Ecuador

Last days in beautiful Ecuador


We stayed for the night in Loja, with the idea of riding to the border the next day, and crossing to Peru. Loja is a beautiful town, the cultural capital of Ecuador.IMG_4035 IMG_4036

But the next day Vasile did some maintenance on the bikes, so we ended up leaving around 5 pm. And on top of that the road from the city to the Panamerican Hwy was a gravel road, so it was going a bit slower. But the landscape was worth it.

IMG_4045 IMG_4046 IMG_4048 IMG_4055After about 15 km of gravel we’re getting close to the highway.

IMG_4060Soon after we hit the fog again.

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The fog got so dense, it felt almost like rain. In 20 minutes my gear got soaked. We were riding very slowly, as we could not see anything ahead. And in this places there is no point on waiting for the fog to go away, since it’s foggy almost all the time, especially in the afternoon. And at some point I think Nature thought we were bored and we were not having enough fun, so it decided to help us a bit. The pavement ended, and we hit mud for about 8-10 km. They were actually working on fixing the highway I guess, and in the meantime there was mud. I would assume when it’s dry it’s not bad at all, as it was very smooth, but with all the humidity is was pretty slippery. And then, not that it mattered, since we couldn’t see a thing anyway, it got dark too.

And all this mud, fog and dark took the toll on some drivers. We saw another commercial truck rolled over into the ditch. And we almost saw a bus full of people rolling over right in front of us. That was so scary, as one of the rear wheels was off the road at some point. I have to admit the bus was going quite fast for those conditions. I definitely wouldn’t have felt comfortable if I was in that bus. We were so happy when we caught up with that bus, at least we could see something in front of us, and we were trying to keep up with it, so we don’t lose it.

And here we are, finally arriving in Catacocha, a bigger town where we have chances to find a hote, if we can see it. With the help of locals, we find it.

IMG_4074There was something about this place that reminded me about Christmas when I was little. I don’t know if it was the misty fog, the cold in the air, the church in the middle of the plaza and the lights or all together, but I had a warm fuzzy feeling when I got there, despite the low temperatures.

And here is how this place looks like in the sunlight.

IMG_4078 IMG_4079There were tons of these big beautiful butterflies flying around and resting on the church’s walls.

IMG_4080The next day we decided to leave early, before the fog comes down again. With the bikes full of mud, we were ready for a new ride.

IMG_4081 IMG_4084We crossed the border through Macara. The border crossing was very mellow. There was no one in front of us, but it still took a couple of hours to enter Peru. At least there were no fees, except the $35 USD per bike for insurance. But in exchange, while waiting for our papers to be processed, we could not help not noticing the bribes going around. All the locals were paying bribes (I guess to get their paperwork done faster, or to get away with some things). It looked like the only job of the border officers at the gate was to collect money, nothing else. Every single local car, truck crossing the gate was handing money, that interestingly was getting lost in the officer’s pocket (I guess he was just keeping it for the day:) ). I was watching smiling and it didn’t look like they were feeling uncomfortable in any way. This was the first contact with Peru. Details to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Adrenaline junkies


From the beginning of this trip I kept saying that this trip is not about riding. It’s about exploring, meeting people and getting to know new cultures. The fact that we were doing it on bikes was just a bonus. But riding almost every day across Central and South America made me realize there couldn’t be better riding than this! As we ride mostly through the mountains, the road twists beautifully between palm trees, coffee tree hills, high grass, rocks, under the sun or through the misty rain. It’s a fairy tale!

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And to top it off, yesterday we had one of the craziest and most challenging rides. We stopped for the night in Azogues, a wonderful town in the mountains, about 30 km before Cuenca. We saw on the top of a peak there a big statue, so we figured we should go and check it out. We started climbing the steep cobblestone streets with sharp turns, watching the beautiful houses on both sides. It seems like some wealthy people are living there. Then we continued a bit on a gravel road till the foot of the mountain, until the road narrowed a lot. We weren’t sure if it was possible to go on bikes all the way up. We asked some local people, and they confirmed for us that it was possible. Looking up, the road looked to me more like a trail, very steep with 180 degree turns.

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As you know how much I love gravel lately, I didn’t feel like going on my bike all the way. One of the local ladies offered to keep my bike on the patio of her house, so two up we kept going. Boy, was I ever happy I didn’t go on my bike! That was a ride with no mistakes allowed. The road was very narrow, a car could barely fit, very steep up and very sharp turns on gravel. At some point there were cars coming down, so we had to go into the ditch almost one meter deep to make room for them. On the side of the mountain I was feeling safe, but I was afraid to look to the other side. I couldn’t even see how deep the drop was. We got to a little “parking lot” from where only access to pedestrians was allowed. But the guy there made us sign that we could go by the gate and keep going. You can imagine, we were the only motorized people on that trail; ’cause at this point that was not a road anymore, it was literally a trail, where lots of families with kids were going up and down. I cannot explain to you how my heart was racing and how high my pulse was. I cannot believe we actually made it there! I almost wanted to walk back down:) And here we are at the top, and the view we have from here.

IMG_3947 IMG_3944 IMG_3940 IMG_3938Despite my adrenaline, and probably his as well, you can picture the smile on Vasile’s face, since this is his kind of ride: “You’ve got to be kidding me!!!”

Here is a short video with the ride

So far in this trip I think this ride gave me the most adrenaline. Oh, this and the shower in one of the hotels we stayed at here in Ecuador.

IMG_20130110_200322I was afraid to raise my hands above my head to wash my hair. A few drops of water on those electric wires manually connected to our shower would have spelled disaster….or hair perm. This is the closest I got to death in this trip:)

But the fun continues. From Azogues we took a side road with some beautiful villages. Ecuadorians take pride in their houses. There were some beautiful big houses along the way. This reminded me of the Transylvanian villages, especially those in the counties of Bistrita-Nasaud and Maramures. Actually the whole landscape looked so much like Romanian landscape in the countryside, just that at 2500 m higher.

IMG_3956 IMG_3963We got to see the Ingapirca ruins as well. I loved the quiet feel, the fact that they were just there, some of them on the side of the road, and it was not made too touristy yet.

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Ecuadorians seem to be very agriculture and farm oriented. There are sheep, horses, caws and cornfields everywhere.

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And their dedication to farming is reflected in the delicious food as well.

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We look around with big eyes like two kids. We’re loving it every day more. We’re loving el dolce far niente, the days with no schedules, no plans, just stopping wherever we like it and discovering things and places spontaneously.

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Categories: Ecuador | 1 Comment

Middle of the world


Here we are in Ecuador, middle of the world. The landscape is somewhat different, but beautiful, and the roads are incredibly good. Lots of highways with two, three or four lanes on one direction, and very smooth asphalt. And they are working on building more roads everywhere.

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One thing we noticed in Ecuador, there are lots of Dacia cars. For my non Romanian readers, Dacia is the Romanian auto make, bought about 13 years ago by Renault. This is one of the old Dacia cars, that we grew up with:)

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To our joy in the beginning, in Ecuador is not hot. It’s mostly rainy, foggy (and the thick fog lasts for hours) or overcast.

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Somewhere close to Quito, the capital, there is a place called Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the world), where the equator line is. We cannot believe we are actually here! We enter for the first time in the southern hemisphere!

IMG_3809 IMG_3811 IMG_3814 IMG_3817The average altitude we are riding at is 3000 m, but we reached many times 3500, so the bikes (and us) are getting lazier from the lack of oxygen. The highest we’ve got to so far was 3651 m altitude, on the Cotopaxi volcano, but we will  probably soon reach 4000m and over.

The Cotopaxi volcano is the second highest summit in the country, reaching 5897 m (19347 ft) and one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. It has one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world, which starts at about 5000 m. There are several way to go up to the volcano, which we didn’t know, so we took El Pedregal to ride up. It was 17 km of challenging riding, 11 km of causeway and 6 km of gravel. The causeway was very uneven and bumpy and the road very steep. I would have never thought that I would be so happy to hit gravel, but I was on the last 6 km, since it was so much better!

IMG_3834 IMG_3839At the entrance in the National Park they would not let us go on bikes. You can go in a car, but not on a bike. Apparently the reason is that many bikers don’t stick to the road, and they damage the flora. In vain we tried to explain that our bikes are heavy, and with all the luggage on them we won’t go off the road, but these are norms of the park, so we had to abide. We were quite disappointed, since we were really hoping to go all the way up, to the end of the road. But maybe it’s better this way, as even at 3651 m we were feeling a bit light-headed, so I can only imagine how it feels higher up without acclimatizing.

IMG_3844 IMG_3848 IMG_3851Before we headed back it started raining, and a couple of minutes later it was hailing, which made our descent quite interesting:) But we made it back without getting too wet, and the sun came out soon again. Ecuador weather is so unpredictable!

 

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