Ecuador - crusing along Vulcano Alley
Saturday, February 21, 2015 @ 07:22
Cruising along the Volcano Alley
Having just put my bike into the basement for winter storage I keep catching myself thinking about my time in Ecuador. I was lucky enough to have had the chance to rent a motorbike for a couple of days and take in the amazing atmosphere of Ecuador. No wonder why the nation’s motto is “Ecuador ama la vida” (Ecuador loves life) – the country is full of opportunities to enjoy oneself. I hope that with this article I will add Ecuador to your bucket list!
No credit = no fun
My experience started with finding motorcycle rental shop that offers their services in English. There is more or less one reputable service in the capital, Quito. I found the company and their employees highly dedicated, responsible and fun. I reserved a Honda XL 200 two or three weeks in advance but ended up riding the equivalent Suzuki DR 200 as the XL was being repaired at that moment.
To my surprise, the trip almost got cancelled due to formalities. When my debit card got rejected at the rental office, I was left with the option of taking out cash for the deposit. In that case it was 1000 USD (yes, they use US dollars in Ecuador). Apparently they have a rather small daily cash withdrawal limit in Ecuador. 400 USD (at least for my card). I found that out the hard way. Luckily there was one more option – paying through Paypal. I grabbed my phone and made the transfer anxiously. It worked! I was finally ready to go.
The lack of a kick starter combined with the fact that it stood in the back of the shop for a couple of months led to a stubborn start. However, after some convincing by the shop’s mechanic, my DR companion was up for the challenge.
Getting out and setting off
The first challenge came as a surprise – navigating in and getting out of Quito was not that easy. The centre is a boundless maze of one-way streets and dead ends whereas the main avenues are not any less confusing. However, things became much easier after I switched my GPS on. I managed to miss one exit and ended up looking for a way to turn around for 20 minutes or so nonetheless. And all of that due to a queue of trucks that drove so tight, I simply could not squeeze through and take the exit.
Riding on the Pan American highway between volcanoes was an experience on its own. Feeling so small and yet free sums up the experience quite accurately. I left the highway and continued through small towns and along winding mountain roads. In general, I found the roads in Ecuador to be of three categories: they are can be really nice and well maintained, have potholes each 3-4 meters or they simply do not exist. Thus my advice is to forget coming on a chopper or a street bike. Enduro is gold in Ecuador.
Fruity night in the mountains
As soon as it started getting dark (the sun rises and sets around 6 AM and PM respectively all year round in Ecuador), I started looking for some food and a place to stay overnight. Since it was rather late already, there was no one in the local marketplace. The only one around was an old man selling bananas on the corner of a grocery shop. Who can say no to some fresh local bananas? Knowing that fruit are really cheap all over the country I decided to go all out and get a dollar’s worth of sweet miniature bananas. And that is exactly how I ended up buying a full cluster of bananas. No less than 50 in total. I was set.
After having a nice three course meal at a local hostel for a mere 3 USD in the evening, I set off to find a suitable camping spot. My criteria were: no traffic, further from houses and on solid ground. I ended up setting up my tent next to a small stream, surrounded by trees. As expected, it got cold at night – the town is at 3000+ meters above sea level, after all. I slept in all of my clothes plus the sleeping bag that I had with me. At some point in the night I woke up to hear a couple of guys discussing my bike right next to the tent. I would describe the next 5 minutes as intense to say the least – I was wrapped up in my sleeping bag inside of my coffin-like bivouac tent, definitely not the best state to be exposed in. However, the guys were not of the trouble-making type - I continued sleeping undisturbed after their departure.
Freezing in a high mist
I decided to start the day early and had my super banana breakfast just at 5 AM. The roads were great – a mix of rough gravel paths and completely new asphalt roads, all of which followed winding routes with many hairpins and climbs/descents. But as soon as I got a bit higher (around 3500 meters) everything swiftly became white – the roads were engulfed by a freezing cold mixture of mist and clouds which, combined with many people who drive without (or have no) lights, and sheep and llama farmers who choose to roam randomly with their herds on the road, made it quite a challenge to continue.
Within an hour or so the sun came to the rescue and the mist vanished as fast as it had first appeared. My route led me through a series of road works. With loud excavators, trucks and no civilians about, I continued making my way to the famous volcano crater lake called Quilotoa. I had to make my way through many questionably looking passages, along bumpy future-to-be roads and even under several “Road closed” signs until, once more, a completely new piece of asphalt goodness appeared. A lovely mix! Knowing that I am getting close to my destination, I stopped to take some pictures (I regret not having an action camera) only to find a bunch of shattered glass in my camera bag. Luckily I had a filter on which, in the end, saved my lens. Apparently the tool bag rattled next to my camera all the way. Definitely something to remember for the future!
Colourful Otavalo and back to crazy Quito
Taking in the surreal views and going into small town markets was the programme for the next couple of hours. After that I took an express trip to Otavalo, a town North of Quito, which hosts Latin America’s largest market, one that transforms half of the city into a massive local commerce hub. Vibrant colours, masses of people and a great cultural experience are the keywords. Oh and while in the area, make sure to visit “cascadas de Peguche”, the local waterfalls, which are just a half an hour’s hike away.
However, the time came for me to turn back to Quito. Nevertheless, I still managed to stop at a park in one of the highest parts of Quito, meditate and enjoy the view. But I ended up driving through some rather shady parts of the city, where the word “safety” was not the first that had come to mind.. Whereas right before returning the bike, I decided to give away my banana leftovers to a local family – I simply had enough bananas for the rest of the week.
Taking the opportunity
I am extremely glad I had the chance to experience Ecuador on a motorcycle. Two days were clearly not enough as the country features so much concentrated diversity, it is something truly unique. Since at least some of us are making touring plans during the cold winter, I hope my short story made you consider Ecuador as a candidate for one of your future destinations. And now, let’s grab a notebook, open the tour planner and create our new adventures. As a famous US poet, R. W. Emerson has once said: “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”