August 19, 2009 GMT
Swell Maps

15.6.09 Saraguro, Ecuador.


Bloody cartographers! Lower than pigs, the lot of 'em. Graceless, bovine clods! According to my map of Ecuador, there is but one road north out of Loja towards Cuenca - the Panamericana, an asphalt strip running from halfway up Chile to as far as you can go before you have to get a boat in Colombia.

Instincts cushioned by trust in my German-made Nelles maps, which have been near-faultless for 11500 miles, I point Her Majesty GPS-north and find what must be the Cuenca road. Hmmm... this bit's a bit dirt-tracky but the nice army man at the border told me the roads in Ecuador were variable in quality...

25 miles of muddy lane go by before I stop to check we are actually heading for Cuenca.

"Si!" says the man. "No way is this the Panamericana" says my brain for the 9th time in an hour.
"Bleat?" offers a quizzical goat.
"Squish!" counters the mud, as if to say, "if you think this is the Panamericana, you are even more of a tit than you look, baldy."
Goat, man, brain or mud? Which to believe? I push on for 5 more miles until the decision is made for me by someone from the recent past with a JCB. End of the road. 30 miles back to Loja, where a taxi driver points me in the right direction. There are actually two roads north - one a dirt track with an impassably big hole 30 miles up, and the other the mostly-concrete Panamericana.


Still - hey ho! It was a damn pretty ride. Just a shame it didn't actually go anywhere. I did manage to catch a slavering, vulpine bike-chaser with a stiff toe-punt up the bracket on the way, and as mad, guttural bark turned to shocked, self-pitying whimper, I thought - that was worth the detour. (I like dogs! I don't like crazed bitey things the size of Shetland ponies.)


Ecuadorian drivers? Sensible, courteous and safe. Cops? No idea - I haven't been troubled yet. Insurance? I've emailed the Ecuadorian AA who tell me it's "difficult" to insure a foreign vehicle, but suggest I ask again in Cuenca. Fair enough. Food? Mmm... porky. Ale? Pilsener (do not confuse with either Pilsner from Peru or Pilsen from Colombia) is an amiable, ready-to-drink table lager. These are just notes, you understand. I've only been in the country 4 days, and for three of those, alcohol sales were banned due to the upcoming election.
*pauses to allow reader to assimilate incredible notion*
That's right! You cannot get a drink for the 2 days preceding an election, or on the day itself. God knows I tried. It's worse than Ramadan in Morocco (although it's shorter so perhaps not.) The rationale is that keeping the population sober for election day will result in a massive turnout of well-informed, motivated citizens. Imagine that in the UK. All pubs shut, restaurants not allowed to serve even a glass of wine, supermarket booze-aisles cordoned off for the 72 hours leading up to the polls closing. Whichever party introduced it would never get in again!

So why doesn't everybody in Ecuador just refuse to vote until this Dalekesque bit of Puritanism is repealed? Well, Max from Oliver's Travels (ahem) in La Paz warned me that the same thing happens in Bolivia, and it works because of compulsory voting. Sigh! You must not drink and you must vote. I guess it's the same in Ecuador. In Bolivia, the booze ban continues until the day after the election - to stop the vote-counters geting shitted-up on drinks.
Oh God! I mean, Oh - literally - God!


Eleven year old, 46000 mile, 2450GBP-on-eBay Africa Twin update. Madam Chairman is fine, thanks for asking. Beyond fine - oh, I don't know, heavenly? Like, the Queen of Heaven? Problems, you say? A stuck choke, once - 8 seconds to fix (having found someone who knows what they're looking for). A broken clutch cable - normal wear and tear. What else? Ooh! One broken headlight bulb! Not a major issue, even if Honda's fabulous globetrotter didn't have 2 headlights. Ooh baby - I am so going to treat you to 2.5 litres of semi-synthetic and an oil filter in 800 miles' time.

NB - Some of the photos are a wee bit irrelevant from this bit up to Medellin due to disappearing camera syndrome in Bogota...

Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at August 19, 2009 10:07 PM GMT

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