From the airport we jump into a taxi and head for the hotel that we had booked online. The hotel was not too pricey, but more importantly it was only 5 minutes from the airport and the air cargo terminal.
As the taxi pulls up, Em and I look at each other - this will do! Somehow we had managed to book a cracking posh hotel for very little money - result. It got better, after we check in we are shown to our room - a suite.
Em hurridly ran around the room checking out all the freebies, toiletries, chocolates etc, when she gets to the bathroom she lets out a scream. I run in to find her almost in tears of joy - we have a Spa bath!!
The reason we got so excited is that we really aren't used to these luxuries now. We resolve to get our monies worth and take it in turns to use the bath to sooth our biker aches and pains. We have decided that our backsides aren't just sore - they are actually broken...
We eat in the hotel restaurant that evening which overlooks Quito, with the rain and fog it reminded me of London. Quito is the second highest city in the World and you can feel the lack of air at first. Em was unaffected, but the bike and I were decidedly down on power.
During the meal the service was impeccable and first impressions of the Ecuadorian people are that they are very friendly and nice, this is a great start to our South American adventure.
At the bar we also get a free welcome drink (another result) the drink is a cocktail that is a traditional local brew used for traditional ceremonies such as warriers going to battle and preparing for a journey. Its supossed to be lucky too, so we give it a try - Em struggles so I have to drink hers too, the taste is very Perno & Black, but gritty as the taste largely comes from crushed roots and berries.
Heading out at 10am the following day we get the shuttle coach over to the airport to get our bike back from Cargo. We had only a phone number from Girag as a contact and this didn't work so we decide to head straight for the Girag office in Quito and go from there.
Only problem is that no one has heard of it and we wander down the cargo terminals for half an hour looking. I spot a sign in the window of Cubana's Offices who use Girag for air cargo, it is in a lock up and the guard won't let us in.
I try again, he is not having any of it. We stand outside the window debating what to do and checking our paperwork again. The kind lady in the office sees us waiting and calls the guard over who tells her we want to have a flight to Panama(?) (is my spanish really that bad?!).
She tells him to send us in, so he gives us badges to wear, sweeps us with a sensor and takes our passports for good measure. The kind lady speaks great English and calls the Girag office for us, then gives us the address.
We catch a cab to their office - you would NEVER find it in a million years without help, even the cab driver struggles. Once there we get our paperwork sorted pay $22.50 for it then get lined up with a 'helper' called Perry. He gets us a cab to his Office for more paperwork, then the process stalls, as it is lunchtime, so we head out for an hour and return to his office at 1.30pm. Heading straight over to Customs we visit about 5 offices all over the place, several without any signs - you wouldn't have a hope of doing this on your own.
Finally we set eyes on the bike in a warehouse. We then have to wait another 3 hours before we can get it as paperwork needs to be signed, then checked, then signed some more. The only good thing is that Perry has started running everywhere now and appears to be earning his $50.
We have not much option but to hang out in the cargo yard with all the truckers loading and unloading. No-one pays us much attention until finally we get the bike out. Suddenly we are swamped with people asking us questions (where have you been, where are you going, how big, how much? etc).
While all this is happening, I give the bike a good check and its fine, I cant tell you how relieved I was, I now class this combination of metal and plastic as family - it was good to be re-united.
After reconnecting the battery, mirrors and inflating the tires we were ready to get back to the hotel, once there it really feels like the trip is back on.
Next day we leave our hotel and head out for a trip North of Quito to see the Mitad del Mundo - The Equator. This is a great day out and we meet some lovely people interested in the bike and our travels as we wander around. Some even ask to be photographed with us. It feels like we are celebrities for all of 5 mins...
This is a pretty big moment for me, I had seen so many websites and blogs of bike travellers standing with a foot either side of the Equator - well now its our turn.
The Equator monument itself has an interesting Culture and crafts museum too.
We head back to the outskirts of Quito and stay one more night, while checking into the hotel a businessman walks up to me as I stand by the bike and says "your a long way from home" the guy was English and it was great to hear the Queens English again. As with all Brits abroad, Stephen offered us his card and said if we need anything while in South America.....thanks Stephen, nice meeting you.
We are up and out early next day for our first day travelling in Ecuador, all goes well if a little slow and we reach the town of Banos by 4pm.
The scenery is truly stunning here with lush mountains and tropical flowers, but easily the most impressive thing we have seen for a while comes into view just before we hit town.
The Volcano Tungurahua (16,500ft) is dead ahead of us and is active, really active as in throwing up ash. The scene is one of those once in a lifetime deals and we struggle to take it in.
After the Volcano we check out some nice looking hotels, but they are out of our price range so we head for the main square and find a Hostal for $18 which is clean and basic. A couple of doors down there is a secure garage which costs $2 overnight so we get parked and sorted then head out for some food.
Today has been abit of a culture shock for me and I am not particularly hungry as I find the general grime and dirtiness everywhere quite off putting.
I have been carrying a bottle of DEET with me for 6 months now and for some reason today it had decided to leak and melt my hairbrush (and I have been putting it on my skin?!). We walk round the town and find a little shop to buy another hairbrush and some water. Then we find ourseves in the local Cathedral which has a service just starting and people singing.
We stay for a bit then light some candles- I am not religous at all but it was just a nice place to be.
Next day we are up early and over to Cuenca. The views are stunning and the road is great. We see a group of woman working near the road - with their brightly coloured clothing and hand tools. Lots of people are friendly and wave as we pass.
As we climb higher the road gets washed away and it is brown slippery mud.
Ems not kidding, as we got to the town of Alausi, the PanAm ran out to broken tarmac and eventually a mud track. Its now starting to rain and the "road" is rutted and slippery as we make our way through what the locals call the "Devils Nose" (I think I remember that correctly, we called it the Devils A*@#hole as it was a challenging stretch of road, brown and messy).
Once safely back on tarmac, the rain really starts to come down (well it is the rainy season here) we then spend the afternoon tackling the landslides that occured due to the rain. We would come round a bend to see either a muddy river, piles of earth or occasionally the road washed away altogether.
Throughout the day my mind was back in London, my brother and good friends were at the Bike Show - I would normally be with them and I could not stop thinking about the day, its 3pm back home, the boys will be in the pub now.....thankfully I got to talk to them later that day which capped a difficult yet very rewarding day.
After the hard days riding the hotel we find in town is again near the main square. This place must be Ecuador's version of Faulty Towers complete with a Manwell like Porter/ Waiter who keeps saying "que". The food is ok and we head to bed early as we are both exhausted by todays hard riding.
Unfortunately we are kept awake by a party all night.
Leaving next day after another dodgy bean breakfast, we head for Loja and find an amazing hotel in town again near the main square.This place is beautiful and I spend some time getting pampered while Darren attends to the bike.
While finding this hotel, as I ride around the streets I notice that everyone seems to be soaking wet? Its a hot sunny day so it seams strange, then I notice the water pistols and water bombs that everyone is carrying - we find out later that it is part of a "Carnival" - and yes we did get wet!
While Em is pampering herself I am once again working on the bike, the hotel staff are very helpful as I explain that I need to work on the bike in their pristine underground garage.
Two minutes later a waiter brings a bucket of water, a brush, rag and soap while the hotel Manager and Chef join the party to watch me swap the brake pads and filters on the bike.
The job takes twice as long as it should as I keep up a running commentary on what I am doing and answer as many questions as I can in my limited Spanish. Thanks for your help guys.
Next day as we head out, the Manager asks if he can take our photo outside the Hotel - we are celebrities again. We have another great send off as all the waiters and door staff wave us off.
We continue to follow the PanAm highway up and down and for a while it gets really twisty. I loose count of the amount of animals jumping out at us - pigs, dogs, goats, donkeys, cows etc. are all over the road.
Again we find ourselves at altitude after the twisty climb and come across a military checkpoint. We are asked to pull over and show our documents which of course we do. Before long we have a group of army guys around the bike (and Em) all asking about the trip / bike. They were a friendly bunch and we were soon waved on our way.
On rounding a bend close to town a lorry full of locals passes us and one of the occupants throws a bucket of water at my head, bloody carnival! Em then finds it hysterical when I tell her that at the time I had my visor open - I hope that was river water...
We reach the border town of Macara and it is pretty bleak with nothing much there. Its a very poor town with the main income coming from agriculture - largely rice. Stoping for fuel we have to queue for half an hour. There is an armed official overseeing each fill up. I am told by a lady that this is because of the border being so close they have to police it.
We find two hotels in the town which I check out - both rooms are gross and smell revolting. Really really bad. There are swarms of flies everywhere. This 'town' really is the pits.
We head around and out of the town and don't find much. Heading back into town we spot a Hostal and not expecting much I look around. You really can't judge these places from the outside as it looks pretty bad (swarms of flies everywhere, 90 year old ladies peeling nuts on a step, scabby stray dog outside etc.)
However the room is pretty clean and basic with a private bathroom and no hot water (the norm here) all for $12. We get unpacked then head over to find some food from the local shops. The first shop has a scary young lady with bad armpit hair who has a bit of an attitude. After not being allowed in the shop and having to guess at what we want we head off down the street. Finding another shop the lady is really helpful and sweet telling us that this chocolate we have chosen is delicious etc...
We settle back in at the Hostal for a restless nights sleep. After checking behind the curtains Darren removes several beetles and moths.
Once I had removed the wildlife for Em, she settled down to sleep (Em- I was cocooned in my silk sleep sack so nothing could get in!). I on the other hand knew it was probably going to be a long night for me. First up the bike was parked on the street outside the hostel, this was the first time we had not either found secure parking or had been in view of the bike and this made me uneasy. Secondly as I laid there I could here beetles and bugs flying into the window pane and I repeatedly had to catch the various bugs that were coming in under the door.
Thankfully the only English speaking channel on the TV was showing Apollo 13, so I watched it twice to pass the time. Eventually around 4am, I was comfortable enough to think about getting some sleep, then something flew in front of my vision, what the...
My first thought was that it must be a bat, but as I jump up and try to catch the thing before Em wakes up, I realise that it is in fact a moth - a big moth, about the size of my hand.
I manage to catch it in my riding shirt (better than a bug spray) and put it outside the door, as I look out the whole landing which is exposed to the night, is covered with every bug you could imagine.
We were in Macara as it is supposed to be an easier border crossing, it better be worth it.
Happy to leave 'bugfest' we are out of the Hostal and at the border by 8.30am.
The Ecuadorian side is fine and takes 20 mins. The Peruvian side is more interesting however as after Immigration we have to head over to the National Police Office for questioning on our travels. The Police Officer is actually very friendly and nice. He queries us as to why we have the same surname- I explain that we are married, he doesn't understand this and asks if 'we are from the same Mother'? I explain that it is usual for a woman to take her Husbands surname when they marry- he thinks this is unbelievable and asks 'but what if you divorce?' I say that I can keep my name, he thinks this is even more ridiculous and unbelievable.
Heading on to the Customs Office the guy is very laid back and takes his time. He is made up that we have colour copies of our documents 'just for him'. He asks us to fill in the same form each although he meant with Darren's details only, then for some reason he seems to find it hysterical that I have signed my copy.
We get another customs sticker for the bike that melts within 2 hours and is unreadable. Don't you just love the burocracy?
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