Ecuador – The First (frustrating) 10 days

With our Dutch amigos Daan and Mirjam, we were ready to leave Colombia for Ecuador – a short and easy 3 hour ride.  We pulled our 4 bikes onto the sidewalk in front of the Koala Hotel to pack them up, not realizing the consequences of our actions.

Within minutes, 40+ people gathered round to watch and pepper us with the usual questions – Where to?  Where from?  How fast?  How much?  The crowd size was laughable, but we really enjoyed their interest in us.  It was a great send off.

Leaving Pasto, Colombia

The 4 of us rode the winding highway south to the border of Ecuador.  When we tried to fill our ever diminishing fuel tanks, we were greeted by empty gas station after empty gas station with signs reading ‘No Hay Gasolina’ (there is no gas).  It seems that Colombia recently had a ‘3-day sale on gas’ in these parts.  Result?  No petrol in the region for the next 3 days.  More likely: a black market for cheap Ecuadorian fuel ($1.48/gallon vs. $5/gallon in Colombia) in the border region makes it unnecessary for Colombian gas stations to stock much, if any fuel.  Jordan was 20kms into his last 30km of fuel and we were still 20kms from the border.  Luckily we made it without having to resort to what our friend Len from Nova Scotia refers to as the Cape Breton credit card to siphon gas from any of the other bikes.

With an easy exit from Colombia we proceeded to the Ecuadorian immigration where we saw two more motorbikes with Alberta plates.  Now, for those who don’t know, Calgary is actually a fairly big city of about 1 million people with a healthy motorbike community.  But, yes we knew these Calgarians – the 2nd pair we’ve bumped into and known.  Mercedes (BMW F800GS) and Jerome (BMW R1200GS) are riding from Calgary to Argentina with their 13-year old son, Eric in tow (they take turns riding with Eric as pillion).

After a lengthy, if not highly orderly afternoon with Ecuadorian customs, and the best bloody empanadas verde we’ve ever had we were off – now as a group of 7 on 6 bikes.  Everything had gone smoothly, however, upon leaving the border, my bike started to act out again.  It was now bucking as if I were breaking in a mare for the first time.  Thankfully, after 5 minutes the extreme bucking and surging stopped and though I was having some power issues when riding uphill, we all made it to the charming town of San Gabriel, Ecuador where we stayed for an amazing $5 / night (wifi and parking included!).

Great bike parking

The town is small and there wasn’t much to do so we split up the ‘pink and blue’ chores like two dutiful 1950’s families; Mirjam and I did laundry while Jordan and Daan worked on my bike all day, which would no longer even start, let alone run.

Laundry day

... and not only for us!

To make a long and arduous story short, while we had clean, dry clothes, the guys could not get my bike going and it took, yes, another pick-up to get my bike to the dealer in Quito.  The ride was gorgeous (even in a pick-up cramped with 3 people up front) and I got to practice my spanish with the nice couple who helped us out.  About an hour out of Quito we crossed the equator and entered the southern hemisphere for the first time, making the ride even more memorable.

Quito is a great city – don’t listen to the bad press.  It has a gorgeous old town, fantastic public parks, and the museums are free.  That said, it has a shelf life of about 3 days when the rest of Ecuador is calling.  So, when it took TEN DAYS to have my bike properly fixed I was practically in tears (okay, I was in tears at one point).  The most frustrating part of the whole ordeal was that on day 1 we told the dealer that we thought the problem was with fuel filter and possibly a clogged injector.  After a number of incorrect diagnosis and repairs (they even machined my cylinder head), it turned out my poor bike needed a new fuel filter and had to have the injector cleaned, exactly as we suggested.  Time required to complete the repair: 1 day.  To their credit they did not charge us for any of the extra work, but seriously, 10 days?  However, as I write this 6 weeks later,  I’m over it.  Really, I am.

Images around Quito:

Ecuadorians love sweets so much, they add sugary sauce to candy floss!

Quito's old town

Coffee: hot water mixed with 'coffee essence' from the genie bottle

old school barber shop in Quito

courtyard of the art gallery

Quito growing up into the mountains

To kill some time, we took a trip to the edge of the eastern Amazon 2-up on Jordan’s Dakar.  We met up again with Daan & Mirjam in the unremarkable village of Tena, near the kayaking and river rafting heart of Ecuador after a beautiful 3 hour, roller coaster ride that took us from 2,400m in Quito up to 4,200m, and back down to 500m.  We got mildly lost on a self-guided tour through the jungle where we saw trees that walk, exotic butterflies, small & gigantic spiders, and listened to strange jungle calls while Jordan climbed a dodgy 30m metal ladder to above the jungle canopy.

We enjoyed the warm weather and devoured a large stack of home-made, Dutch pannekoeken at a local river guide’s house with 2 more Dutch travellers.  Are there any Dutch left in the Netherlands?

A walking tree

silk art

Something a little bigger

Owl Butterly

Jordan climbing 30m above the jungle canopy

jungle view at 30m

When we picked up my bike – all clean, and ready to go – I was giddy and almost forgot about the 10 days that plagued me.  Truth is, we had a nice place to stay, met numerous fellow travellers (we were the old locals by the end of it) and had a great opportunity to plan the rest of our Ecuador trip.

While trying to trouble-shoot, we communicated a lot with other experienced moto-travellers via Horizons Unlimited and Adventure Rider – they were all extremely helpful, supportive and quick to respond to our cries for help.  They tried to console me by saying these obstacles are part of the adventure.  Though, I’m more inclined to believe our rider friend Jeremy, author of Motorcycle Therapy, who insists that at the time, they are ordeals and only become ‘adventures’ once you get home.  We’ll see.

I’m just glad to be in Ecuador with a working bike!


One thought on “Ecuador – The First (frustrating) 10 days

  1. Glad your bike was finally fixed. Your frustration is palpable. And, yes, you will look back with fondness at the disasters and misfortunes. Even the grind of doing the laundry by hand in concrete tubs with detergent that isn’t meant for bare skin, won’t seem so bad after a while. The video of the amazon really brings it to life. Jordan’s pretty brave to climb that ladder, but the views are magnificent. Love the walking trees and sounds of the Amazon jungle.

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