June 27, 2008 GMT
Waterfalls. Volcanoes and more friends lost

In Quito the University buildings are right next to the main square and house an interesting display of exhibits including, while we were there, an exhibition of photographs from international photographers. After seeing them I walked around the University admiring the Art Nuevo murals decorating the walls, before returning to the main part of town and inevitably to the main plaza where I saw that something special was going on. There were police and army clearing away the old men from their normal seats around the war memorial and cordoning it off. Trumpets sounded, the Presidential Guard marched onto the terrace of the Presidential Palace and a military band struck up. Lancers rode their chargers slowly in from both side of the plaza and formed up in front of the Palace. Dignitaries took their places on the balcony and the Ecuadorian flag was unfurled. Today was Independence Day!
I listened to the presidential speech, not understanding any of it, listened to the band, and watched as the whole thing went into reverse and the old men resumed their seats by the war memorial. An interesting diversion for a little while, and I do like ceremony, especially when everyone is dressed up like toy soldiers.
The Presidential Guard line the balconies
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While those on horses line up on the street
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and the National Flag is unfurled
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We returned to ‘The Turtles Head’ that evening and I was delighted to find my radiator had been repaired and was as good as new. Apparently just a tiny hole in it somewhere, maybe a stone. As good an excuse as any for a few celebratory pints. Also we were bidding farewell to Curtis and Janet who had decided to fly back home from Quito. Fred had told us earlier that he would be leaving in the morning too, as he was anxious to get to Ushuaia before the weather closed in down there. That left Roger, Linda and I who planned to make a leisurely way down to Chile where Linda was to catch a plane home in early April, leaving Roger a month before he too must return.
I assembled my bike amid more gushing soapy water and by late morning was ready to resume the trip. Roger and Linda were taking a guided tour of the city, so I wandered up to the Cathedral for a look. The cathedral in Quito has all of the worst aspects of organised religion built into it. It seemed to me to shout ‘Thou shalt not…..’ from every corner. It was of course built in another age when the church was out to dominate rather than nurture, but where others may have softened their message I felt that Quito had somehow not done so. All the people who looked as if they worked there appeared pleasant enough, it was the building itself that seemed cold and uncompassionate.

The daunting Quito Cathedral
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Albert had marked on Rogers map some of the better rides on the way to Santiago and we headed for the first of them at Banos. The dirt road to Banos went through small villages and farming communities before once more getting back to asphalt. After rejoining the main road we came to an area that was under intense construction efforts. Here the local volcano had spewed larva down the mountain and across the road. A year later and they were still clearing up, only to find that the mountain was blowing its top again.

Notice in shop window at Banos.....
'If the volcano blows, run, but run in the right direction!!
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The shops had notices posted on what to do if the volcano blew up again and we also saw that there were trips up the mountain opposite to se the lava flows. The bus we got on that night had a wooden seating platform that was a bit worrying in its construction, and we hurled around blind bends in the dark going up that mountain road. Now I know what it’s like for all those poor backpackers who catch country buses.
At the viewing point we had a brief lecture in Spanish which we could not understand, plus a tot of some local drink that tasted of aniseed. We gazed out at the town spread below us and up the valley where the volcano should have been, but all we could see was cloud. We amused ourselves watching the local TV reporter going on air with his night’s bulletin, before returning to the coach for the death defying decent. If it had not been for the actual coach ride, the whole thing would have been a waste of time.

Linda and Roger on the 'Volcano Express'
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The road out of Banos towards Puyo, travels along a river valley that leads to the headwaters of the Amazon River. There are many tunnels and lots of waterfalls, the scenery is beautiful. We rode steadily to Payo and after a coffee for me and lunch for the others, we headed back now aware how much time we had to linger and take photos etc. There is one stunning waterfall (I’ll try and look up the name) where I walked down to the bottom of the gorge, whilst Roger and Linda explored the jungle gardens and the top of this spectacular cataract.
Having taken my pictures of the falls from the bottom, I trudged back up the footpath and went searching for my two companions finding them only when I got back to the little café where we had left the bikes, the owner kindly looking after our motorcycle jackets and helmets while we were gone.

Waterfalls tumble through the jungle onto the road....
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and swaying bridges cross gorges over torrents....
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....while intrepid explorers hack through the jungle
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....searching for who knows what?

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Roger and Linda getting ready for another leg of the outing
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The border crossing near Santa Rosa was our destination as we said goodbye to 3 pleasant days in Banos. As we rode down the mountains there were frequently places where debris had fallen into the road, or where the tarmac had been washed away to be replaced by slippery white or red mud. In most places it had been compacted down, but sometimes we were switching from one side of the road to the other to try and find the best line. Coming out of the mountains at last we witnessed the flooding that the last week of rain had caused the lowland inhabitancies. The rivers were swollen and many of the roadside houses were flooded by a foot of water or more. I felt so sorry for the people here, but wondered how many times it would have to happen before they twigged and built their houses on stilts like in Belize.

Stopping at a petrol station just outside Santa Rosa we had a chat with some local riders before pressing on along the half finished by-pass to get to the border crossing of Macara which is off the main road leading to Loja. Following the signs to Loja, I was puzzled as to why Roger had slowed down at a fork in the road, the sign clearly pointed to Loja. Off to the left. Not stopping, I just took the left fork and carried on, although I did appear to be heading north and not east, but you can never tell as the roads here sometimes do funny things. Just ahead a town looked to be coming up and Roger and Linda overtook me and a couple of lorries just as I saw the towns name; Santa Rosa! We had, I had; taken the road back into the town we had just by-passed. The road met a roundabout and I was lost as to which road to take, so took the busiest looking one and followed it through the town, looking right and left for Rogers orange Buell. I ended up in a suburb and turned back to head once again into town and look for Roger and Linda. Stopping to ask the way to Loja from a family group sitting on their porch I set of an argument. All the older folk said ‘Yes keep going north and the road bends east to Loja.’ All the young men said ‘No, go back the way you came and take the road south and it will bend east to Loja’. And the argument started getting quite heated until I got of my bike and told them all to gather round my motorbike while I took a photo. Handshakes and smiles all round and they seemed to have forgotten that two minutes ago they were shouting at each other, but it did explain why the signpost pointed the wrong way.

Go this way, no that way!
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Another beautiful road through Piedras and along river valleys towards Loja. Where the road turns to Macara and the border, there is a little police post and barrier. I asked them if another gringo moto had passed through and they said no. I told them that it was probably behind me and could they tell them I was going for a hotel in Catacoche. Since there seemed to be only one hotel in Catacoche, I expected to see them later that afternoon, and since I had to park in the street, I was pretty sure they would see where I was anyway. I never saw them again, and as I rode to the border at Macara kept thinking ‘should I go back, or is this kismet?’ In the end I decided it was kismet and reached the bridge at Macara that separates Ecuador from Peru, being slightly puzzled why none of the petrol stations had any petrol. This I would find out during the coming afternoon.

In the end, go your own way!
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Next; Barriers, Arguments and the £10 bottle of Coca Cola.

Posted by Derek Fairless at June 27, 2008 11:16 PM GMT
 
 

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