Thursday 3 April 2008

ECUADOR - Northern Highlands - Tulcan to Quito

I crossed the border at Ipiales, Colombia. This border was closed for a week or so in early March during the political crisis between Colombia and Ecuador. No problems this day. I got 90 days in Ecuador without asking. In Colombia I asked for 60 days and received only 30 from a surly immigration officer. It was real hassle to extend in Tunja. Every digit was individually fingerprinted as well as both complete palms. And the cost- 63,000 pesos! Luckily he was the only cabron I met in Colombia.

As I rode through the northern highlands of Ecuador the differences were obvious. It´s much poorer than Colombia and there`s lots of rubbish scattered by the roadside. I travelled through here in 1984 and there wasn´t so much urban sprawl and most houses were adobe and tiled. 23 years later there are now hundreds of grey besser brick dwellings on the fringes of towns, mostly unpainted and permanently unfinished. They must be freezing in winter.

But, on the plus side, there´s not so much traffic on the Ecuadorian Pan Am and it has lovely wide shoulders for cyclists and pedestrians.

The downhill runs were great! Unlike the very steep gradients of Colombian roads (worn out quite a few brake pads). On the Ecuadorian Pan Am no brakes needed on most descents, just long sweeping freewheeling. I clocked 72.6 kph on one of these thrilling runs.

The Ecuadorians are just as friendly and courteous as the Colombians. Lots of car horns and waving from passing cars and trucks.

The pollution from truck and bus exhausts was terrible as I climbed over the highlands. Check out the smoke belching from the passing truck. Peaje is a toll booth but cyclists go free. With 50 kgs in my panniers I did feel like going through the pesados (heavy loaded vehicles) queue.

Max the rottweiller in La Casa de Cebollas , the title I gave to this unnamed residencia in Bolivar. Max is the friendliest dog I´ve met so far and he was very curious about my cooking in the room.

Imbabura Volcano 4630m. It was overcast or raining all the way from the border to Quito so I didn´t get any great pictures of the impressive volcanoes en route. Cayambe Volcano, the third highest peak in Ecuador was completetely obscured.

An Otavalon man dismembering a pig with a hacksaw.

I crossed the equator just outside Cayambe.

The two monuments were either side of the equatorial line according to my GPS.

The continent looks rather small when you get up close.

An armed guard outside a casa de cambio in Quito. A common sight throughout Latin America.

El Virgen de Quito from the Old City streets

I´ll be leaving Quito early tomorow morning Sunday April 6. I´ve stayed in 3 different hotels in the 4 days here. Not getting much sleep in any of them. Time to hit the road and the quiet countryside again.

Toothless and Ruthless
I met my first cycle tourists of the trip on the ride from the border. The first was a German guy outside Tulcan. The second was a rather odd American woman called Ruth, of an indeterminate age. She had ridden 100,000 kms and had been to Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point on the continent. A pretty tough lady with lots of missing teeth. She was travelling lightly- no panniers, just two small day packs. We spoke for a little but she was impatient to get going, so off she went.I caught up to her soon after, passed her on a downhill run and rode on ruthlessly. (I´ve waited a long time to pull out that joke from primary school).

The Man of La Mancha and the Horse with a Name
One of my favourite books is Don Quixote, Cervantes 17th century classic, parodying the chivalry of the times. On the road to Quito I sometimes felt like the ageing and foolish knight on his emaciated horse, Rocinante. No windmills or castles in sight nor any Ecuadorian damsels in distress, but I need a name for my workhorse. He´s done so well up till now.. so I´ve bestowed the illustrious name of Rocinante on my trusty stead. When Judy gets her ass over here she can be my faithful companion Sancho Panza. It looks like we`ll meet up in Cuzco, Peru in mid July.

No comments: