Quito, Ecuador to Vilcabamba, Ecuador
Aug 7, 2014 – Aug 21, 2014
After almost 2 months having a jolly good time rolling up and down Colombia’s cordilleras, we were not quite prepared for Ecuador. First, we had taken a closer look at the map of South America and were a bit daunted by the kilometers left to cover. Peru looked like 3000kms, Chile 5000kms and maybe another 5000kms to Ushuaia. When Central America rewarded our progress with border crossings every few hundred kilometers, we would have to ride several thousands kilometers in South America without new stamps in our Passports.
Second, the spots we wanted to visit somehow failed to stir the kind of excitement we had felt for Lake Atitlan or for Medellin. After travelling for 6 months and seeing hundreds of amazing places, it is hard to keep your enthusiasm intact and find the energy to make a 300km detour in order to see another church or volcano. How lame of us to feel blasé.
Galapagos, or not?After a fairly smooth border crossing and an impressive ride down canyons and valleys with our buddy Peter a.k.a. Cheeky Monkey, we reached Quito on August 6. We put our luggage down at the Piedmont Hotel a few blocks away from the Place Fochs. A large “What the Foch!” marks the spot and guarantees everyone know this is party central. From the terrace of the Azuca Beach one can spend hours watching tourists . In some aspects, Quito was comparable to Medellin, it is similarly surrounded by several mountains with new neighbourhoods slowly creeping up their slopes as if trying to reach for fresh air. Place Fochs vaguely reminds one of Parque Lleras without equalling its charm. We did however find the old Quito, Calle la Ronda and the presidential palace quite lovely.
One question kept nagging us while there, should we go the Galapagos? With my usual refraction to anything too popular, I felt the Islands were over marketed and was therefore fearing ambitious locals scheming to make a buck on eager tourists. We spent several hours comparing options from local agencies, unable to find anything compelling for less than $1300/pp for a 4 days/3 nights tour. In the end I talked us out of it, arguing that after our adventure on the Stahlratte we were bound to be disappointed and rationalising that for the same budget we’d be able to do something much cooler later on.
Swinging on a starFeeling mildly regretful about our decision, we left Quito for Baños, heading East over the Papallacta (Guamani) pass through Baeza. This is definitely the road less travelled and despite the rain and the cold we enjoyed the countless waterfalls roaring down lush mountain sides to join thunderous rivers.
Several twisties later and we found ourselves in Baños, a cute mountain town cradled against the Tungurahua volcano. We checked ourselves in at La Petite Auberge and went hunting for the famous Casa Del Arbol. The pushy crowds bumping into each other as they waited for their 5 minute ride on the swing did not manage to spoil our experience, especially since they soon dispersed and we found ourselves enjoying a quiet evening, punctuated only by distant rumbles and bright orange flashes as the volcano burped and spluttered not far away. As the night fell we found ourselves alone with the owners and they told us how their grandad had initially built the cabana as a hideout to play the guitar while his grandchildren swung about below. It was wonderful evening!
CuencaUnder clouds stubbornly opaque to sunshine, we launched our DRs towards Cuenca through Sucua. The road treated us with fun turns banking their way through the forest before escaping valleys drowned under hydro-electric floods by clinging to mountain sides.
Cuenca seduced us with well preserved Spanish architecture, as well as newer buildings lining the banks of the gently tamed Tomebamba river. After a pleasant Sunday morning, exploring museums and strolling around, Peter rolled into town after his loop around the volcan Chimborazo. We enjoyed a lazy Sunday lunch, helping Marco explore his options for wrapping up his adventure. We all met up again a few days later in Villcabamba, a pretty town whose charm and perfect climate has attracted a large community of retired expats. To the Zebra’s initial dismay we stayed at yet another French owned hotel, but it turned our to be the nicest spot in many months. A local motorcycle shop lent us a couple square meters of dirt to give our DRs a bit of love, which was a mixed blessing as every part and tool got a dust bath in the process. Shod with new tires and with a few litres fresh oil in their guts, our DRs were ready to scramble to the tiny border of La Balsa and into Peru.