Trip distance and Time trip correct at Ecuador/Peru border 16/06/11
More photos in the Ecuador gallery
I was a little nervous as I rolled down the hill to the border, filtering past a long queue of traffic in the rain as my Temporary Import Permit for Rosie had expired whilst I’d been back in GB attending my niece’s 1st birthday and best mate’s wedding. As a result I was hoping to bypass customs, go straight to Immigration and then ski across the across the border to Ecuador unnoticed. Mike at Casa Blanca Hostel in Cali had told me how the border was laid out and so as everyone queued for the customs window I slipped down the outside, around the back to the carpark and walked into the empty ‘Migracion’ office where I quickly got stamped out. For once the rain was probably doing me a favor as no officials were outside wandering around. Once across the bridge I was directed to a parking space by an Ecuadorian Policeman and I relaxed and grabbed a quick coffee outside the photocopy shop.
I had planned on riding to Julio Andrade before asking about the current security situation on the road to La Bonita and Lumbaqui but it was pissing down with rain so I rode on. I cursed the broken wire in my heated grips that I’d been unable to repair in Cali (my soldering iron had broken) as my hands froze on the climb to 3000m.
It continued to rain all the way to where the Pan Americana plunges almost 1.5km into the Chota Valley. When I came to the first péage I was surprised to find motorcycles had to pay (they were free in Colombia). The guy who pulled up behind me in the kiosk obviously wasn’t a motorcyclist (one motorcyclist would never follow another into a toll both) and had to wait patiently as I removed my saturated gloves and reached through my waterproofs to fumble in my pockets for U$0.20.
Disturbing my waterproofs was a mistake and I soon felt the initial trickle of water run down my crotch. Now I’m happy to ride in the rain all day but with but when ones bollocks are sitting in a puddle it’s just plain miserable. There would be no hot bath at the end of the day to help them ‘reappear’. I rode on.
It finally stopped raining as I rode into Otavalo and Hotel Santa Fe. U$13 was more than I wanted to spend but it had secure parking, the room was particularly nice and I wanted a place with Wi-Fi to get Chapter 25 posted.
Otavalo is famed for its Saturday market. It’s so big that it separated into four sections (Livestock, Produce, Small Animal and Artesanias) in different parts of town yet it still seemingly manages to fill the streets to the extent that the town feels like one big market. I spent most of the morning perusing the produce market and food hall before a storm sent me back to my hotel for the afternoon.
I awoke to find neither water nor electricity in the hotel and got a poor cup of coffee from the adjacent restaurant. I rode south under relatively clear skies which gave me a fair view of the volcanoes although their peaks were hidden by clouds. Somehow I managed to ride straight past the Equatorial monument and was on the outskirts of Quito before I realized. Initially I wasn’t going to bother going back but I convinced myself I’d only regret it later if I didn’t, so I did; but it wasn’t worth the effort. I couldn’t get Rosie near the monument so I took a few snaps with my pocket camera and rode on into Quito.
Arriving at Sunday lunchtime is the secret to navigating large South American cities and Quito was no exception. The roads were all but deserted and I rode straight to Casa Helbing without choking on diesel fumes or sweating my arse off and was greeted at the door by Mark & Claire, a duty we would come to share throughout the next three countries. They introduced me to Uwe, a German guy who’d backpacked to Spain and sailed the Atlantic as a ‘deck-hand’ before buying a KTM990 in Colombia from an Englishman who was returning home.
Being Sunday afternoon virtually all the shops were closed but the supermarket provided all the ingredients I needed to cook a big pot of chilli, Saburo (Japan – GS1200) came to visit and along with Uwe the three of us agreed to share a room. All that was needed to finish off an easy Sunday was a few beers and with Uwe, Mark & Claire they were never far away. On the wall in the hostel I found a sticker belonging to Eric and Gail who I’d stayed with in Oregon!
I went on to spend five very sociable days in Quito. Saburo and I went to Spanish school 2hrs/day for four days whilst Mark & Claire, in their pursuit of new tyres, contacted the local HUBB community for help. As a result we met up with Daniel, Raul and his girlfriend Karla.
Having met several people who’d been mugged in the ‘old’ city of Quito I didn’t even take my wallet, let alone my camera when I visited. It was a shame because I found the old city to be beautiful. The majority of shops around the main plaza remained locally owned small businesses selling regular goods rather than the usual fare of tourist tat. The church of San Francisco built in 1535 is said to be the oldest in South America and the collaboration of Catholic and local indigenous beliefs can be seen in the internal stone carvings – Snakes, Devils, Fruit and more.
We all decided to leave town one Sunday and visit the hot springs at Papallacta, 60km east of the city. I got up early to load my bike and phone my sister before we set off but as I checked my tyre pressures and gave my wheel bearings a cursory check I found the rear ones just on the verge of failure. Luckily I had a set with me and with the help of a wood chopping axe to use as a hammer I Rosie back together in under an hour.
We met Raul & Karla, topped up with gas and followed Raol out of town, along the old dirt road and over the pass at 4065m.
At the ‘Termales’ we paid U$6pp to camp (without showers) which was a bit steep but it was convenient. Just as we finished pitching the tents so it pissed down with rain and we headed for the pools. The rain varied from light to heavy but never seemed to stop and so we spent ages in the pools; nobody fancied heading back to their tent whilst it was raining. That was except for Raol & Karla who had to return to Quito. It was to be Karla’s son’s 6th birthday the following day and there was no way she couldn’t be there when he woke up. Riding back to Quito in the rain was a prospect I didn’t fancy myself and yet Karla She didn’t bat an eyelid at the thought of 1hr+ on the back of Raol’s KTM640 without waterproofs – top bird!
When it finally stopped raining well after dark, we all made a dash for the changing rooms and then our tents. It was just a pause though and by the time we got back to our tents it was raining again. We found a little shelter under the eaves of the adjacent museum buildings and got the stoves out to brew up and cook some dinner, at least the others did. My stove was playing up and had a lot of abnormal pressure in the plunger. In the dark I didn’t see the pool of un-burnt fuel floating on the top and when I lit it so it burst into flames. Flames so tall they threatened the thatch roof! Spotting some walking sticks propped against a nearby wall I picked the stove up chop-stick style and carried it blazing into the rain and away from where it could do any damage. Once extinguished, I found all the plastic controls had melted and I had to trim the control knob with my penknife to get it to work. I replaced the plunger seal with one from my spares and tried a second time. Again it burst into flames. Finally I tried replacing the generator but for a third time it burst into flames. Despite being a little over a year old it was dead…certainly not the robust Coleman 533 I was used to. (This one was a Coleman Exponent Multi-Fuel).
The following morning I packed-up and left before the others. I needed to return to Quito and find a new camp stove – but where? Most camping shops stock gas cylinder style stoves but I needed one that would burn unleaded gasoline.
I visited every camping shop in Quito on my (unsuccessful) quest to find a compact thermometer and whilst doing so had noticed that the shop just a few blocks away from Casa Helbling was a Coleman stockist. I parked on the pavement outside, walked through the door and there in the glass cabinet in front of me was a Coleman Exponent Feather 442 – the same as Mark & Claire were using! It was the only unleaded burning stove they had and so 5mins later I left the shop U$100 lighter but firmly back in self-sufficient mode.
Back on the Pan-American I was cruising along admiring the volcanoes and thinking about lunch when I suddenly spotted Mark & Claire’s bikes parked outside a roadside restaurant. I made a quick U-turn and surprised the hell out of them when I walked through the door. “I can’t believe you’ve been into Quito, found a stove and caught up with us by lunchtime” exclaimed Claire as I joined them for Chicken & Rice.
After lunch the three of us rode on to Parque Nacional Cotopaxi where we expected to meet up with Uwe & Saburo and camp at Cara Sur on the slopes of the volcano. It wasn’t to be though as we arrived at the park entrance to be told that thanks to the local fuckwits riding ‘off-piste’ and damaging the park, ALL motorcycles had been banned – NO exceptions, including foreign travelers heading for the campsite.
Somewhat disappointed we rode away – destination Lago Quilotoa.
It was a picturesque ride through Saquisilli, Pujili and Zumbahua where rolling farmland butted up against fields on impossibly steep slopes – nowhere was ‘too difficult’ to farm. We arrived with just enough time to pitch our tents at the head of a track above the rim of the crater in daylight.
In the morning I wandered back to the local shop where we’d asked about camping the previous night to explain to the owner that we had two more friends on motorcycles and could he point them towards us if they arrived. As I was doing my best to explain so Uwe & Saburo arrived.
With their tents pitched the four lads set off to walk around the rim of the volcanic lake.
The walk was fabulous if tiring. Often the trail took us right along the ridgeline, looking into the crater to our right and the valley on our left. It took us 4½hrs to complete the circuit during which time I managed to completely underestimate the combined effect of the altitude/sun/wind and burnt my face, neck and legs. As my burnt legs kept me awake at night I remembered a joke about Viagra being good for sunburn…”It doesn’t prevent the burning…it just stops the bed sheets sticking to your legs”.
We awoke to the sound of rain which scuppered our plans for an early start and we all had a lie-in.
When we did get riding Uwe, Saburo and I left Mark & Claire and set off around the Quilotoa Circuit (Quilotoa - Chugchilán – Sigchos – Toacasco) in search of the ‘Swiss’ cheese factory in Chugchilán. Well to cut a long story short the ‘Swiss’ part of the factory was merely the original training of the staff in cheese making, the factory also turned out to be 8km up a windy road in the hills above Chugchilán and when we did find it there was nobody there! We eventually tracked the boss down to a local funeral and waited until the end of proceedings to ask him about buying some cheese – which turned out to be Mozzarella!
We finished the loop, ate lunch in Saquisilli and cruised down the Pan Am to San Miguel from where we followed a series of backroads to Baños, where it was once again raining. We quickly found our way to Hostel Chimenea where we seemed to spend the next few days hiding from the rain.
After a few days of setting the alarm for 0700 with the intention of leaving – only to peer out of the window at pouring rain and return to bed – I finally looked out to see no rain; low cloud and poor visibility, but no rain. We left.
Saburo rode west, Uwe and I east.
It was a shame about the visibility as the ride through the valley to Puyo would have been beautiful, lined as it was with waterfalls and lush green foliage.
In Puyo we turned south with the intention of riding tarmac to Macas before taking the dirt road west through the mountains to Guamote. However the weather had other ideas. The constant rain had led to our chosen route being closed by a landslide and so we continued south to Santiago de Mondez where another dirt road led west through the mountains to Guachapala. Or it did until it was closed by a landslide. We continued south to Plan de Milagro where a third pass led to Gualaceo but by now you know the story – it too was closed by a landslide.
We rode south further still to Gualaquiza by which time it was getting dark and time to find a hotel.
The following morning we were delighted to hear that the track through the mountains to SigSig was OPEN! The track we followed out of town didn’t appear on any of our paper maps or the GPS but we were assured we were going the right way. After a while it joined another track from town that was on our maps and we proceeded a little happier. Happier that was until it started raining – again!
We climbed into the clouds, passing a low-loader carrying a bulldozer just as the track narrowed as it was carved out of the rock. Etched into the mountainside the edge seemed to disappear into oblivion but we couldn’t really tell because of the lack of visibility.
As we approached the summit at 3300m so it rained harder and harder. Soon after we rejoined tarmac and descended out of the clouds and although it continued to piss down at least we had regained some visibility. We rode on to Cuenca.
After a night with Mark & Claire in the pleasant but overpriced Casa Naranja we all joined Saburo in the far cheaper Casa Cuencana. The city was beautiful, especially at night when many building were elaborately illuminated and a big effort was made to keep the place clean.
As was becoming habit when I met up with all the others I ended up staying longer than I expected but used the time well to get a few things made/repaired.
Whilst inspecting Rosie as I always do after washing her I found the r/h pannier frame broken. In their ongoing search for new tyres Mark & Claire had once again been in contact with the local HUBB community and met Juan, a local KLR owner who had been a great help to them.
I met Juan who led me to a welder who had my pannier frame fixed in no time and added a web for some extra strength.
However, he couldn’t repair Saburo’s aluminium pannier and so Juan led us to another friend and motorcyclist Cesar Jarvis, who owned, amongst other businesses, a body repair shop. It was a meeting that was to eventually lead to the most surreal night of my life…more of that later.
We immediately struck up a friendship with Cesar who had his secretary make us coffee whilst his staff repaired Saburo’s ‘spam can’ FOC.
Come Saturday night we all headed for the Taj Mahal, Pakistani(!!!!) restaurant. How a Pakistani could call his restaurant ‘Taj Mahal’, play Bollywood movies on the large flat screen TV and still hold his head high I didn’t know but the food was good enough for it to become the first of three visits during our time in Cuenca.
Another restaurant visit was at the recommendation/insistence of Cesar and so we all met one lunchtime to sample the Ecuadorian and Peruvian specialty, ‘Cuy’. Or Guniea Pig if you’re British.
You sure as hell didn’t get much for your money and what meat there was tasted rather rich, a bit like pheasant but with a crunchy salt & garlic marinade. Saburo excelled himself though, licking every bone clean, sucking out the brains and delighting on the eyeballs!
My favorite part of the meal turned out to be a hot toddy called ‘Canelazo’ which is made with water, cinnamon sticks, lemon, sugar and the local alcohol Zhumir. It was delicious and went down a little too easily!
The most surreal night of my life!
Cesar had some holes drilled in some parts Mark had made for his & Claire’s panniers and brought them to the hostel later that evening. We had a beer in the bar next door, said goodnight and went our separate ways. Just as I was putting the key in the door to our part of the hostel (Mark & Claire were across the street), Cesar asked if Saburo and I fancied going up to Turi, the viewpoint overlooking the city. We did and as we approached the parking area so we noticed a Porsche Carrera and a Hummer parked 100m away, doors open, dance music blaring and a bottle being passed around. “Drug dealers” I thought as we got out to take in the view.
When we came to leave the one-way system led us right past the partiers and to our surprise Cesar stopped to chat and introduced us to Jorge Juan (who we would also come to know as Duke J). Speaking to us in excellent English, Jorge Juan was fascinated by our motorcycle journeys and proceeded to rattle off a list of his own bikes. However, before he finished he decided it would be a better idea if we all went back to his house so we could see them for ourselves. We followed Jorge in his Porsche, tailed by what turned out to be his ‘security’ in the Hummer to a huge set of electric gates that led us into a driveway and then an undercover parking area that contained another Hummer, a Cadillac 4×4 and a Honda 4×4 along with several more cars hidden by their covers. We drove through the covered area, across the garden and into another undercover area containing a wide-body Hummer, a covered Mercedes and Jorge Juan’s collection of bikes: Colin Edwards rep Aprillia RSV Mille, Ducati 999 Fila rep, Yamaha MT-01, 2x Harley Davidson V-Rods, Yamaha 1800cc V-Max (the new 200hp one) and a Yamaha WR250F.
As we perused the bikes so the bottle of Whiskey I’d seen earlier reappeared and was passed around, the ‘security’ appeared with a bottle of Gin which was also passed around as we walked back to the first parking area. Jorge Juan started pulling covers off cars…another Mercedes saloon, a Mercedes SL600 V12, a Jaguar XJ6, a Corvette Stingray and finally a Bentley Coupé that once belonged to former boxing World Champion George Foreman!
It was then decide we should all go inside to the bar for a drink. Walking in to the party room(?) there was a full size bar on the left, followed by a stage (complete with drum kit, guitars, etc) and followed by another bar. In front of the stage were Jorge Juan’s turntables atop a glass tabletop built on the original engine block from the Corvette outside.
On my right was a swimming pool and floating on the swimming pool was a Jet-Ski and before I knew it I was standing on said Jet-Ski drinking Moet & Chandon Champagne!
Jorge Juan got behind the decks and became DJ Duke J and so we partied until the early hours. I struggled to take it all in. In the space of an hour I’d gone from having a beer in a bar with a few friends to drinking Champagne on a Jet-Ski on the indoor swimming pool of one of the richest families in Ecuador. It wasn’t just the Moet that had made my head spin.
Parque Nacional Cajas
Having gone to bed in the early hours with one foot on the floor to stop the room spinning like a whirligig I awoke with a remarkably clear head. Maybe the Whisky/Gin/Champagne/Beer/Agaurdiente cocktail is the secret? Anyway, by late morning Mark, Claire, Saburo and I were ready to meet Cesar and ride the 50km or so west to Parque Nacional Cajas. Just one road runs through the 29,000ha (71kAcres), 230 lake NP and with motorized vehicles banned from the trails it remains a wilderness explored only on foot or hoof (though I wondered if a MTB would be feasible?)
We stopped along the way for lunch at an old restaurant that had been around since mule trains were the only means of transport across the pass to the coast. Full of character and its original mud brick fireplace it was an interesting place to wander around whilst we waited for lunch to be cooked.
It was a steady climb from the restaurant to ‘Tres Cruces’, the highest point on the road across the pass and for the first time ever Rosie wasn’t happy. Choking as I exited corners I had to be really gentle with the throttle to keep her running. After the obligatory photo stop at the summit we returned to the NP office, adjacent to the refugio where we would spend the night. In complete contrast to the previous night I shared a sub-zero cabin with a mouse called Matias!
Morning brought the first cloudless day since arriving in Ecuador and whilst Mark & Claire decided to make the most of it by riding, Saburo and I opted for a long walk in the park.
We had a tourist map that showed three different coloured trails and we chose the one that circumnavigated the lake before crossing the highest adjacent peak. The trail markers seemed to be present where the trail was obvious and disappear where it wasn’t. No surprise then that people go missing and die here every year! Whist the trail marking was poor, the plant life was so extraordinary you didn’t need to be a botanist to appreciate it.
We wasted a lot of time trying to find the turn off the main trail to the summit and as a result the clouds had rolled in by the time we got to the top. It was surprisingly steep and narrow in places, almost a climb rather than a trail and at 4700m it had us puffing.
We didn’t spend long on the summit. The wind had picked up and the clouds were becoming blacker by the minute so we hot-footed it back to the refugio, packed the bikes and headed back to Cuenca and Cesars ‘crash pad’ that he had offered us to stay in.
Everyone though Rosie’s poor running was due to altitude but she’d run fine at the height in Colombia so I didn’t agree. On the run into Cuenca at 2400m I nailed the throttle and she just died. Nothing to do with altitude I concluded; just shitty fuel. As I poured away 30 litres I consoled myself with the fact that at least I was in Ecuador and not Peru where fuel averaged GBP0.92/ltr (U$5.60/gal).
We’d returned to Cuenca because Jorge Juan had invited us to Parque Extremo for the first round of the Ecuador Rallycross Championship the following Saturday (which also happened to be Saburo’s birthday). Cesar very kindly gave us the keys to his pad where we made ourselves at home for the few days prior to the weekend. Come Saturday morning we didn’t get away as early as we’d planned thanks to a looooong story that I won’t bore you with but that involved both Uwe and I buying new shoes that were faulty.
It was early afternoon when we eventually escaped the city but it led to a funny coincidence. Riding through a twisty section of road I came upon a white Porsche Carrera. There can’t be too many of them floating around and as I pulled up alongside sure enough it was Jorge Juan. Recognizing me he pulled over and told us to follow him into the park.
Parque Extremo is just one of Jorge Juan’s businesses. I’ve no idea what are it covers but it includes a RallyCross track, a Supercross track, a Motocross track, boating lake, nightclub, outdoor events arena and a kids play area. Oh, and currently under construction is a water park!
We rode the bikes up to the boating lake and parked them next to the bar where Jorge Juan would set-up his decks and took in the view with a few beers. As the sun set so Duke J hit the decks and it was as though we had our own personal Ibiza superclub. Dj’ing is Jorge Juan’s passion and not only has he played in many European clubs, he’s also hosted many international DJ’s at Parque Extremo including the UK’s own Danny Rampling.
At some point it was decided to continue the party on the ‘pirate ship’ on the boating lake and before I knew it the beer had once again been replaced by champagne and the merry time continued. Eventually back on dry land, Jorge Juan announced it was time to eat and so we all piled into the Hummer and headed off to what Uwe, Saburo and I thought would be a restaurant. Instead we drove into the hills above Parque Extremo, through some security gates and on into the hills eventually stopping outside what looked like a small 1920’s Art-Deco hotel. We walked into what was akin to an open-plan kitchen/diner/living room complete with table & chairs, sofa’s and a flat screen TV. In the kitchen there was hot food and a fully stacked fridge. As we ate so we watched the boxing on the TV and as everyone slowly began looking tired so we were told “Open a door, any door, and you’ll find bedrooms. Choose a bed and we’ll see you in the morning”.
Morning dawned and I walked outside to find myself in Alice in Wonderland. Across the patio cum plaza was Jorge Juan’s parents house; no, palace. I’d heard stories about it but it has to be seen to be believed. Moorish minarets adorned a huge glass backed four story dwelling with uninterrupted views of the valley beyond.
After breakfast in the servants quarters we were taken on a tour of the zoo. Yes, I said “Zoo”. When the Ecuadorian government was looking for a home for animals rescued from circus’s, Jorge Juan’s father Jorge (not a typo) stepped in and set up a private zoo in the grounds of their home. It’s now home to lions, bears, ocelots, cayman and numerous species of birds.
Back at the hotel we met Señor and Señora Eljuri, Jorge Juan’s parents. I nearly fell over when Jorge’s mum spoke to me not only in perfect English, but with a proper Cheltenham Ladies College accent! It transpired that she’d been schooled in Gloucestershire, her grandfather was English and her great grandfather is buried in Westminster Abbey. We also learnt the connection between Cesar and the family. Señora Eljuri’s maiden name was Jervis, the same as Cesar; they share the same grandfather who sailed from England a long time ago.
After a look around the private church Jorge Juan showed us around the house and the fraction his father’s art collection that’s on display. Ever hear about those ‘anonymous’ phone bidders at Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions? Señor Eljuli’s one of them. I’d love to post a link to an article I read about him but I can’t find it. The article mentions his 6000+ paintings and a collection of Erotic Watches “Second only to that of the Sultan of Brunei.”
At the end of the tour we were invited to join the family for dinner. We had no idea this was where we’d end up when we left Parque Extremo late last night and the three of us were still in our motorcycle gear. The family though weren’t bothered and made us extremely welcome. Over dinner we learnt a bit more about the families 200+ businesses. They own the KIA manufacturing plant that exports cars all over South and Central America, they are Chevrolet’s partner in their Ecuadorian plant and the own banks. I could go on but you get the picture!
After a fabulously long Sunday lunch with Chilean wine, more Champagne and a Spanish liqueur (who’s name eludes me), we said our farewell’s and received a big hug from Señor Eljuli along with an open invitation to return anytime and piled into the Hummer.
Back at Parque Extremo Jorge Juan collected his Porsche and returned to Cuenca ready for work on Monday morning. He is a lovely, warm, friendly part animal and it was a pleasure to meet him. As he departed he said something quite profound… “I envy your freedom”.
We pitched our tents on the stage, unfolded some deckchairs and I laid back, reflecting on Jorge Juan’s parting words. I had thoroughly enjoyed my insight into his world, his family; but would I swap it for mine? No way, I’ll take my freedom and my tent any day.
Why no photo’s? I feel I would be betraying the hospitality I was afforded if I were to post my photo’s of the Eljuli families’ palace online. It may have been a make believe palace/museum to me but it remains their home.
We returned to Cuenca the following day to say our goodbye’s to Cesar. He’d been a great help and treated us all like brothers so we had to take him back to the Taj Mahal one last time.
We three went our separate ways from Cuenca. Uwe opted to stay for a few more days to meet some friends, Saburo headed for the main Peruvian border on the Pan American at Macará and I headed due south through Vilcabamba to pick up the dirt road through Zumba to the Peruvian border at La Balsa.
I spent my last night in Ecuador in Zumba, 35km from the Peruvian border. Cockerels woke me up at 0530 the following morning and so I got up, made breakfast and was in the gas station before it opened at 0700.
It was a peaceful start to the day. I was the only vehicle on the jeep track to the border and I cruised along under a typically overcast sky, passing valleys filled with drifting cloud. It took all of 5mins to get Rosie and I stamped out of Ecuador and ride across the river bridge to Peru where the gate was locked and the immigration officer still in bed. To be continued…
NB: I spent 35 days in Ecuador and rode on 12 of them. It rained on 11 of those 12 days.