Wednesday 1 January 2020

Back in Ecuador

You might remember that we had already spent some time earlier in the year in Ecuador, when we visited Quito and the Galapagos Islands. We still consider the Galapagos as one of the major highlights of our journey so far.

The timing of our re entry into Ecuador via the Tumbes border could not have been more badly timed. We were literally within days of crossing when a newly imposed Government tax regime and changes to workers rights( Paro ) sparked major civil unrest throughout the country. Although we heard of travellers who were still crossing the border, all the advice available to us suggested that sitting it out in northern Peru was the right course of action. 

After a few weeks a Government compromise was reached and and the country very quickly returned to normality. 

Once inside the country the evidence of burning blockades and barriers that bought the country to a standstill were still clearly evident. We had heard about the local people showing animosity towards tourists , but we found everyone very welcoming and delightful. I think most residents were themselves horrified by the situation the country had found itself in and were all glad that the issues had been resolved, although I think that the Ecuadorian Government still have some unpopular choices and decisions to make.

Our first issue was at the border itself . We were hoping that they would issue us the with the standard 90 day Visa , but their records showed that our earlier 23 day visit was still current and despite our pleading and grovelling they would only grant the remaining 67 days.

The Spanish and Kichwa speaking country that is officially known as the Republic of Ecuador is a relatively small country compared with its neighbours. Its 283,560 square kilometres is home to approximately 17 million people.  

From a landscape perspective it is very diverse. If you imagine the country as a circle dissected from top to bottom. In the right hemisphere you find the hot tropical jungle regions of Amazonia. The left side also has dense jungle and beautiful warm blue Pacific coast. The vertical centre line that runs from the city of Cuenca in the south to Quito and above in the north marks a chain of large snow capped volcanic mountains and deep gorges .

After a quick overnight stop near the border we headed for the town of Vilcabamba .

This picturesque town is home to a large expat community and appears to be were ageing European and American hippies put down their roots .

The German owned  car park of Hotel Izhcayluma became our home for a few days. Joined by our friends Stefan and Cornelia we were also able to meet up and get to know  Sabine and Wolfgang, a German couple who's journey  we have been following. They are motorcyclists and Sabine's constant zest for life was very infectious. you can catch up with their adventures here

This was a good place to relax and pat took full advatage of the daily morning yoga sessions, massage and Reiki

Cuenca, Ecuadors third largest city was hosting a festival to celebrate 199 years of Independance from Spanish rule.  Artisan craftsmen and women from all over the world lined the streets displaying their wears. Despite having my wallet stolen ( which could happen in any city ) the atmosphere was warm and friendly.

The three blue and white domes of the " Catedral de Cuenca" can been seen from every direction .

Ignorantly, I always assumed that Panama was the home to the Panama hat. I now know that this is not true. The straw Panama hat also known as the Toquilla hat has its origins in Ecuador and Cuenca has several factories that produce them.

In addition to their independence day the city was also marking their "Dia de Los Muertos" we thought this might be a bit like halloween but in actual fact its is a day when entire families remember their loved ones and spend time at gravesides paying their respects  

Fellow Brits on the road are few and far between so it was great to catch up with Gerry and Errol as they passed through town 

A couple of great  evenings were also spent with a very special  Belgian couple  Sophie and Nick. who were kitting out their new home .

 Alausi is home to an outcrop of rock known as the     " Nariz de Diablo" or Devils Nose.  The slightly rickety western style train takes you along the valley to see the mountain in all its glory

A day trip to the nearby market in Guamote was interesting. Cabbages the size of Beach balls. Very indegenous . I think we were the only tourists there. 

The tallest mountain in the world is " Chimborazo " peaking at a mere 6263 m above sea level.

I know that your thinking that Everest and many other Himalayan mountains are higher than this.  Its all about the way you measure it. If you measure from the centre of the earth, the peak of Chimborazo is the furthest away. Either way, this is the way we see it, we have now stood at the foot of the final ascent of the highest mountain in the world.

At near  5000m it wasn't just the truck that was struggling.

The very touristy town of Banos was the last stepping stone before we headed into the eastern jungle region of Amazonia.

The Amazonian region of Misahualli was hot, sweaty, rainy and full of things that either want to bite you or kill you. 

Staying with an indigenous family in the small hamlet of Puerto Santa Ana was a great experience.

We quickly became the source of entertainment for the kids. I introduced them to the game of Boule. However, the large shiny Boules were too attractive and I spent all afternoon trying to stop them stealing them 

In our early days of travelling, which was on a motorcycle, we were reasonably active members of the Horizons Unlimited community. Despite the fact that we no longer use the motorcycle as our primary method of transport , we have remained outside lurkers in that community. As luck would have it a wonderful hotel owner and motorcycle enthusiast , Raul Guarderas, was hosting the groups annual Ecuadorian meeting at his Sierra Alisos Hotel in Tambillo, just south of Quito.

The long track to its lofty position was fun but well worth it. Raul was the perfect host and the event was fantastic. Both locals and travellers exchanged ideas and information and most of us gave lectures on either our life styles or travelling tips. 

Raul and many others will remain firm friends for ever .

Although everyone there was amazing there were a few people who's achievements stood out and we were left in total awe.

Firstly, there was the very special Katrina, who is riding around the worlds solo and is the first woman from Belorussia to do this......Simply inspirational .

Earlier this year we followed the Dakar race through Peru. At this meeting we were privileged to meet two competitors in that race. The first was  Jota Ponce who sadly had to retire from this years race when the vehicle he was in collided with a dune . The impact broke his back in several place. Miraculously he has made a full recovery and we managed to spend a great weekend with him and his lovely family a few weeks later.

The second Dakar racer was Jaun Puga, who is now firmly in the history books as the first Ecuadorian to complete the race on a motorcycle. 

I must mention another person we met that weekend, Yuliya Goloskokova from Kazakhstan. She is a motorcyclist who has made Ecuador her home and invited us to spend time with her after the event.

It was a great meeting and Raul the host was a true Gentleman and now a great friend. I would recommend this event to all travellers.

Directly south of Tambillo we found ourselves re entering Volcano country.  One of the most famous is Cotopaxi. Its 5897m peak can be quite elusive. We waited several hours to get a peak at its summit. 

Along the same range is the crater of the now inactive volcano Quilotoa. we camped on its rim and the views were breathtaking.

By this time we were getting a bit tired of altitude and jungle so we headed in search of some fresh dry air and warm sea, the Pacific Coast.

Almost immediately upon arrival in the town of San Clemente, we were suspiciously flagged down by a motorcyclist waving and shouting. 

It turned out to be a local Expat called Bruce who had spotted us and decided that the decent thing to do was invite us to a large American thanksgiving dinner that was taking place that evening in a local restaurant. Well it would be rude not to. That night we were welcomed by loads of great folks from the large expat community that lives in the town ....Thank you.

During the few days we spent there we were welcomed into several homes and Yuliya came to spend the day with us .

The beaches in this region were amazing and we slowly crept up the coast towards Yuliya's home town of Canoa.

On the 16th april 2016 an Eathquake with a magnitude of  7.8 hit the coastal region of Conoa, Bahia and surrounding areas. Its devistation action resulted in mass destruction of property and the loss of nearly 700 lives. Many thousands were injured.

Three  years later the area has recovered although there are still signs of that terrible day everywhere.

Remember a few paragraphs back I mentioned Jaun Puga the Dakar motorcyclist.  well after the meeting he invited us to his home. Sadly we couldn't fit it in but we did arrange to meet up with him on the coast at the Pedernalis Rally that he and his father were organising. 

By chance on arrival we also met up with Jota and his family who had come to see the race and have a weekend away on the coast.

The rally was great to see. All ages and all classes and Jota took us to a very remote location to get the best view. 

The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing on the Cojimies peninsular with Jota, Cheryl and their lovely daughter. 


Mindo is back in the jungle region and is famous for its bird life and butterflies. 

I spent hours taking crap pictures of Hummingbirds, if only they would keep still for just a few seconds.

The butterflies were much easier, they came to you.

We returned to Quito to meet up with Raul for dinner.  He sneakily deceived us claiming that his sister wanted to meet us and that we would be going to her apartment in the city for a Pizza or similar meal. Upon arrival we realised that his entire family were present and that we had been invited to their special Christmas meal.    Thank you Raul, Marisol  and your wonderful family.

With our Visas running out and our exit date from Ecuador looming we had to set of north to new adventures... Colombia.

However, I have the sneaky feeling that Ecuador hasn't seen the last of us .