One of the many mobs of locals who surround us when we stop!
17 October – Day 87
Loja, Ecuador to Piura, Peru
One thing I haven’t mentioned about Ecuador yet was the extent to which we were – regularly – mobbed in the streets. In a positive, rockstar kind of way. People wanted to look at the bikes, touch the bikes, have their photos taken with us and the bikes etc etc. It was like nothing I’ve experienced before. Even when we weren’t with the bikes – ie just walking around – I had women walk up and give me their baby to hold while they positioned an older child/ren next to me for a photo. It all felt very surreal. Anyway.. that was Ecuador… and now…
Border crossings are back! And.. still long and somewhat trying. Our exit from Ecuador was a dream…. Really fast, friendly officials – I think the whole thing took less than 10 minutes. However getting into Peru… wowsers. We got ourselves in and our passports stamped without issue. Then, to get the bikes in, we needed a photocopy of the Peru entrance stamp in Adrian and Jeremy’s passports. Unfortunately, there was no photocopier on the Peru side of the border. Well… there was, but the customs guy refused to let us use it, saying it was just a printer and not a photocopier. Adrian even offered him a bribe, but no cigar. You can’t photocopy with a printer. Mr customs directed us back to Ecuador to a photocopy stand apparently located at the Ecuadorian side of the border (about 400m away). So Jeremy took all the papers etc and walked, in blazing sun, over the bridge and back into Ecuador… only to be told that there wasn’t a photocopier there and he’d have to go back into the last town before the border to find one, which was a good 10 minute drive away. But… we’d already left Ecuador – including exporting the bikes… so there was no way we could legally just ride back over without re-importing the bikes etc. Luckily, Jeremy convinced the Ecuadorians to let him ride to the town and back, so again he was off with all documents in search of a photocopier. It took about an hour, during which time Adrian and I tried to entertain each other with games of eye spy, scissors paper rock and thumb wars. It wasn’t really all that entertaining!! However watching a couple of customs officials solicit ‘donations’ from almost every ute that went past actually was quite interesting. We saw a few utes go back and forth multiple times and so put it down to fuel in Peru being 3-4 times more expensive than in Ecuador… it makes it worthwhile to cross the border for a petrol run, that’s for sure!
Eventually, we made it across the border – after the unhelpful Peruvian was somehow able to keep a straight face as he made photocopies of the bike import forms. Photocopies! On the Peru side of the border! Not just a printer after all..!?
By this time, we were racing sunset to reach Piura. My first impression of northern Peru is that it is dry.. much drier than Ecuador. Possibly because of this, the poverty seems starker; without irrigation it looks like it would be difficult to even grow food for the family. Yet clearly there’s a wet season here at some point – or wealthier people/corporations have access to significant underground water sources – as we past a number of very large fruit farms.
Piura is really just an overnight rest stop; we plan to be on the road straight after breakfast in the morning.
16 October – Day 86
Cuenca, Ecuador to Loja, Ecuador
We’re getting close to the border with Peru now, and decided to break up the ride there into two 200km days, with Loja being the halfway point. A shorter day on the bike meant that we had time to spend the morning wandering around Cuenca again – only to confirm that yes, we did really like this place. Possibly the highlight of Adrian’s morning was spotting two other overlanders (on 250cc bikes, fully loaded with gear!) from NSW, complete with NSW number plates. I honestly don’t ever see Adrian as happy as he is when he’s chasing down, and then speaking with, other bikers. I think it’s somehow related to this special visual skill he has for spotting bikes… seriously… I will see a tiny black speck on the horizon that could be a car, or a bird, or a spot on my sunglasses… just as Adrian lets me know, through our intercom, that it’s a Suzuki Vstrom xx model (or whatever it is). Unbelievable.
Anyway, the ‘short’ ride to Loja wasn’t actually that short – at least in terms of time. The road was very windy, constantly up and down, and wet from the pouring rain. So it took us over five hours to make the 197kms, by which time we were very hungry and just a tad cold. The latter was not helped by the fact that our riding jeans got wet before we put our wet weather gear on… so we were essentially riding in wet clothes. Not fun.
Loja was ok.. we didn’t really see much as by the time we’d found accommodation and food, it was dark and (predictably) raining. The town centre area seems pretty nice though – and it would be somewhere that would be worth having a walk around some other time.
Adrian and Jeremy getting into some menu air guitar during a break in the soccer
15 October – Day 85
Banos, Ecuador to Cuenca, Ecuador
Today was really just a driving day. After breakfast in town, we took off to Cuenca through rain, some roadworks, a couple of tolls and a windy road. We made it into Cuenca by late afternoon and Adrian, who was leading the way, stumbled on a pretty nice and very inexpensive hostel with a private garage just for the bikes.
After unpacking, we had a walk around town. We really like Cuenca – much more so than Quito. There’s some very impressive architecture here, including what is possibly the biggest church we’ve seen on the trip so far.
One of the many Churches in the town centre area of Cuenca
Dinner was in a pub that was playing a soccer world cup qualifying match between Ecuador and Chile. Although Chile won the match 2-1, it was enough to get Ecuador through and they qualified for Brazil… so as you can imagine, the atmosphere was excellent!
Adrian with one of the many waterfalls we saw today
14 October – Day 84
It was raining when we woke up this morning so after a leisurely breakfast, Adrian and Jeremy set about repairing the handlebars on Jeremy’s bike. They’d bent out of shape after his bike was hit by a car at 4.30am a few mornings ago while parked outside a house. They spent ages playing with the various screws and taking of the risers… only to eventually fix it by just bending the handlebars back into place.
The Banos area is famous for its cascading waterfalls, so after lunch we jumped on the bikes for a bit of a waterfall tour. Although I’m generally not a big waterfall person, even I was impressed by some of them, especially ‘the devil.’ It was huge. Seriously, the volume of water coming over this particular waterfall was like nothing I’ve seen before. It was loud – very loud – and there was so much spray it was like walking through mist and rain. Very impressive.
At another one of the waterfalls – there were lots of them! Adrian’s standing on a ledge again.
Adrian watching the volcano
13 October – Day 83
Quito, Ecuador to Banos, Ecuador
Our somewhat loose plan of meeting up with Jeremy again at noon on the road leading into Quito actually worked! This was after a couple of hours – for us at least – on the road from Quito, where strangely the traffic was worse outside of the city than it was in the city, and there were a few more 20c tolls which are pretty common here. Unlike in Colombia, where the roads are free for motorbikes (if your bike is skinny enough to ride through the very narrow bike lanes! We’d heard stories about overlanders losing panniers on the cement barriers on either side… and it was a very tight fit!), here in Ecuador there’s a discounted rate for bikes. Which is good!
Banos is a very popular holiday town famous for its waterfalls, landscape, massage and ‘adventure activities’. The three of us – as we’re now a travelling party of three – decided to take tomorrow off and have a good explore around the valley. The scenery on the way in was pretty spectacular… a smooth winding road down along a steep valley face lined with lush pasture and dotted with farmhouses and.. gumtrees!
After settling into our hostel, we went for a long walk around the town to get a feel for it and also decide what we wanted to do tomorrow. Adrian and I got a massage – for Adrian, it was his first ever hot stone massage… and I don’t think he’ll be rushing back for more! Apart from having his leg hairs singed from a stone that was just too hot, apparently his person spent all 65 minutes just sort of patting him like you would the head of a dog.
After dinner we took the bikes up one of the nearby mountains to have a look at the local volcano, Tungurahua, which is currently active. It was amazing… you could see plumes of lava just spewing up and out into the night sky. Really, it looked incredible and was quite moving, in a wow-nature-is-amazing kind of way…
Tungurahua Volcano, Banos, Ecuador
12 October – Day 82
We spent the day wandering around Quito, including the ‘new’ and ‘historic’ districts. It was a little grey and overcast until 2pm when – like clockwork – it started to pour with rain! Luckily we’d sought refuge in a café just prior to the onslaught so we hung out there and read our books for a while until the heaviest of the rain was over.
There are some lovely big squares in Quito, and massive churches and cathedrals from a range of different styles including gothic. As it was a Saturday, there were lots of locals walking about everywhere doing their regular weekend things… so it was great people watching and just seeing what Ecuadorians do in the city on a weekend.
Standing across the equator!
11 October – Day 81
Otavola, Ecuador to Quito, Ecuador
We spent the morning wandering about Otavola including the Otavola Indigenous textile market (where yes, we did buy a couple of smallish things). The market was excellent – and an unexpected surprise. We knew about it, but thought it was only on weekends.
After the markets, we headed up to a lake that Adrian had heard about which was apparently both good and not a place tourists usually went to, Laguna de Mojanda. It was a bumpy twenty minute ride on a cobblestone road up into the mountains to reach the lake… and that was only the start of it! Once we got there, we found out that there was a road around the lake that (eventually) led back to the Pan American Highway… it was dirt, but there were a couple of locals up there (on small, easily manoeuvrable, light dirt bikes without any luggage) who assured us that it was passable. Hahaha. To be honest, they were right – it was passable, and we made it through. However not without me getting off and walking down and up several muddy hills (at an altitude of 4000m!), and not without Adrian dropping the bike. Argh I really don’t like being a pillion for the off-road stuff. I actually didn’t want to take the dirt road at all. Adrian did, so we scissors-paper-rocked it and Adrian won… so it was off road we went! Adrian and Jeremy loved it.
Our next stop was the equator! Today we crossed the equator – and I can now say that I’ve stood with one foot in each hemisphere. One of the benefits of this is that the days will start getting longer again, which I’m looking forward to.
The ride into Quito was surprisingly easy. The road was great, and even once we hit the city, there was no traffic. We realised why once we’d actually arrived… Ecuador was playing in some sort of pre- Soccer World Cup match 99% of the city’s population was off the road, cheering their team on. The first couple of motels we stopped at were full – apparently because of the soccer – however we eventually got the last room in the fifth or so place we tried. It was getting dark so we went to a local place for dinner and that was about it. Tomorrow we’ll have a good look around Quito.
Lunch, anyone?! So far on the trip, when I’ve asked what sort of vegetarian food a place has, I’ve been offered a prawn salad, a chicken pasta and a range of other non-veggo options. It seems that ‘vegetarian’ has a different meaning here!!
Friendship bracelets for sale in Otavola
A small fruit market on the street in Otavola