Category Archives: Ecuador

Welcome to Colombia!

We crossed the equator - 0.0 degrees!

We crossed the equator – 0.0 degrees!


We actually found a flat spot! — And there are more to come.

What?!  Another new country already!?  It’s true, we are already out of Ecuador and into Colombia.  So far it has been HOT, almost savannah-esque, and full of motorcycles.  We have both had nearly catastrophic mechanical failures (more on that later), and we are currently taking a second, unexpected rest day while our bikes get patched up.  Now, a little bit about our exit from Ecuador, and then more on our first days in Colombia. We’ve got more details on our end of trip plans queued up at the end of the post too.


No traffic on the PanAmerican Highway

First, leaving Quito.  We had been dreading our exit from the big city, but we were hit with an incredible stroke of luck: a national holiday.  There was almost zero traffic as we made our way out of this metropolis!  It was fantastic.  That day we conquered still more Andean climbs and reached the market town of Otavalo.

Our cyclist friend Jorge (who we met first in La Paz and later in Cusco) has been in Otavalo for two weeks recovering from an injury, so we were excited to meet up with him again.  We also decided to take a rest day here, and to spend it doing absolutely nothing.  It was glorious!  We only left the hostel to visit the market and buy stamps.  It was an exercise in supreme rest.

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The first almost catastrophic mechanical occurred after leaving Otavalo.  Everything was going great – we got out of town (and met Godzilla en route), and had a huge descent into a hot valley.  About 30 miles into the day’s ride I felt that my rear brake was catching on something.  I couldn’t find anything stuck on my wheel, so we rode to the next gas station and stopped for lunch.  After lunch I could feel that something was wrong with my wheel.  As I rode a little irregularity was noticeable all the way up through my seat.  We stopped again, and saw the source: a crack in the rim of the wheel.




The cracked rim

This was really bad news.  A cracked rim can very quickly become a broken rim, causing the tire to fly off the wheel and the rider (me) to crash.  We were very far from the nearest bicycle shop, and completely unable to fix the rim on our own.  I suppose we should have seen this coming (rims get worn out from braking, and we’ve been braking a LOT on these mountains), but we really wanted everything to just hold out until the trip was over.  We had to make the hard decision to get a ride.  It was our first ride since Patagonia, more than 6,000 miles ago.


Daisy is sad we had to get a ride

Luckily, we were about 100 meters from a toll booth where all the speeding traffic has to slow down and stop to pay.  We got permission from the workers there to approach each pickup truck as it passed, and soon we were crammed into the back seat with two other folks, en route to the Ecuador-Colombian border 60 miles distant.  Colombians are much more avid cyclists than Ecuadorians, so we expected to find better (and cheaper!) shops on their side of the border.

Our border crossing was straight-forward, except we felt a bit rushed by the visibly expanding crack in my rim.  The border agent required that we leave the bikes outside with the sketchy money changers.  I explained to one of them about my cracked rim and he explained  (mansplained, if you know that term) that it happened because I needed to change my brake pads.  Thanks buddy – only done that about 5 times in the last year!


Our last country of the trip: Colombia

We rode the few miles to downtown Ipiales in Colombia and quickly found a row of bicycle shops.  The fourth one we entered had the parts and the mechanic to make the repair, and it was with a great sigh of relief that we left the bike in their care for the afternoon.  We got a nice hotel, went out for a massive pizza dinner, and celebrated our arrival to Colombia.

View of Ipiales from our hotel roof

View of Ipiales from our hotel roof

From Ipiales to Popayan we had planned for four days of riding.  We ended up doing it in only three, since the small towns we passed through were somewhat unappealing and shockingly hot.  That’s not to say the riding was bad, as it was actually very beautiful as we descended out of the mountains and all the way down to 2,000′ (600 meters) elevation.  Once at the bottom, though, it was hot and humid all day and all night.  The heat forced us to be on the road at dawn to avoid the worst of it.

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The last palm at the hotel we stayed at: "Dos Palmas"

The last palm at the hotel we stayed at: “Dos Palmas”


We were also surprised to find that almost everyone living in this area is of African descent.  Folks were friendly when we talked to them, but seemed very hesitant to engage.  They also looked at us like we were absolutely crazy.  We later learned that almost no tourists come through here because the US state department has some pretty strong travel warnings out about this area.  We were fine though, and even got lots of smiles and waves after we shouted out ‘Buenos dias!’ to everyone we passed.

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This truck was loaded

This truck was loaded

Some guy named Jesus is running for office around here.  Lots of publicity!

Some guy named Jesus is running for office around here. Lots of publicity!

Many buggies as we left Popayan.

Many buggies as we left Popayan.

We reached the city of Popayan a day ahead of schedule and had a lovely rest day eating food and resting (again).  This morning we left town excited to be heading to the coffee zone of Colombia, but we were thwarted about 6 miles down the road.  Jason started to feel that same catching sensation from his rear wheel.  Yup – another rim cracked!  We knew what to do this time.  We turned right back around, returned to town, and found a bike shop.  This time we are leaving the bikes there overnight to get ALL the rims replaced.  We don’t want this to happen again!  It is a bit of a treat though, to take an extra rest day.

Jason's cracked rim.

Jason’s cracked rim.

We are in the fancy room at a nice hostel, and have a whole sitting area on the third floor to ourselves.  What luxury!

View from our sitting area.

View from our sitting area.

So finally, more on our somewhat big news (that many of you may already know): Colombia will be our last country.  It is with great excitement and sadness that we near the end of this adventure that seems (to us) to have lasted most of forever.  We both will be starting work in State College in October, and we have decided to skip over Central America.  Instead, we will fly to Spain to spend a couple weeks with my Spanish family.  All the cyclists we’ve met on the road have said that they didn’t much enjoy their time in Central America, at least not compared to South America.  It was also very expensive and difficult to get from Colombia to Panama, and much cheaper to go back to the US.  We found that to be unbelievable. Going to Spain before starting work will be a great transition, and a good chance for us to really wrap our heads around staying in one place for more than a couple nights.

We have already secured housing in State College (visitor’s welcome!), and of course there are also some pretty cute little service dog puppies that need puppy raisers!

Ecuadorian highlands: Cuenca to Quito

16,000 miles in the shadow of Volcan Chimborazo

16,000 miles in the shadow of Volcan Chimborazo

I am happy to report that our days of torrential rain in Ecuador are behind us. Since we last updated, we spent a mostly restful day in Cuenca, five challenging days of riding on the PanAmerican highway, and two fun (but not very restful) days in Quito. We have been able to do longer days without the rain and mudslides, but our constant companions, wind and mountains, are still with us. First, some pictures from our lovely day in Cuenca. Everything was closed because it was a Sunday (yet again!!), but we still did a good deal of wandering.




Leaving Cuenca was surprisingly easy. We flew downhill on a huge highway, taking up a whole lane. Other cyclists had told us that the PanAmerican in this stretch was pretty rough trafficwise, but we found it to be just fine. All the vehicles gave us plenty of space. The best part of the day was lunch – pizza! Our last night in Cuenca we bought two large pizzas, and we carried one of them down the highway and ate it for lunch. Deelish!



That day we made it even farther than we expected, and we ended up in the tiny crossroads town of Zhud. It turns out that there is nothing in Zhud except a long line of stalls selling fried pork with corn and potato dumplings. There are no hotels, nothing. We ended up camping at the local covered football field after watching the local kids play until sunset. It seemed like a great place… then the wind picked up.

All night long the wind blew and blew. The tin roof over the field was breaking. It banged against the rafters continuously, and chunks of it ocassionally were fell off and were blown across the concrete field below. In short – there was very little rest for us!

The supposedly very busy Panamerican highway became a barely trafficked two lane road that wove up and down along the Ecuadorian Andes. We had two days of fantastic riding under blue skies. We spent a night in a town that runs on train tourism.



Downtown Alausi


We also decided to take a dirt road shortcut to avoid a major city (and a major climb!). This shortcut was actually very pleasant, and even included some bonus pavement. That night we slept in the only hotel in the city of San Andres. It was a very fancy place! Strangely, there was not a single restaurant in the entire city (we asked multiple people), so we ended up making soup on the roof with our camp stove.




Our last night before Quito we spent in the city of Latacunga with a host family. This was our first time using Warmshowers in all of South America! We spent a nice evening with them chatting about how Ecuador has changed in the last decade. They told us that in the past year the polic installed many traffic cameras along the highways to enforce speed limits. Apparently one city to the south has made $2.6 million in tickets over the last 6 months alone!

The last day of riding into Quito was all along a busy two or three lane highway, but we rode safely and made it without any close calls. It was a surprisingly simple entrance to a massive city. Our friend Tarik, who we first met before we were even a couple, is living in Quito right now and offered to host us for a couple of nights. We found his place and were welcomed by his girlfriend, Zora.


There were several great volcanoes along the route



Ridiculous $5 (each) breakfast



We’re wearing normal-people clothes, ah! (Laundry time)

We spent three nights and two days with them, and had a blast chatting, eating, and seeing Quito. We went to old town, climbed up a church tower, saw an outdoor concert, rode in a cable car, and hiked up a volcano. We also made granola, ate their delicious cooking, and used their fast internet to find an apartment in State College for when we return. In all, it was an action-packed weekend for us! Thank you, Tarik and Zora, for being excellent hosts. You really tired us out though!


A delicious ‘tortilla’. Those are some Washington State apples the background, by the way.





Looking down to Quito


In our next update (sorry we got a bit behind): visiting an Ecuadorian market town, a dire mechanical problem, and entering our final country.

Welcome to Ecuador!

Map_SanIgnacio_CuencaOne week ago we entered our eighth country: Ecuador. It then proceeded to pour rain for the next week. Charmed as we were by the lush jungle, new architecture, and very nicely painted churches, it has been a tough week. We are now resting in the colonial city of Cuenca in the Ecuadorian Andes, where it has finally (!) stopped raining for a bit.

Waiting at immigration...

Waiting at immigration…


Leaving Peru was a bit of an adventure. The road is paved all the way to the border, where there is a very quiet immigration building and a lovely ‘peace bridge’. As we rode towards the border a man on a motorbike yelled at us ‘Gringos! Wait for me! Wait for me there!’. We were a bit confused, but carried on to the border. When we arrived the immigration building was empty. Humph. We figured that the yelling motorbike guy must be the border agent, who had left his post to head to town. A half hour later, he returned and proved us right. The rest of the border formalities (on both sides) were very easy. Apparently almost no tourists pass through here, so everyone was very friendly and mellow. The only downside was the lack of ‘Welcome to Ecuador’ signs!

First view of Ecuador, across the river.

First view of Ecuador, across the river.

As soon as we crossed the border the road became dirt and the grades became severe. We think the grade neared 20% on some stretches right after the border, but for the most part it hovered around 12%. This means we were in our lowest gears, and still barely able to keep moving. The road climbed and dipped and climbed again quickly on the steep hills. In only 14 miles we climbed AND descended over 4,000′ on dirt roads, and of course it was raining by the end of it.

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The church in a teeny town.

The church in a teeny town.

We noticed right away when we entered Ecuador that the living standard was higher. The houses were constructed differently, and most had very nice covered balconies and porches. The churches were all nicely painted in bright colors. We stopped seeing three-wheeled motorcycle taxis and started to see yellow pick-up truck taxis and the classic bus transportation: the Rancheras. We spent that first night in a nice hotel in the lively city of Zumba. Everyone was very friendly to us and called out ‘Good morning!’ to us all evening. Oh, and did I mention that Ecuador uses the US dollar? It is truly bizarre to us to pay for things using five dollar bills and one dollar coins. They LOVE one dollar coins here; there are designs I have never even seen back in the States!

Plaza in another tiny town.

Plaza in another tiny town.

Classic 'ranchera' style transportation.

Classic ‘ranchera’ style transportation.

The next day we woke up to pouring rain. We debated just staying in Zumba for another day, but in the end we decided to make a go of it. This ‘do we ride or not’ discussion would be repeated each day for the next 5 days! On this day, though, we sometimes REALLY regretted not resting! You see, the heavy rain had caused even more mudslides and landslides than usual on the lightly trafficked dirt road. We had to drag ourselves and our bicycles through thick mud that sometimes went higher than our ankles. By the end of the day we were filthy and exhausted. Our bicycles were ok, since we had spent time in mud puddles to wash them off, but our brake pads were wearing at an alarming rate. We stayed in a small, simple hostel in a tiny town. At first it was obviously a quiet place, but then the whole hostel was suddenly packed. We learned that the road was closed due to a massive mudslide 10 km up the next climb. Oh goodness…

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There were a few clear moments though!

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July27_011The road became pavement (mostly), and we made our way past the mudslide the next day. The wind and rain just kept coming, however. At the top of every pass visibility was minimal, the temperature hovered around 40, and the rain blew sideways. Every day we arrived in the next town soaked and exhausted. We took a rest day in the town of Vilcabamba, AKA Gringolandia. This little valley made headlines for having the perfect climate for longevity, so a whole herd of ex-pats and hippies moved there. We found the place a bit bizarre, but were thrilled at the availability of peanut butter.

Welcome to Gringolandia - where they will do your US taxes for you.

Welcome to Gringolandia – where they will do your US taxes for you even though you live in Ecuador.

At least there are coconuts!

At least there are coconuts!

Definitely an American ex-pat's mansion.

Definitely an American ex-pat’s mansion.

After leaving Vilcabamba we were out of the truly lush jungle area, but the rain continued. We spent an afternoon in the lovely city of Loja. It had a fantastic feel to it, and we loved the mix of modern (cell phone shops, fast food stands, cupcake stores, etc) and historical. There is a good university here, so the students made the place feel alive.

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Jason pretends to be thrilled with the weather.

Jason pretends to be thrilled with the weather.

After Loja it was three more days of rainy up and downs. We realize that we have gained an ability to just keep riding in very adverse conditions. Nasty rain, wind, and cold? Just don’t stop, and eat crackers when you get hungry. We continue to eat lunches and dinners out at small roadside restaurants. In Ecuador everything is about twice the price as in Peru (meals are about $3 instead of $1.50), and they have lots of different names for different kinds of bananas. We are becoming banana connoisseurs!

Typical view in the mountains.

Typical view in the mountains.




We camped one night at a local school.

We camped one night at a local school.

Got to dry the clothes somehow!

Got to dry the clothes somehow!

Now we are in the city of Cuenca. It is a big, modern city with a huge historical core. There seems to be a church on every corner. We will spend the day wandering the streets, looking for new brake pads, and eating fried bananas from street vendors. Yippee!