|I spotted my first Llama in Ecuador|
Having crossed into Ecuador at dusk during the Ecuador Colombia World Cup qualifier my first night in the country was spent in an interesting location. A motel. That might not seem that interesting on first appearance compared to lots of the various places I’ve laid my head on this trip but motels in this part of the world are somewhat more colourful than what many of you may picture. They would more accurately be described as Sex Motels. Aaaaghooou! Alas it was just me and the bike. I wish I had kept a photo gallery of all the amusing names of the various motels that I have been passing since Central America with names ranging from Cupids, Motel Amor to Ruta 69 and the likes. The motels are all about privacy and anonymity and usually consist of a line of garage doors where people drive (or cycle) straight in and the garage door closes immediately behind them. Despite the mirrors on the wall and roof and the poster with the top 20 sex positions I’m not sure how suited the place was for an amorous night as it was absolutely freezing.
My first full days cycling in Ecuador being a Saturday there were plenty of cyclists out for their weekend spin and I got talking to plenty of them throughout the day. They seemed to be a pretty even split between Ecuadorians and Colombian’s who had crossed over the border for the day.
The following day I passed a major milestone cycling from the northern into the southern hemisphere. Having started my cycle well inside the arctic circle it had “only” taken me just over 13 months to cross into the southern hemisphere. Late in the afternoon I arrived at the “Mitad del Mundo” monument which marks the dividing line of the equator and got talking to the very friendly Manuel and Josue who look after this tourist attraction. They mentioned that cyclists often camped at their places nearby so I didn’t have to think twice to take them up on their suggestion and actually ended up being offered my very own bedroom that night. We had a game of volleyball with some of their friends which is hugely popular around here and had a great few hours chatting. Thanks guys. Before hitting the road the following morning I shared breakfast with their dad who offered me some milk for my oats fresh from the cow.
Later that evening I made it to Tumbaco on the outskirts of Quito where Santiago and his lovely family have been welcoming cyclists to their home for over 20 years. I was planning a few days off here and wasn’t the only cyclist staying so it was great to exchange stories, do some very necessary bike maintenance and catch up with my Pan American cycling pal Nicolas Provenzani , who had been hanging out there. Martin and his girlfriend Irene were an Argentinian couple cycling north. Martin hailed from Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego where I hope to end up…. someday! A day later, Kim and his twin six year old sons arrived along on their bike and trailer. Kim and the two boys have been cycling around the world for the last three years and will probably spend another year travelling. Myself and Nic headed into Central Quito one of the days to check out the famous historical centre which is a UNESCO World heritage site due to the well preserved colonial architecture.
That evening I was very grateful to make it to another great Casa de Ciclista in Ambato run by Leo who has a partner Casa run by his brother in Toronto. Upon arriving tired into the casa just after dark after a big day I was thrilled to receive my medal which Leo gives to all cyclist upon arrival and presented by his very cute little daughter. It was a lovely gesture.
|Crossing the Equator|
|Fresh milk for breakfast|
|Main church in Central Quito|
|Sculpture at the Casa de Cultura in Quito|
|Bike scheme Quito|
|Extended bike family. From left: Nicolas, Micaela, Irene, Martin, Santiago, Muni, Miri, Ana-Lucia, Kim and myself all enjoying ourselves at the Casa in Tumbaco.|
After finally leaving Santiago’s lovely oasis I skirted around the edge of Quito headed for Cotopaxi National Park. Cotopaxi is the second highest mountain in Ecuador and one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. Suffice to say that the two days or so cycle up to the national park was challenging involving some steep accents on gravel and I had to hop off the bike to push it occasionally. It was most definitely worth the effort once I got up into the national park where I was greeted by some great views. At about 3,700 m it was the highest point I had made it to date on the trip and I luckily found a small gorge for some shelter for the night to set up my tent protected from the freezing wind. The following afternoon once the sun had come out and I was enjoying the much easier decent I encountered Um Hong Gil, a Korean mountaineer and his support team who were filming an Andes range Expedition. To say that Um was an experienced mountain climber would be an understatement having climbed 16 summits in the Himalayas, but he had only summited Everest three times. We had a good chat and I was interviewed about my trip.
|On the road to Cotopaxi|
|Well wrapped up.. except the guy in the t-shirt.|
|Rough road up to Cotopaxi National Park|
|The entrance into Cotopaxi National Park. Thanks for helping with my camping gear for the trip BaseCamp. (www.basecamp.ie)|
|Bike having a breather|
|Ingapirca - most famous Incan ruins in Ecuador|
|Irlanda? ..no Ecuador|
|Old woman walking by the side of the road|
|One of many stunning mountain views|
As you are probably aware at this stage I have spent many nights staying in fire stations but the next few days must have set something of a record on my trip as I managed to stay at different stations four nights in a row. Muchas gracias a los bomberos de ecuador!
|Best Bomberos ever, not because they gave me a mattress in my own room or because they let me use the WiFi but because they gave me a delicious meal. These guys are also one of Ecuador's top wooden carting champions!|
|Another night in the bomberos|
|There's nothing I like to do more after a grueling ten hours on the bike than to work out so the room in this bomberos was perfect.... thousand and one, thousand and two..|
These days were spent cycling south on the Pan American highway and I was happy to take a break once I made it to Cuenca which is Ecuador’s third largest city. It's a popular tourist destination due to it’s beautiful old town in the centre. I stayed in a hostel a few blocks east of the central square called El Cafecito where I ran into a few other international travellers so it was fun to hang out with them for the few days as we explored the city together.
|Catedral de la inmaculada Conception in Cuenca|
|It was here that I discovered that the Panama hat should more accurately be called the Ecuador hat as that's where they originate from and Cuenca is one of the main centres for these stylish hats.|
|Parque Abdon Calderon with Cathedral in background in central Cuenca|
|On the road to Vilcabamba|
Once back on the bike I finally turned off the Pan American highway at Loja to take the smaller road directly south to Vilcabamba. This small town is another popular place on the tourist trail and is famous due to the old age that many of it’s residents supposedly reach. Over recent decades this has led to a large influx of foreigners into the small town keen to discover the secret to the healthy living. There’s a relaxed vibe to the place and I was lucky enough to have a pad to stay at my friend Jessa’s who was working as a yoga instructor at a lovely hostel. Izhcayluma was a beautiful hostel about 2 kilometres up the hill from town with what can only be described as a stunning view over the valley. Thanks to Jessa and owner Peter, originally from Bavaria, for sorting me out with a free breakfast every morning overlooking Vilcabamba. It was extremely difficult to leave this idyllic little get away but I was keen to make it into Peru with the border less than 150 km away.
|Free chocolate tasting in Vilcabamba to celebrate world coco day. I think it's my new favourite day of the year.|
|.. with plenty of road works|
|Time for a paddle|
|Somehow I think I might still use my own blow up matress tonight.|
|This kind gentleman brought me downtown on the back of his police motorbike complete with lights flashing to show me somewhere cheap to eat. Everyone knows there's no bigger emergency than a hungry cyclist.|
|Taking in the view.|