juice. Used by indigenous people for years but now much in demand by travelers. I think the locals are a pissed off with it. Can't say I blame them, the town is full of Pasta Rasta's/Trustafarians (which ever you prefer) banging drums and twirling bloody fire sticks....arhhhh!
We ended up in a bar, well a bamboo shack, up the hill, out of town & full of Colombians. I like Colombians, they have fun. We drank beer and did some salsa.
Our last day in Ecuador it didn't rain...hurrah! We came down from the mountains and in to the warm. We were stopped about 20 miles before the border at a military checkpoint. R had to go and show all our paperwork and I & the bike were surrounded by what felt like a whole patrol. We were trying to get to the border before it closed for lunch but couldn't get away from a hundred questions. We just made it.
Plaza de Armas - Cuenca
Happy Pig - Cuenca market
The border was easy peasy, the carnet may have helped but it was just such a different atmosphere to the ones in Central America. We didn't have to pay for anything, a very nice change.
R disappeared as usual, I chatted about the bike to a customs guy & a policeman and slowly realized how normal guns seem now.
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