Friday 25 April 2008

ECUADOR - Country Snapshot

March 30- April 27
Tulcan N 00.44 - Zumba S 04.58 (Lat. 5 degrees)
Total kms: 1217kms. Total Days Riding: 18 days
Rest days: 9 days Daily average: 68kms
Total Elevation Gain: 19,565 metres.
Daily climbing average: 1090m.
Highest elevation: 4422m (El Arenal/Chimbarazo camp)
Lowest elevation: 720 (La Balsa- Peruvian border)
Total riding hours: 96hrs. Daily av: 5hrs 20mins
Longest riding day: 7hrs 24mins Max. speed: 72.6kph
Road Surface: Sealed 1044kms Gravel 173kms

Bicycle Mania

1 puncture (at the end of my last day in Ecuador)
torn rear pannier (curse the curs!)
1 broken spoke (rear wheel)

1. Chimbarazo and vicuñas
2. Podocarpus National park
3. Guamote market
4. Cuenca and Casa Sol
5. Cycling Vilcabamba - Zumba

Ecuador dropped the unstable sucre in the mid 90´s and now the US dollar is the official currency. It´s unpopular with the rural population but it suits the business people in the towns. They use US coins but also equivalent centavos (5-25).

Daily budget - $US14-16 a day.

I rode from north to south down the central axis of the country, passing through a corridor of volcanoes, traversing the high sierra and dropping into the warm lush valleys. Here are some examples of the varying terrain and different altitudes I travelled across on my Ecuadorian journey. Four slices of landscape.

Puna 4000m Mt. Chimbarazo.

Paramo 3400m Podocarpus NP

Montane cloud forest 2700m Podocarpus NP

Sub-tropical highland valley 1500m Vilcabamba

The Ecuadorians seem quite diferent to their northern neighbours, the Colombians. They are more withdrawn and much less extroverted - quite reticent and often difficult to chat with them but also less prone to shout `Gringo´ or blow their horns at me. They are very courteuos to strangers and often say `Buen aprovecha´ when they enter a restaurant while people are eating.

As I stayed mostly in the sierra I didn´t get a complete cross-section of the Ecuadorian population. There is a strong African influence on the western coast and a pioneering mestizo population in the eastern lowlands. In the highlands, I encountered a dominant indigenous presence around Otavalo in the north, in the villages south of Ambato and a small pocket around Saraguro. Many of the large towns and cities (eg. Cuenca, Quito) have large ladino populations, but are very mixed.

Cane lazo - aguadiente (cane spirit), panela (dark brown sugar), lime juice & cinnamon sticks. A nice sweet drink on cold sierra nights. I first tried it in Bogota but the Ecuadorians boil up a sour fruit (naranjilla or lulo with the cinnamon and sugar. A great little drop.

Juices in Ambato market of all tastes and colours- alfalafa, coco, blackberry, guava, naranjilla, orange, pineapple. An endless variety.

Costs for a single room varied from $3-8. I´m a born cheapskate so I often went for the shared bath rate. I scored a great deal in Ibarra- 3 star w/ cable TV and ensuite for $7! The cheapest (and noisiest) hotel was the Hotel Sucre. Of course, my favourite was Casa Sol in Cuenca, shown in the photo below.

Another favourite was the adobe cottage at Rumi Wilco outside Vilcabamba.


How far (connell)* is it?
In Ecuador, like many places around the globe, distance and time are relative. I have maps and a GPS but I like to get up-to date regional info. Alas, I wrongly presumed local knowledge would count for something. Before I set off or when I pass through a town, I often ask a local on the street about the road ahead, ie, How far is it to the next town? Does it climb steeply? Is it sealed or dirt? The answers are bewildering.
One such road was Vilcabamba to Zumba. Leaving Vilcabamba, I asked a German guy who lives in the valley who I thought would have reliable knowledge. "Does the road climb much?". "No, not veally, just a little oop and dawn". In fact it was bloody tough steep climbing - over 2 days I climbed almost 4000 vertical metres! Oops and downzies, my arse.
In the next village, Yangana, I sought out a shopkeeper for some information - about how far it was to the next town with accommodation. "Cercita", or `not far at all´, was his response. I pushed him for elaboration. "Una hora, no mas", or `1 hour, no more´. 6 hours later I limped into Vallolodid, after a brutal 43kms and a 1200m climb on a muddy, dirt road.
And to add salt to the wounds, the authorities get it wrong too. Outside Yangana a sign gave the distance to Zumba as 217 kms. It was actually 111kms. I think the sign was put in the wrong place. What the hell!
And the guidebooks (I´ve got an essay on these texts of misinformation and poor research) can never get it right either. Footprint has the distance between Vilca and Zumba as 112kms when it´s 134kms. Lonely Planet ..don´t get me started...

* As for the colloquial title of this grumble...In my hometown, Smithton, there was a family of Connells. Ivy (Ma), Pa and their mute son, who we called Far. It was always "Far Connell!"

Ice cream man and his bi-polar bear

Mariachis in the Sierra

Papal Propaganda An anti-abortion poster which you find in the Catholic churches all over Ecuador. Very subtle for a place of worship eh? I´d like to put up some photos of dying Aids patients I saw in a clinic in Bujumbura, Burundi in 1990. It was shortly after the the Pope´s visit when he forbade them to use condoms. Talk about the sanctity and dignity of life.

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