MONKEYS, MOUNTAINS, MUD, AND MORE! IT SEEMED AS THOUGH FOR EVERY HOUR ON THE ROAD WE’D GO THROUGH A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT LANDSCAPE POLAR OPPOSITE TO THE LAST. THE SCENERY IN THIS COUNTRY HAS BEEN MIND-BLOWING! ALMOST AS MIND-BLOWING AS THE $1.48/GALLON GAS PRICES AND THE $2 FULL COURSE MEALS.
FRIDAY, JULY 26th – DAY 51 – IPIALES, COLOMBIA – QUITO, ECUADOR
Up to this point, everything we had done on this journey I knew was feasible and legal. When Mac bought a Swiss registered motorcycle that was legally supposed to be out of Colombia 4 months earlier (and now subject to “legal penalties”), we found ourselves in a precarious situation. Upon leaving Colombia, the police might have a couple different questions for Mac that could have led to imminent fines or seizure of the motorcycle…
Where is the owner of the bike (according to this title)?
Are you aware that you are no longer legally allowed to have this bike in Colombia?
Why have you allowed the bike to stay in the country 7 months instead of 3?
We prepared for as many scenarios as possible with fake owner permission forms and titles and explanations for the motorcycle’s delay leaving the country. But for the first time in our border crossing history, there was no machine-gun toting police officer there to check our vehicle permits. So… we stamped our passports out of Colombia and rode into Ecuador. So far so good! Arriving in Ecuador we stamped in and then used Mac’s photoshopped Swiss title (now with his name on it) to buy $5 insurance and get our Ecuadorian vehicle permits. Everything went perfect! Mac’s bike wasn’t seized, no one asked any questions, and from here on out he’d just use the fake title in his name. Success!
Leaving the border we headed through extremely diverse terrain once more. We went from cold/wet conditions to hot desert and then to extremely high mountains once more. We arrived in Quito(9,500 feet), the capital of Ecuador, which sits right on the equator, just after it got dark. We’d already passed the Tropic of Cancer back in Mexico and I was semi-looking forward to going from “summer” to “winter” in a split second as we crossed the line.
When we arrived at our hostel we asked where the equator was. The guy responded, “oh ya, you passed it about 20 minutes ago.” Oh. Cool.
SATURDAY, JULY 27th – DAY 52 – QUITO, ECUADOR
The entire day was spent taking care of our last major motorcycle adjustments of the trip. Chase and I put our new front tires on we’d been hauling around. I got a new off-road oriented back tire as well. We had a shop put new brake material on Chase’s front brakes for $6 (finding new originals has been impossible every time we’ve looked). We also made a crappy improvisation to Chase’s choke lever that had snapped off when he fell in Baja California. Until now he hadn’t really needed it, but when we entered the Andes he had to hold the choke cable with his hand every morning until the engine was warm. Finally, we did a valve adjustment on Mac’s bike and checked the KLR 650s as well. All good. From here on out, hopefully just oil changes and chain maintenance.
SUNDAY, JULY 28th – DAY 53 – QUITO, ECUADOR – TENA, ECUADOR
While putting Mac’s valve covers on the day before, an important (and warped) bolt snapped in half. We managed to get it out of the engine block but it was a chore Sunday morning finding/cutting the right size replacement bolt. We got everything sorted early though and got on our way headed towards the Amazon Rainforest. To get there we’d have to cross completely over Andes Mountains. From Quito (9,500 feet) we went up, and up and up and up and up until finally reaching the top of the pass at 13,500 feet. With the lack of oxygen, the motorcycles felt as powerful as a moped.
All of our surroundings changed rapidly during the course of an hour. It was freezing and windy at the top but the descent into the Amazon warmed up quickly. The mountains went from pale brown vegetation to green and then thicker and thicker vegetation. The descent only took about a couple hours but by the time we reached the Upper Amazon Rainforest we had already dropped to below 2,000 feet.
After some annoying tire issues, we arrived in Tena around 5:00pm. We had just enough light to go for a jungle ride. After securing our hostel we bolted for the nearest remote dirt road. Two hours later we were back in Tena for dinner and bed.
MONDAY, JULY 29th – DAY 54 – TENA, ECUADOR – BANOS, ECUADOR
We woke up the next morning with one thing on our minds. Monkeys.
The night before, the owner of the hotel mentioned a little town down the river that was full of monkeys. We were immediately sold. We rode about 30 minutes further east into the Amazon rainforest to a little town called Misahualli. It was the same as any other Ecuadorian jungle town BUT with monkeys running around! After more than 30 minutes of monkey-play-time, we hopped on a little skinny canoe and went for a 45-minute boat cruise on the mighty Napo River (one of the headwaters of the Amazon River). The boat cruise was not complete without a quick dip.
Side note: we were at an elevation of about 1300 feet here. The water we were swimming in eventually becomes part of the Amazon River and drains out in the Atlantic more than 2500 miles downstream. That’s about half a foot of elevation drop for every mile. It’s crazy to think that for so many miles the Earth is so flat.
After our Jungle cruise we backtracked towards Tena and then headed for Banos (a tiny turisty city at the base of one of the most active volcanoes in South America, Tungurahua). For the most part we stayed on curvy jungle roads before meeting up with the Pastaza River and following it through a gorge to the town of Banos. I’ve run out of clever adjectives to describe the scenery so you’ll have to just check out the photos.
Arriving in Banos, we immediately set out to find a road that could take us closest to top of the volcano. From Banos we could only see clouds blocking the top of the volcano where according to locals, it was bellowing tons of ash.
The road started out paved, then turned into rocks, then turned into mud. Mac was having a fun time with his semi-worn street tires. Although we never were able to see the top of the volcano, the road had a gorgeous view of the valley below and it was well worth it to see Mac fall in the mud 10 times.
Mac’s motorcycle crash segment —>
TUESDAY JULY 30th – DAY 55 – BANOS, ECUADOR – CUENCA, ECUADOR
Lucky for us, our hostel came equipped with a rooster that liked to caw at 2:00 am, 3:00am, 4:00am, etc. We all slept great..
In the morning we took care of a few maintenance items. Mac got both of his mirrors (which broke off the day before on the volcano road) semi-fixed. Leaving Banos, Tungurahua was still covered in clouds…bummer. Then it was on to Cuenca, Ecuador, “Ecuador’s most beautiful city.” The ride was semi-uneventful. 210 miles, mostly above 10,000 feet. We passed by Chimborazo, a giant dormant volcano and also the farthest point from the center of the earth. We arrived in Cuenca with light to spare and went for a stroll. It seems all the trendy people of Ecuador have found their way to that city. It had a really cool vibe and beautiful city streets.
WEDNESDAY JULY 31st – DAY 56 – CUENCA, ECUADOR – TUMBES, PERU
After Mac’s muddy volcano experience a couple days before we spent an hour finding mac a new rear tire. At around 10:30 am we left Cuenca and headed for the Ecuador-Peru border near the coast. At some point the scenery changed into a hot mountainous desert. Along the side of the highway we saw a dirt road carving through the mountains and since we were making good time, we opted for the scenic route. The road wasn’t on my GPS but it seemed to go in the right direction-ish. After following the dirt road 30 minutest we stopped to ask a woman whether the road would eventually lead us back to the highway. She just responded, laughing “Ya, but you’re better off turning around!” Eventually we made it back to the highway and then the Peruvian border. Adios, Ecuador! It’s been real.
Peru. To be continued…