We made the decision before arriving in Ecuador that we should make up some time by driving through the country without too many deviations. Stick to the Pan American Highway as much as possible, but not to miss the highlights.
The border crossing at Zapotilo, the easiest we’d had to date. Soon on our way again along the coastal plain. We were fortunate that the US dollar is used as the official currency in Ecuador, so no time was wasted with currency exchange either. Fuel also the cheapest so far on this trip.
The road was excellent even though we were on a minor road. A dual carriageway most of the way except in the villages we had to go through when there was no bypass.
We were forced to slow down by the inevitable speed humps! It all added to the enjoyment of our journey being slowed down. We didn’t miss out seeing the fresh produce and goods for sale at the side of the roads.
Many towns had small eateries under thatched lapas. Full of colourful locals enjoying the inexpensive set menus of the day.
The countryside was a lush green, quite a contrast from Peru…
With patchwork hills…
Farmlands growing bananas, mangoes, paw paws and sugarcane. Our overnight stop was a garage near Santa Rosa the first night. It was hot and humid. We were sticky and missed the cold shower although we felt safe amongst the many trucks.
The following day we went from the coastal plain back into the Andes. Travelling through an incredibly long valley with many mountain passes, similar to parts of Peru that were inland and away from the Atacama. But with many more trees.
We marvelled at the road construction. There were so many cuttings that had been blasted away to allow passage for the roadway and amazing feats of engineering to prevent rockslides. The toll fees we paid at regular intervals we accepted without a complaint. They were obviously necessary to cover the cost of construction and upkeep.
I know I’ve said this before, but I’m impressed with the overall quality and scale of the roads we’ve travelled on through all the countries so far. The truck drivers are very well catered for, with plenty of comfortable stops for them. So different to parts of Africa. One realises that they are the major road users and are also providing a necessary service to the economy.
It was much cooler in the highlands once again. Hard to believe we were so close to the equator. We remembered Kenya and its pleasant temperature. It had actually been raining and cold at the foot of Mt. Kenya!
On reaching the hills surrounding Quito we looked down upon the smog filled valley that lay below. The huge city was situated in the valley and the surrounding hills trapped the smog.
We chose to remain on the ringroad in the hills and give the city the miss. It was getting late and the thought of searching for accommodation down there was not pleasant!
So we continued northwards to Otavalo where we had heard of Denis’ “Hostel Rincon del Viajero” from fellow travellers. Sue and Pieter had stayed there too.
More small villages and farms on mountainsides en route. We even managed to cross the equator without even knowing that we had!
Arriving in Otavalo before dark we found the Rincon without too much hassle.
A Spanish couple were camping there too. In a Volkswagen Synchro camper with a pop up roof. They had shipped it from Europe to Uruguay and also driven through South America. They left the next day for Colombia.
We stayed another few days. We’d heard about the market on Saturdays. It was one of the highlights not to be missed in Ecuador.
We left the camper at the Rincon and walked into town. It was the best way to see it. No parking problems or driving in narrow streets!
We just loved the town and the people.
Found some good coffee at The Daily Grind ….and a friendly barrister who took the picture. You can see from our clothing that we were much cooler!
There were lots of crafts, hats, shoes, fabrics, colourful and well made from good raw materials. Fabrics from Llama wool. Vegetable and fruit stalls everywhere! How could Saturday’s market be better?
Took a taxi back to the campsite and to bed early after that wonderful shower!
Saturday arrived and we went into Otavalo again for the market. There were stalls everywhere. We couldn’t believe the scale of things. But the day we’d been looking forward to was suddenly dashed by the loss of Solveig’s phone. She was pick pocketed! All her pictures she’d taken on the trip lost! Over 2000 gone forever! The phone can be replaced by insurance but the pictures, never!
Fortunately we still have such wonderful memories of our adventure which can never be taken from us.
We thought that if we crossed the border on a Sunday it might be easier. There were many trucks en route too. So leaving reasonably early, with only about 150 km to the border, we said our farewell to Denis. Shortly after passing through Ibarra we came upon some more roadworks which which resulted in a complete re-route to a different road.
A road not on the GPS! The Garmin maps have been absolutely shocking on this whole trip. I’m disgusted that any company can sell you such rubbish for over R1350 and claim that it’s the 2014 version of the South American Maps! There were many roads missing in all the countries we’d visited. Often the map displayed old routes that had since been replaced. The new roads, not on the GPS, were at least 5 years old already! The maps had very little POI information too. Finding places along the way was difficult or impossible. Oh, how we missed Tracks 4 Africa!
We tried to follow the detour as carefully as we could but never made it to the border that night. At times when the GPS did kick in it sent us on gravel farm tracks that had to be seen to be believed.
We would have made it through to the border, but unknown to us, because petrol is so cheap in Ecuador compared to Colombia, it cannot be purchased close to the border. We were refused petrol in the small town we were passing through and had to return to almost where our journey had begun that morning!
After all the disappointments that day there were fortunately a few bonuses. Had we not been re-routed we would never ever have seen them either.
The first one was in the town we’d been refused petrol. They were having a Festival!
The whole town was in the streets enjoying themselves in a procession
of colourful dancers, floats, musicians, groups in ethnic costumes representing their heritage. It was such an emotional experience that we were moved to almost tears.
The next bonus came to us in a town we had not expected to visit although we had read about it. El Angel. Famous for its topiary….
(and old men!)
As you’ve probably guessed, we didn’t make it to the border that Sunday as planned, but who cares when you’re having a good time. Another night at a filling station close to the border this time……