The most interesting part is that we climb nearly 13,000 feet in under 50 miles as we depart Quevedo (Day 4), just to fall off it and climb again.
Looking at next years date to see when we can go back down again!
I was able to use the SPOT data to and with the help of GPSVisualizer.com create this nifty graph. Using the lat/long, it adds the elevation imported from a DEM (digital elevation model) database. So for our 400 mile trip (horizontal axis), we can get the approx elevation. Tasty photo op galore thanks to those many elevation changes in Ecuador!
The most interesting part is that we climb nearly 13,000 feet in under 50 miles as we depart Quevedo (Day 4), just to fall off it and climb again.
Here's the SPOT Adventure page showing some topography.
My only minor nit I regret was the tool situation. Next time we do a self-guided tour, I think we'll just bring it down our own kit. Since you are allowed 2 bags checked and 2 bags carry on for the international flights, there is no real reason not bring stuff you are familiar with.
Looking at next years date to see when we can go back down again!
Before we leave Ecuador, we need to add some pizazz to this place!
Meanwhile, at the airport we find this gem of a sticker to add to our collection
And who doesn't love a happy ending, Ecuador Milk products at the end of a long journey.
To us this a beautiful landscape, to those horsies, this is so much vegetation, so little time to eat it all. Look at that high-gloss luster on their coats!
Remember green stuff needs water, lots of water. It's been a while since we've posted a pic of a waterfall.
Seeing all the that water run down the side of a Volcano mountain seems so wasteful. Let's use it to go fish farming instead. You can see the guy in the red shirt in one of the drained channels. He scoops them up with a net an hands them off to the people on the far right side. Gutted and filleted on the spot!
They appear to be rainbow trout, but I am certainly no Angler and could easily be wrong.
Who will win? A nimble DR200 or a Caterpillar Wheeled Dozer? The first landslide we hit the entire trip. I am surprised they are working on it to tell the truth, as they don't have a single "peligro" tape anywhere. It's not like a reroute will be easy, as we've not seen a cross road for a over an hour.
So we wait. Naturally, you think it will just be "one more scoop" before it's open. Then the hills settles again, and just undoes all his efforts. About 30 minutes into this, Bruce and I get a strategy to wait till the pile is nearly flat, then run over the top it. The Dozer operator must have had the same thought, because next time he had it cleared, he waved us through.
Alternatively, you could buy some producer from the Chevy Luv truck. We didn't believe that "Luv" was a model either, sure enough it was!
There is so much so do in Mindo, I wish we had another day here. You could go river rafting, zip lining, mountaineering,bird watching or frog chirp listening. However, apparently the frogs on closed on Tues. Not sure how that really works, since the frogs are wild and probably aren't unionized. Nonetheless, we have to get the bikes back to Quito by closing time and catch a red-eye flight back to the states.
With only 70KMs, it sounds easier than it might be. Remember, I am a world-renowned for not keeping any sort of schedule on track. With that, let's go bird watching, and stop by the world famous Tandayapa Bird Lodge. Who knew there were so many different hummingbirds in one region? Soon enough, I realize that the little cameras will not capture the hummingbirds as they are really small, and really far from the walking trail. To some extent the big-snoot camera will struggle too. At times, I felt like an epileptic having a seizure as I tried to spot, track and photographic a hummingbird. Really, they are buzzy little birdies. I think I must have shot over 100 photos of those little birdies. The bird is completely missing from the frame in easily 1/3rd of the photos. Another 40% of the frames, the birdie is a blob or blurry. Occupational hazards I suppose!
For our non-hummingbirds, imagine finding a needle in a hay stack. Really, we are in the middle of a rain forest and we need to find a birdie among all this foliage. We do have a few successes! Bird watching people, though, are bonafide loons themselves. One lad commented how much easier it would be to see the birds if all the trees were cut down.
The birdies do live among some strange vegetation. Look at this weird beige flower or the curly-q fern thing
Some other interesting points along the way. The juxtaposition on this sign is strong!
Shortly after we arrive the tour begins. It seems the touristas don't speak a common language: Spaniards, English, a group of Germans. Fortuitously, they are able to break us all into perspective groups, each lead by a native speaker.
We spoke a bit earlier about Cacao. Ecuador, has a few varieties, the Nationale, which a yellow pod when ripe. The Nationale, has apparently benefitted from the volcanic erruptions over the centuries, and has a very high Cacao content. In fact, much of the Ecuador nibs will ship to Switzerland as the Cacao will retain its' rich aromas and flavors when liquified for candy making. Up until the Cacao blight in the 1920s, Ecuador was the top producer. Today, they are the 4th producer. Africa, specifically West Africa, produces 70% of the worlds Cacao. It's funny with all the Ebola in the news recently, nobody has said a word about CaCao production falling.
This picture has the entire sequence of Cacao harvesting from pod(far left), to seed (left bowl) to nibs (right bowl). We'll look at each step next.
A Cacao tree has a productive lifespan of 40-80 years, which depends largely on it's care. The tree is not mature until 7 years of age, when it will be flowering. The flower buds on the left are waiting for bee pollination. The pod (on right) are ripe when they turn yellow. It takes about 4 months from pollination of the flower bud to ripe pod.
They "shuck" the pods right at the tree.
In the land of no waste, the hulls are useful for mulching. And it smells so sweet to boot! Veterinary professionals in the US recommend against the use of Cacao mulch, as high content chocolate can be toxic to dogs. However, there is no shortage of dogs in Ecuador, and this is a pretty common practice.
Processing Equipment. This place had quite a sense of small business owner pride. He employed 20 persons, and was the top employer in Mindo!
Sorting the nibs by hand
This room is kept at a high temperature
And something you'd recognize
They are working a diabetic friendly version of chocolate bars. They have been growing Stevia (a natural sweetener). He plucks off a single leaf for us to try. Wow, a little bit goes a LONG way in sweet.
Who doesn't love a tour that has a happy ending. In this case, we'll eat the Cacao much like the Incans might have. The has a drink of crushed red pepper, Cacao, ginger and honey. High in anti-oxidants, their warriors were unbeatable for many major battles. The drink mix traveled with them to Aztecs in Mexico, when the Spaniards popularized it in Europe.
The tour ends with other uses besides chocolate. Apparently, a side product is used to make Balsamic vinegar. And of course, CoCo butter and the Chocolate mulch are beginning to take off in popularity.
We end the evening with a lovely German dinner back at the Dragon Fly Inn--meat and potatoes. Notice the use of common use of natural sauces from local fruits.
We met our new tall friend as he opens the castle doors for us. Intricate wood working on the gate.
It's clear that someone is a wood worker, and built this as a labor of love. Every piece of wood has a high sand finish, and just oozes with appeal. It turns out that there is a high concentration of German immigrants whom settled in Mindo. The tall man, our host Ingo, was also from Germany. In true German fashion, he speaks about 5 languages fluently. Just like in the fatherland, someone has the design for tree house building.
They were also a small German micro brew, making beer from only the 4 allowed German ingredients.
It will turn out that Mindo will be one of the highlights of the trip, and it wasn't even on our original itinerary. Absolutely, recommend it!
We have a little less than 1 hour to get up the CaCao (chocolate) tour. It's seems it's going to a rough sell to get Bruce out of his perch.
A view from the room.
I was so happy to see a menu (in English to boot!), I completely flubbed on ordering. I thought I was getting some sort of Tomato Shrimp soup. Instead, here's my cold shrimp salsa...
We do stop in at the Equator museum, where you are suppose to play with the experiments that are only possible at the Equator. As much as I want to channel my inner geek, it seems hokey. Then I got flash backs to the time I paid $20 to go into a "Ripley's Believe it or Not" Museum. About the only thing I felt "believing" as I left Ripley's was that I was scammed out of $20. We settle on taking this happy snap and booking out of town instead.
Now, we've been to 2 locations claiming the 00' 00' 00' title. An equator is the intersection of a sphere's surface with the plan perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation and midway between the poles. Earth's equator is about 24,901 mi long; 78.7% is across water and 21.3% is over land. However, finding it is easier than is sounds.
The highest point on the equator is at the elevation of 15,387 ft at 0°0′0″N 77°59′31″W, found on the southern slopes of in Ecuador. This is slightly above the snow line, and is the only place on the Equator where snow lies on the ground.
Today, we'll settle for an altitude with an all zero reading.
The Equator is not quite fixed. The true equatorial plane is always perpendicular to the Earth's spin axis; this axis is fairly stable but its position drifts about 49 ft during a year and the Equator shifts likewise. However, you can see the Equator monument ball in the background. It's still off by more than 49 ft.
Having our fill of being around way too many touristas, we head for the hills. But first, we head for the craters! Pululahua has one of the world's largest volcanic caldera with an average base diameter of 8 km. The crater is breached on the NW side and in the middle a huge lava dome formed with a height of 500m and a base diameter of 3 km. It is also one of two in the entire world, which is populated and is primarily used by indigenous people for agricultural purposes.
While I am trekking off to get the world's most awesome panorama, Bruce has elected to let the cool mountain breeze just brush over him.
It would be terribly remiss to travel this far, and not hit the obligatory monument of the Equator, yes latitude 0 degrees.They have been doing lots of construction improvement to the area, but hey at least they have free moto parking.
You ride an elevator to the top of the monument, to the observation deck. Then walk down through a native museum.
Close up of seal on the east side of monument
To be perfectly fair, we were sort off let down by the vista. However, our benchmark for 'awesome' vista had been set pretty darn high the last 5 days.
We meadered down the stairs to our first exhibit.. Bruce on the musical instrument.Looks like he'll need a new haircut too
Who doesn't love a terrapin
One of the more memorable events of the trip was the two people, and the kid holding his arm out holding a cookie. S/he was so tightly dressed, all we ever saw was the little hand. They were mounted on a small displacement cruiser style with street tires. It in particular section of road, Bruce and I were stopping frequently for pics. The little cruiser with the kid and cookie would just chug on by. Naturally, we'd catch up and proceed to pass them on the steep uphill ascents. We'd stop some more on the vistas, and soon we were dropping over the apex and down the back side.
By this time, we've been leap frogging for a good hour. The kid hasn't dropped that cookie. On the last pass, the Ecuadorian is winding out that poor little cruiser for all it's worth. While my DR200 is nary a powerhouse, I surely don't have his determination. But yet, I wonder what will happen to the cookie.
We follow in hot pursuit for a bit, before the road comes to a Y. Bruce was convinced that women are the small all around the world, and he was probably getting hit in the kidneys for his poor riding!
Life Lesson: Never drop your cookie, no matter how bad the riding gets!
While I never grown this many watermelons, I've never also needed to use a telephone pole to prevent them from rolling down to their own deaths
See that road at the bottom of the valley. It the elevation drops and rises on this day are no joke. We'll descend in less than 2KMs to that point.
Crazy how fast the topography and landscape changes around these parts
We are having a hoot of time, and I do have to say the photography is coming along splendidly as we get more and more artsy.
It seems one should never pack emergency kit where it can get smashed in a crash. While the air compressor case was cracked, it took us 20 minutes to realize the cooling fins were also pushed down the centering rod, thus preventing the motor from spinning.
With the compressor back in action, it was off to change the tube. Freedom Bike sent us off with 4 tubes, so no worries that getting back on the road today. No shortage of rocks to prop up the bike
Another cobblestone road. Notice the 3 alignment rows for your cart?
We stopped for a bit to admire the rain forest. Really, this is a single leaf. I think this will make a smashing good profile picture too!
I believe this farmer is harvesting sugar cane. This is when I really begin to regret only knowing my 4 words of spanish. He sees me stop and walks over. He extends his hand and begins to speaks. Alas, the best I can do is tell him I don't speak Spanish. Before we head back down, our Spanish must improve as I think it could add so much to the experience!
Ecuador is the 4th largest producer of CaCao (Chocolate). There are different varieties, and these red pods are the less desirable ones, but are also native to Ecuador. CaCao only grows in a thin band of earth--latitudes +20 degrees to -20 degrees.
Once the beans are fermented in a box covered with bananas leaves for 3-9 days, they are dried out. This is how the country folk do it
They also grow many types of citrus fruits
Now on day 3, we are becoming old pros on sourcing food. We find a restaurant, and have no expectation of a menu. We are ready for more souppa, chicken and rice. We are also now experimenting. The souppa is sometimes very good mixed with the rice! We eat very well, for $6 to 2 people. Again, another missed opportunity to talk to the locals. The entire restaurant bids us farewell. That and the guy in the red/white shirt wants to buy the Husquvarna Terra for the $6 we just gave him. Since it is a Husquvarna, the deal seems fair to me!
San Luis de las Mercedes is a fabulous little town. No graffeti, well painted, and frankly everything you'd expect from a movie set.
As we depart San Luis, they have decided to start paving the way through the Palm Groves. While I am upset that my dual sport ride is now more pavement, the road is all but empty with no traffic. The ashalt doesn't even have a pimple on it, and they haven't attempted to straighten it out much. We are left with a road which are much more fun than some named after lizards in the States.
The road then meanders into the Palm Groves. Palm Oil is used in many applications from bio fuel, cosmetics, margarine, to food stuffs. You've probably never noticed, because it's often labeled as "vegetable oil"
We get into Quevedo very early around 1500. But look at this gem that greets us at the hotel, and Olympic sized pool with pool side bar!
Lastly, we've been communicating (albeit slowly) via Google Translate with the local mechanic. Seems that one of the DRs lost the front brake. After a bit, Freedom Bike Rental is able to scurry a mechanic or two to the hotel for us. If the bike can't be fixed, they will bring another one out and trade it. Since the situation appears very well in control, Bruce and I are riders' up by very late morning, but still before the required departure time.
Court did a great job with the pre-ride brief. However, the riders should pay more attention as we thought today was the steep ascents challenging day. Instead, we were treated to a leisurely gallop.
These little piggies were so adorable. However, this was the second act of aggression we had in Ecuador. It was remiss of us not to look for the mama sow. About the time we turn the bikes off for the picture, she comes charging out of the bush. She's big girl, probably topping that scales at 600-800lbs. As soon as she clears that bush, she drops her head and crow hops. The next crow hop is going to end poorly for us. Luckily, she stopped as quickly as she started.
Fertility all around on this side of the Andes
I don't know how we didn't end up with a bike covered in feathers either!
I guess this post should really start with the money shot. Blaster and I stopped to gaze at this marvelous sunset. In fact, we even spent 10 precious minutes capturing it in many (failed) forms. In the end, I don't think I will see another one like it for another 2 decades, if ever.
I guess we'll just continue the story backwards. Despite growing up in Mountain country, Bruce and I really got schooled on being out in Ecuador after dark. It all but a reality that tonight will be another one. We are 30KMs from Salinas, but Garmin GPS has all but confirmed sundown. In another 10 mins, the sun will be nothing and the air will invert in a layer of fog. Bruce and I have a plan that slow is steady, and steady is fast.
It's about this time, we realize that the Terra has burned out the low beam headlight filament. Now faced with a wall of fog and the decision to trudge forward with only the DR200 headlight or the Terra on high-beam. After some experimentation, we'll ride Tandem and use the DR200 light. It's slow and incredibly ineffective, but it's the situation we find ourselves in.
While the road is 2 or 3 cars wide, it's still a dirt road. No shoulders, no guard rails, no street lights. We muddle forward as the temperature begins to drop like a bowling ball at terminal velocity. The best I hope for is that we stay on the road and keep moving. At least, that will be less distance if I need to start walking.
With only 5KMs left before Salinas, we now have to navigate a construction zone. A construction zone in Ecuador is marked with a few tidbits of "Peligro" tape. No matter how deep the open trench, no matter how haphazard the dirt piles are dumped, no matter how narrow the temp bridge, it's just you in the fog and some tape.
No sooner we arrive in town. We are wet, and cold and lusting for a long hot shower. What we find is a eclectic group of foreigners huddled by a communal fire. Odd.
We check in and the bed has enough covers to subdue an Alpaca. Oh my, sure sign there is no head source in the room. I decide to ready to shower and let it warm up. No luck there either. Apparently, the hot water is only on for a few hours mid-day. We hang our riding kit up, and head back to join the rest of the foreigners next to the communal fire. Of all the hostels and hotels we'll find on this trip, the Refugio is one I don't want to see again. However, I am assured it's the best one for 50 miles around.
We figure that Marty and Jack are about 1 hour behind us. Certainly, there was only 30KMs to go when we last saw them. I place a few calls/emails back to Freedom Bike Rental to see if anyone had called them on the Sat phone or if they could track the bikes. About 2330, Marty and Jack are greeted at the hostel. Cold and exhausted, they have triumphed another day!
Ants in the rainforest are big, very big! And they move big leaves around.
Bruce and I have a hoot on this track. While the footing is bit of loose rock, and many switchbacks, it is lovely scenery. We wait on this bridge for a bit. No lack of water and water falls.
God likes water too.
Wild Bananas (Plantain?) with a dingle
Bruce and I are taking happy snaps, when we hear the bikes coming. However it was many false alarms, since it's tough to tell how close the bikes are since they are doing switchbacks. They get "close", but then far again. But we are happy to know they are still advancing. Jack comes bucking around the turn first. Marty, however, sees me and stops dead in his tracks. Soon enough, he coaxes his way through the turn and I capture his excitement!
While this road is freshly paved, absolutely no reason to revett the hill sides to prevent slides.Slides would only happen in a place made by volcanic rock that cleaves easily....
More voting propaganda. Who needs a flimsy sign, I have a can of paint and lots of talent!
As we descend into town, we follow what is quite possibly part of the Incan trails. The roads is hand laid cobblestone which had 3 rows of alignment stones which the cart wheels would ride one.
Pick any route you want off the mountain, the high road or the low road.
Of all the wrong turns the GPS was convinced I should take, this one was probably the best one. It said the lunch stop was just beyond these stairs. It was indeed, but really the stairs are a bit long and narrow for my ilk.
As we enter the lunch stop in El Corazon, my 4 words of Spanish pay off. I successfully score seating for Quattro. Grabbing a bottled drink and sitting down, a flurry of activity begins in the kitchen. However, we haven't got a menu or ordered? No worries, you can have anything you want in back country Ecuador as long as it's Chicken and Rice with Souppa.
But at least there is some solace in knowing the water and chicken have been bubbling around in a pot for hours. It seems that none of the riders get intestinal upset from this diet plan. This is especially important to convince yourself after you have consumed nearly all the soup, then the waitress brings out some tap water in a glass. The water is about the same clarity as the pea soup.
This is one track that if you find gas, you best partake in the Octane goodness. The stations are far and few between. However, gas is remarkably cheap, hovering around $2/gallon. It's ironic that in a country that seems to give little thought to the environment, the safety of people, the gas is full service only.
Leaving the crater, we enter a beautiful valley.
We get gas then start up a mountain pass. As expected, the fog quickly envelopes us. So much fog, that 3 of 4 riders miss the turn off. Nonetheless, the GPS finds a turnaround 20KMs later to reroute us onto this cherry piece of earth.
There is much grazing land up here, filled with all kinds of fauna. Tastes like chicken?
We are fairly far out, and haven't seen a vehicle in hours. Very few homes even. And then out of the fog this peeps up. It's good to see God.
As soon as we are used to our near zero visibility, we drop out of the cloud forest. How about a straw hut with grass walls. It's got the seal of approval from the Llamas even!
Remember, more gates to keep the flora out!
Someone is an artist. The walls are adorned with artwork
Naturally, this is the kind of place that you could spend lots of time just unwinding here. The rooms also have pot-belly stove heat, but be wary that is doesn't burn out in the wee hours of the morning. Also, when the bed has more blankets on it than an Alpaca has fur, it should warn you that the cold will move in quickly! My only regret is that we didn't even stay here 12 hours. What a magnificent gem!
There are many things that one might say, but never call me late for food. In fact, Bruce and I often find our own little "great eats" tour. However, the first few meals on this trip were rough. But the instinct to forage is a strong one. We had higher hopes for Chiribogo. It was the first town we found since departing Quito hours ago. And while it was once a bustling town before the paved road was built, it's more a nostalgic town stuck in 1930 today. A great photo op no less.
Many might know that my big bikes carry a variation of the Dorito namesake. Imagine my delight to find these chips in Chiriboga.
The next town, San Francisco de las pampas, looked far more promising. Again we strike out after trying 2 restaurants. Lunch just doesn't seem to be in the cards. However, almost ever small town has a very nice town square. This one also has an elaborate staircase to heaven
Leaving town, the group spreads out a bit. Each rider baking in their own ride. While each bike has a GPS, we usually stop at the few intersections. This was perhaps my undoing. We noticed this couple as we initially passed, but didn't stop. The next intersection we waited for Marty. As we thought he might be off track, we doubled back. Our spanish as poor as her english she convinced all of us that uno moto went off track then turned around for San Francisco. Also of note is the advert for the local politician ( vota ) on the building.
Bruce and Jack blasted off and I waited back. Soon enough, the group was back again but the sun was getting uneasily low in the sky.
Ecuador is known for very high elevations and you literally ride through the clouds, even above them. A dear friend once told us this story about how he'd totaled his bike by hitting a donkey in central America and rode it back to the states. I know believe how easy that feat might be. White horses and cloud forest.
It's not just the free ranging big animals...expect anything from turkeys to dogs. Lots and lots of dogs. In fact, next time I am thinking about a "Dogs of Ecuador" picture book. I am afraid there just isn't that much time in a life to take take many pics.
The livestock had incredible street smarts though. I didn't see a single carcass until day 4 when we were on the Pan American Highway. And somehow this wayward ass wanted us to wait for him to cross this one lane bridge first. No reason for him to take the water option
Some folks however had different commutes. I will never mind my commute again, at least it's not a foot trail up a steep hill.
I can't even muster a trip to Safeway to buy food, and yet they cultivate unbelievably steep terrain here by hand.
If you were a plant, I assure you that Ecuador would be a place to call home. Most likely you would sprout huge fricking leaves. It's a good thing the foliage isn't carnivorous like a Venus fly trap. This one could swallow a rider in full kit.
Of course, most flora of the persuasion to grow a pretty flower or something tasty to eat....
Some decide to grow vines you could yell Tarzan and swing off of...
And sometimes you are nothing more than a stumpy water guard.
Ecuador is fairly politically stable. The only reason for all these kinds of gates and fences that I see is to keep the flora at bay..
Freedom Bike Rentals has surely been fab! In most cases, the hostels have been the best ones in area for 50 miles. Strangly, we have found the internet speed to be faster than most of the places we've stayed in Canada, and even some parts of the US.
Despite averaging 200KMs days, I've just not been peppy enough to muster the gumption to write in real time. Adding to the delay, we have been averaging a ridiculous number of pics (100--140) per day! So, it looks like each day report will require multiple posts.
We depart Quito at thee height of rush hour, which after living in Washington DC nothing should scare us. While lane splitting is legal, we don't partake today.
Soon enough we drop out of town, and Ecuador is ready to share her spoils. It seems there will be no lack of vistas in the days to come.
So many cameras going, so little time
Many may not realize that the Galapagos Islands are also Ecuador. As such, there is amazing bio diversity all which needs water. Lots and lots of water. And with the steep terrain, it often falls on you or rushes madly down a rock river.
As we look out the hotel, Quito seems much like the Rockies.
You might be anywhere, but are you a Labrador on a roof?
Do mind the green glass shards though
After a leisurely breakfast, it was off to meet Marty and Jack. Just as we left off in 2012...well not quite:)
Hotel Isabel couldn't be any better. 2 blocks away and very posh. Soon these characters are at Freedom Rentals.
Court, the proprietor, shows up, and the store is a bustle of activity.
Salinas gives Bruce a thumb of approval.
Marty struggles to figure out how wear these rental 'pants'. Errr I mean this is the new Altrider soft luggage system.
Marty and Jack will touch the equator today. As they will have first bragging rights, do follow their Ride Report at:
Riding in Ecuador -another fine mess the Ancient Mariners have gotten into
Dinner then off early. Off in the am as newly minted quattro group. See my Spanish is coming along splendidly!
The garage door slammed shut. I peered back and did a quick head count. For a brief moment, a wave of nauseousness rolled over me. I suddenly felt as if I had gone to a dog pound, and yet not saved any of them. It was then I realized this was the first moto trip on rentals.
The plane ride was uneventful, but poor Bruce was the object of my entertainment. About midflight, it was clear to him the distinct advantage of previous trips. He was safely out of my arms reach.
I'd like to say 'soon enough', but it was a solid 12 hours before we put eyes on Quito. But what an amazing display of colors from above the clouds!
The taxi driver was nothing short of Mr Toads Wild ride, as he meandered down the valley then back up the far side. Howling tires filled most of the journey. Many motos throughout the clubbing district.We bed down for the night, ready to acclimatize of high altitude.