Well, if you believe the predictions made by the Mayans a few thousand years ago, this may well be the last post! However, all being well we will be able to do another update next week as we have just entered Peru and still have many places to visit 🙂
Anyway, back to Ecuador….
We spent a few nights in the Amazon, near the small town of Misahualli. Nearby our lodge was a pretty impressive, and no doubt an extremely old tree.
We forgot our hats and suncream when we went walking to find the tree and the Amazonian sun was pretty strong – Dan had to unzip the legs from his trousers to make himself a hat….very fetching indeed!!
He also went for a swim as our lodge was right on the banks of the river. Having read all sorts of stories of the creatures that live in these rivers, I declined to join him. He was looking pretty nervous as he entered the water – particularly as I was shouting about Piranha’s and Crocodiles as he was stepping in – recent rain in the mountains had reduced the visibility to zero. He did make it back out in one piece though, despite a really strong current – this river joins onto the Napo River a few meters downstream, which is one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon River. If he had been swept away he might of ended up in Brazil 🙂
We had a bit of a giggle later that night as we sat in a restaurant in town and watched a monkey shoplifting! There were some monkeys roaming the streets trying to find food and one of them was staking out the local supermarket, hovering around the door waiting for the staff to turn their backs. As soon as the coast was clear he ran in and grabbed a bag a crisps before running back out and into the darkness….very intelligent animals!
You have to be pretty careful in Ecuador (in fact this goes for pretty much all of Central & South America). Quite often the drains and manholes don’t have covers – it’s pretty hazardous wandering around at night in the dark – not to mention the hazard of riding the bike along streets that look like this…..
The following day we took a day trip along the Napo River to see more of the Amazon.
The trip included a visit to ‘AmaZOOnico’ which is an animal rehabilitation center in the jungle started back in the 90’s. The project survives on donations and is run by volunteers. Our tour guide was a German girl who had just started 4 months of volunteering at the project. http://www.selvaviva.ec/amazoonico/
A lot of the animals at the center were birds and monkeys as these are the most popular animals for people to have as pets in their homes and restaurants, where they are generally poorly treated. Any animal which can be released back into the wild is eventually released, but the ones we saw are the ones that would not be able to survive. Tourists are not permitted to visit the animals which they hope to release.
The birds generally have very sad stories as they’ve usually had their wings broken to prevent them from ever flying again….just to entertain tourists in restaurants. We couldn’t help but laugh though as we walked by the bird enclosure and they were all squawking really loudly when suddenly one shouted out ‘Burritos’!
There were some quite unusual plants around too….this tree can walk!!
After the visit to the animal rehabilitation center, we headed back up the river to visit a butterfly farm which was pretty amazing……
The next part of the trip was a jungle walk. The guy who was driving the boat moonlighted as a guide. His family grew up in the Amazon and his father was a Shaman. He was pretty knowledgeable on the flora and fauna of the rainforest.
Our guide also had amazing eyesight, he spotted this tiny poisonous frog in the undergrowth, known as a ‘dart frog’. Amazonian tribes use the poison on the tips of their blow darts.
Also, we stopped for a mid-afternoon snack…..of lemon ants….urghhh. Actually, they did just taste of lemon – Dan enjoyed them more than I did though!
More unusual rainforest plants……
The locals pan for gold along the river banks – apparently they can make $20 per day.
The animal below is a Capybara – kind of looks like a giant guinea pig.
We tried a Cocoa Bean in its natural form….not nearly as nice as when it’s made into chocolate – I much prefer its manufactured form 🙂
After being bitten by all sorts of bugs, we decided to head back into the mountains away from the rainforest. Our next stop was the town of Baños – which is Spanish for ‘Baths’.
It’s Christmas time so what do you do when you have no snow to make snowmen?……
The town of Baños is famous for a few delicacies –
Toffee made in shop doorways…..
And ‘Cuy’ aka Guinea Pig – fried up on the streets….yum 🙂
Baños is of course most famous for it’s natural thermal baths, which has also led to a lot of Spa’s opening up. Time to take a steam bath I think!
Although I’m pretty sure the lady that worked there enjoyed giving us ‘the cold water treatment’ in between our sessions in the steam bath a bit too much…..
Later that evening we headed for more pampering at the local thermal baths. I’ve never been in thermal baths that are so hot. I could hardly bear the pain from the hot water in one of the pools – the locals must have super thick skin as they were loving it!!!
As we left the town of Baños we got a great view of the nearby volcano – which has erupted and caused the town to be evacuated on several occasions. We found out it actually erupted the day we left – everyone in town was given a mask to cover their mouths – if only we’d stayed one more day we could of got some cool pics!
We had some pretty spectacular views as we drove south towards the old colonial town of Cuenca. We drove passed the volcano of Chimborazo, which it turns out is actually THE HIGHEST POINT ON EARTH – figure that one out. It seems that as the earth not an exact sphere – the area around the equator is ‘thicker’ and therefore the top of Chimborazo is the furthest point from the center of the earth. As opposed to Mount Everest which is the highest point above sea level. I had never heard this before – I wonder if people risk their life to climb this too?
Our hotel in Cuenca was really nice, but I’m glad room 13 wasn’t ours…..
We celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary whilst we were in Cuenca….mmmm, good food and cocktails 🙂
We then headed for the small town of Vilcabamba on route towards the border with Peru. We decided to stop off here after reading that this place is famous for its inhabitants growing to a very old age. Apparently it’s not uncommon for people to reach 100, and some are rumoured to have reached 120 – 135. It’s no wonder that lots of expats are moving here. We were sure to drink plenty of the water whilst we were in town 🙂
Our final experience of Ecuador was to take the route directly south from Vilcabamba to the border…a road which would only be paved for about 35km followed by almost 200km of unpaved road. We had read some horror stories from people who had done this in the rain…thankfully the weather was pretty good. We had been told this route would be well worth it for the spectacular views. This turned out to be very true, as Mike will confirm. He was busy looking at the view and wiped out on a bend! By the way, I’m not just watching him lift his bike whilst Dan takes a photo – we did help him once the pic was taken. It’s just compulsory to take a photo in these situations 🙂
This is the view so you can probably understand why….amazing scenery!!
We were warned about the construction work on the road which can cause delays. We weren’t too impressed when we arrived at one road block and had to wait 1.5 hours. This section of road was only open for three 1-hour slots each day. We sat and twiddled our thumbs for a while…..then Dan pondered if there was anything he could tweak on the Transalp to pass the time – well it has been a while since he had it apart!
Because of the slow going road, the construction work and more computer issues at the border it was dark before we finished getting the necessary paperwork to enter Peru. A tough decision followed – sleep at the border in the hotel below….or ride in the dark on more dirt road for 40km.
So we rode on, against our normal rules of never drive at night!! Shhhh don’t tell my Mum, she’ll only worry 🙂
After drying out and chilling out in Salento for a couple of days with Uli, David and Mike we decided to head to Cali in convoy.
Before we left, the hotel owner helped me relocate the tool box on the Trannie as it had been bashed around too many times by the front wheel hitting it so after a bit of drilling and remounting it, we are now prepared for any pothole that we might encounter.
Trying to merge in with the locals ain’t so easy…
Some of us needed new tyres and other bits and bobs before leaving Colombia as they can be difficult to come by in other places south of Cali.
We had 3 days here, most of which was spent in several bike shops getting a service and spare parts organised.
Midday snack at “Crepes y Waffles” – yummmmm
Bikes now sorted, we rode from Cali to Popayan. It was only around 150kms so should have been an easy day but finding a hotel which had secure parking was a bit more difficult.
When we thought we finally struck lucky, the hotel manager moved sofas around in the lobby to make rooms for the bikes and ran around trying to find planks to get the bikes up the pavement and through the front door – then we realised that the handlebars were too wide for the entrance…eeek
Luckily – the hotel next door had a wider doorway and would let us park inside.
It was a tight squeeze getting past reception!
I wondered around the old town that afternoon, killing time before dinner. Traveling appears to revolve around eating and drinking and as we are on two meals a day – dinner time can’t come soon enough!
As there wasn’t very much to do in Popayan, we carried on to Ipiales which is the border town to Ecuador.
Some pretty nice scenery on the way but we didn’t stop as it’s Farc country and we were advised to keep riding through it.
Just outside of the town of Ipiales sits a unique church that was built in a canyon above the Guáitara River. We stopped off on our way to the border to take some pics.
An old guy walked over and chatted to me for about 5 minutes. Not really sure what he said as my Spanish is still rubbish and he was missing most of his teeth which made it even harder to understand him.
We were then on our way to the Ecuador border. We heard it was easy so didn’t feel the need to rush there early in the morning.
Checking out of Colombia was a breeze and took 5 minutes for both of us and the bike. Unfortunately the lines were down at Ecuador’s Aduana (customs) so they couldn’t grant us a temporary bike permit until their systems were back online.
As we waited, more bikers turned up and joined the queue. It was nice to chat to other travelers and exchange stories.
We had met Hugo from Argentina briefly before on a busy main road just outside of Cartagena. He was traveling around South America with his wife on their 1150 GS.
What to do when waiting around at borders?…..
……get your boots shined of course!
4 hours later and we were back in business – systems were online and they were processing the permits quick smart.
They didn’t even check the bikes and we rode into Ecuador with our stamps and permits although you could have crossed from Colombia into Ecuador without stopping as nobody asked to see our paperwork.
It was amazing how the scenery changed dramatically as soon as we entered a new country. Winding roads around huge mountains made for some good biking!
And petrol is cheap…….US$6 fills the tank!! 😀
We met up with Uli (Triumph Tiger 800) and David (BMW 800GS) again in Otavalo for food and drinks before waving them off as they headed south. It was probably the last time we would catch up with them as they are on a tighter schedule than us and Motomike, and need to get to Chile within a few weeks.
I wondered out the next morning to find an ATM and noticed a lady stood next to 3 goats tied to a lamppost. A guy was kneeling down in front of one goat and filled his bottle before paying the lady some money. Self-serve goats milk. I wish I had the camera on me at the time.
Later we walked around the markets.
I needed a haircut so popped into a barbers around the corner from the hotel. I forgot my Spanish phrasebook and was trying to figure out what I need to ask for when it came to my turn.
Then I realised that the other locals before me just sat down without saying anything and let the barber work his magic – all for $2. Sweet!
Deep fried bugs of some kind….
Mike decided to head south to Baños and we wanted to check out the Amazonian jungle so parted ways for a few days after visiting the Equator. It seems so long ago since we passed over the Tropic of Cancer in Mexico so felt good to finally reach the earth’s half way point.
We were the only tourists there so messed around sporting our best poses until we got bored enough to leave on our way to the jungle.
We arrived pretty cold and wet in Misahualli after riding across a 4100m pass and then through heavy rain for the rest of the journey. We’ve found a nice guest house so think we’ll hang around for while and see what the Amazon has to offer.