October 23, 2006 GMT
More on Ecuador

As my faithful readers will recall, I met two Ecuadorans, Xavier and Enrique, back in Mexico who were on their way to Alaska on bikes, and we had exchanged emails before we went our seperate ways. While I was back in Quito, I had emailed them to tell them I was in the neighborhood. Xavier wrote back and said that they would be happy to see me, and gave me some pointers on a place to see on the way to their hometown of Ambato. I went to Lake Quilotoa, as Xavier suggested, and it was a great side trip. The lake is in the crater left by a volcanic explosion, I suppose like Crater Lake in Oregon state, although I've never been there. It was about a 2 hour ride off the main highway over some incredibly high mountains to get to the lake. Ecuador has several peaks of nearly 20,000 feet, and while the road didn't go nearly that high, the lake is at 4,000 meters, which is about 13,000 feet, so it is way up there.

I have been over 13,000 feet with this bike in Colorado, so I haven't been too worried about rejetting for altitude, it definitely runs rich and loses power, but there is so much elevation change in these countties, that you would have to always be changing jets, and better too rich than lean. Bolivia is yet to come, and that is higher yet, but so far so good. While I am on the subject of the bike, I don't want to jinx myself, but it has just performed nearly flawlessly, in about 7600 miles so far. As far as routine maintenance, I have changed the oil three times. One time I couldn't find my prefered oil, so I changed it again when I did. I am changing filters every other oil change. I have cleaned the air filter, added water to the battery, and adjusted the chain twice. I changed the rear tire in Quito, to a Japanese Dunlop Trailmax. I could have got a Brazilian Pirelli cheaper, but I have no experience with them. The original Michelin Sirac went almost 8,000 miles, and it had another 1,000 in it, whn I took it off. The only non routine items have been the fan worked intermittently back in Mexico, I traced that to a bad fuse, even though it was not blown. The side stand safety switch stuck once, I still need to find some WD-40 and get it freed up a little better. The right pannier developed a split up one of the welds, I cobbled up a fix in Medellin using some angle brackets to reinforce the corner. Thats it, other that that, put gas in and ride it. Oil consumption has been about 4 ounces in 2500 miles, and very consistent. At the low speeds on most of the mountain roads, I have been getting over 50 mpg, at 75 on US interstates it drops to the low 40's, so speed costs.

Meanwhile, back at the lake, I stayed in a little hostal right by the rim of the crater, run by an indigenous family. There was a husband and wife and their three kids, maybe 11, 9 and 4. A room for the night , with dinner and breakfast the next morning was $6, so you can imagine that it was pretty basic, but they were really nice people and it was very interesting. A bonus was that they spoke the clearest Spanish I have heard in a long time, so I could actualy have some meaningful conversation with them. Their first language was Quechue (sp?), which is a native language that is actualy fairly widely spoken in Ecuador, and I'm told, Peru and Bolivia. I suppose their Spanish is so perfect because it is a second language, and they don't use all they short cuts that a native speaker would.

The next morning, I got directions for an alternate route back to the PanAm highway that was about 50 miles of gravel roads. It went through some little villages, and I got to see some indigenous people herding their llamas and sheep on the road, in native dress. I am not sure native dress is really correct, because the women all wear bowler or fedora hats. A 5 mile or so stretch was paved in round river stones, just like the one I described back in Mexico, on the way to Real de Catorce, right down to the pattern of the stones, so there are some pretty consistent influences all across Latin America. I went back over the two mountain ranges I went over to get to the lake, only slower on the gravel roads. I got back to the highway and rode south to Ambato.

I got to Ambato in the early afternoon. I had the address of the hotel that I had the address to the hotel that Xavier's family has, but Ambato was bigger than I thought it was, and at the first place I stopped for directions, there was a guy there who was delivering parts for a truck dealership who said he was going right by there, and I could just follow him. Once again, people have been unbelieveably friendly and helpful. I got to the hotel and Xavier was there, and I had lunch with him and his family. They set me up with a room in the hotel, and a place to park the bike. Xavier had some work stuff to do, so later on that night Enrique, the other guy I met, picked me up at the hotel and we went to dinner.
Enrique's English is about on par with my Spanish, so we can talk, but it is a lot of work on both our parts. It turned out that the restaraunt we went to was sponsoring a runway model show at a local shopping mall that night. Hmmm, sit around the bar and work on our language skills, or scantily clad models? OK, we're there. They started out with some guy singing, but before we could find some tomatoes to throw, they brought out the girls. It ended up not being that big a deal, but it was still interesting, especially the mall, which put most American malls to shame. Like most of Latin America, small motor cycles are everywhere, and in an appliance store in the mall they had a Suzuki AX-100 street 2-stroke for $1150, including a helmet, a 14" color TV, and a boombox. Such a deal. After that we went to a Karaoke bar to meet two women that he knew. They were prettier than the models. Anyway, they were really into the Karaoke thing and wanted me to sing too. I said I can't even speak Spanish, so I sure can't sing it. To my dismay, there were a few English songs in the book, so I got trapped into doing "Hotel California". At least there is no recording of that, if there was it would be great blackmail material.

The next day, I hung out with Xavier, he manages a small furniture manufacturing plant. Lots of bent and welded tubing and sheet metal, so I felt right at home, with my background in manufacturing. I don't know real much about their business, but when I get some free web time, I need to send him some links on some equipment I think he would find interesting. Then he gave me a little tour around the city. Later that night, I went out for ice cream with Enrique and his 8 year old son Isaac. I am probably spelling that wrong, but the pronounciation is ee-SAHK. Isaac races motocross on a 50cc KTM, so he is off to the right start.

The next day was Saturday, and there was a rally race nearby, and some of Xavier and Enrique's friends were racing. It was mainly a car race, although there was a bike and quad class, with a few entries. We hung around the pits, and they introduced me to their friends, while we checked out the cars and bikes. Except for the language barrier, it was just like a day at the races with my buddies back in Wisconsin, from my Formula Ford driving days. After the rally, Isaac wanted to go to the local go-kart track. He really had to twist our arms, let me tell you. These karts were a lot better than the wimpy rental karts we get in the US. 7 hp Honda OHV engines and no governors, good for at least 50 mph. Isaac drove his so well, I forgot I was racing an 8 year old, and punted him from behind hard enough to get him crossed up pretty good. It didn't even faze him though.

The next day, Sunday, Enrique, Isaac, and me went to the tourist town of Banos. We went to the zoo, paddled around a lake in a raft, went to the hot springs, and just had a relaxing day. Anyway, I just can't express enough how much I appreciate these guys taking me under their wing and showing me around. I got to see so much that I would never have on my own, especially the daily life of working people in technical fields similar to my own. I hope one or both of them can get to the States again at some point so I can return the hospitality.

Lake Quilotoa, in a volcanic crater west of Latacunga, Ecuador. It´s up at 13,000 feet or so, and probably a couple of kilometers across.

The kids in the family who owned the hostal I stayed in at the lake.

Cotopaxi, the world´s highest active volcano at nearly 20,000 feet. It is less than 100 miles from the equator, yet has snow on top all year.

Xavier and Enrique, along with Enrique´s son Isaac. Notice how they are dressed, even near the equator at this elevation it can be cold. If you look closely, in the background you can see Volcan Tunguragua spewing ash.

Citroen cars being prepared at the rally.

Rally car in action.

A local delicacy is Cuy (koo-EE). They look like Guinea pigs or something.

Me chowing down on one of the little guys. I hope you all appreciate the lengths I go to in reporting on life in South America. I thought it had a fishy taste.

Isaac apexing like a pro at the kart track.

Posted by Andy Tiegs at October 23, 2006 10:13 PM GMT

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