October 17, 2008 GMT
Ecuador

I'm not sure what to make of Equador - but straight away I get the impression that it will be good value for money. There is no entry charge at the border - one of the few countries that I have entered for free. While waiting for customs clearance I grab lunch in a restaurant. Soup, main course, fruit juice and a banana all for $2USD. My first night hotel is $10 - its a nice clean modern property with ensuite, cable TV and secure parking for the bike. Petrol - $1.48 per gallon. I fill the bike with 204miles on the clock for a total of $5. Thats over 60mpg. Considering the twisting mountain roads I'm impressed. Diesel is even cheaper - $1.03 / gallon.

I'm now into the Andes - the mountains that is. That explains a lot!! (someone once told me a joke about the Andes but I cant remember it). It also means it's much cooler - nice. I head for Quito - the capital city. The highlight on the way - crossing the equator. I had a rough idea where it was, but without the luxury of GPS, I need a sign (just like Britney Spears). Sure enough there it is proclaiming me to be at the Middle of the World. The Equadorian guide at the sundial monument did explain why it was the middle of the world, but unfortunately his limited command of english meant it was all lost on me. Again my fault for not speaking spanish. However he did seem to be a bit of an expert regarding all things sun, stars and the wonders of the world going round.

And then onto Quito, the capitol city. The map (my colourful free tourist map) suggests it is pretty big - it is. While trying to get to the centre I manage to circumnavigate the city on the bypass. I therfore approach from the south. However my city skills prevail again and in no time at all I am booked into my cosy $12/night hotel - honestly. A nice clean comfortable room, ideal location, secure garage parking for the bike and a friendly bloke in charge. Oh and the important cable TV with 97 spanish channels and 3 english ones. Spot on. I like Quito - the old town is particularly good. I decide to stay 2 days and explore further.

I would suggest Ecuador marks the boundary between north and south. In Colombia the people had a western (or European) appearance. In Ecuador many people look like your archetypical South American - well tanned with round faces wearing bright colourfull clothing and felt hats. All very smart. Quito has many, all selling their local produce and wares. I think they are proud people who strongly support their traditions. I respect that.

After Quito I have a choice - continue south along the Andes, or head west to the coastal plains and find a beach. The beach wins. This means crossing higher mountains. All starts well on decent road, but as I climb and the obigitory rain starts, the road deteriorates into unsurfaced roughness awash with water. Its washboard rough - the ruts run across the road. The temperature drops - man its cold. I am only 200miles south of the equator, but am wearing the same clothing layers as for Alaska. My hands are numb. While stopped to take a photo a 4x4 (I think a Shogun) pulls up. The woman passenger sounds German and enquires after my wellbeing - just great I say. She offers me coffee. I'm still great I say. She pushes - it's HOT coffee. She obviously realises its cold outside the luxury of her 4x4. However the scenery makes up for it, particularly above the clouds. The hillsides are dotted with small farms. Archetypical South American`s are in the majority here. It looks like a hard life and a fairly tough existance. Its certainly not somewhere I'd want to live.

The next morning I realise that one of the KLR pannier racks has come adrift. I pop into town and find the local chinese hardware shop. The guy behind the counter speaks perfect chinese - but neither spanish nor english. Made me laugh!! However he does get me fixed up with the relevant bits to do the repair. I do a quick spanner check on the rest of the bike. The rough roads are beginning to take their toll.

I also realise that the bike is pinking - I think knocking may be the more technical term. Its the price one pays for cheap petrol. For my next fill I move up a grade, from "extra" to "super". Sorted.

On my way to the beach at Salinas I have to pass through Guayaquil - its a large coastal city. I have no town map and despite clear signs to start with, I find myself dumped in the centre of town amidst heavy traffic. After two hours touring the suburbs I am no closer to finding the correct road. I give up and spend the next hour trying to find a hotel - even that proves hard. By now its 5 o´clock - it gets dark around 6. However turns out Guayaquil is quite an impressive city - very modern with an affluent feel. I like it - actually I like most cities. The next morning, with a map and suitable directions, I head to Salinas and the beach. Expecting it to be warm, its surprisingly cool - about 20deg C (compared with Mexico that's cool). Both the beach and Salinas are deserted. I think in summer it would be a great place - but in October, its basically dead. I head back to Guayaquil for more city life. My timing is perfect - the Ecuador motor show starts today in the Guayaquil Conference Centre. I find it easy enough (yeah right!!) and park up. I am the only one there. Enquiries suggest that the doors dont open until 5pm - its 10am. Maybe my timings not that great after all. I head off to resume my travels south and the PanAmericana highway.

My next stop is Cuenca, a very appealing historic city. However to get there involves more mountain roads - deja vue or what!! The next morning I head for a bike shop to enquire about a service. However disaster - the bike cuts out and stops dead, right in the middle of the main street. I park up and investigate. The main fuse has blown. The spare fares no better and blows straight away confirming a fault. Working on the bike at the side of a busy main street is not ideal - very public. Lots of people show interest, including the parking officer (traffic warden). I think I am in a restricted zone. In the circumstances I consider the best solution is to push the bike to the bike shop - its only about 1/2mile away!! Lots of people push things in South America so I dont feel to much of a fool. I return the next morning to find the bike is fixed, but with no real diagnosis being given. I attribute it to one too many high pressure jet washes - the bike was cleaned only ten minutes before it broke down. However it could also be something faulty after enduring the rough roads. My confidence takes a dip. Up until this point I had complete faith in both the bike and my ability to fix it. From here on only time will tell.

From Cuenca its south to Loja. Despite being the main road and the only road south through Ecuador, its surprisingly quiet - maybe a car every 10minutes. Also very few trucks, but plenty of buses. The lack of traffic may be explained by the condition of the road. Short stretches of tarmac punctuated by large potholes and rough gravel sections. Progress is very stop / start, with speeds varying from 60mph to 10mph. Also long stretches of construction where they are laying a new concrete surface - at least they appreciate the road is bad and are doing something about it. Loja must live in isolation from the rest of Ecuador.

From Loja its onto Peru. I come away liking Ecuador. It ranks up there alongside Colombia as one of the better countries visited. I think it has everything a prospective traveller could desire. Nice cities, nice countryside and nice people. My original thought regards good value for money was spot on also.

Click here for the latest Ecuador Photos

Click here for the Trip Log

Posted by Graham Shee at October 17, 2008 11:08 PM GMT
 


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