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Through the jungle to Peru

Through the jungle to Peru

We woke up to a misty and beautiful morning, and packed our bikes before breakfast. Today we’ll say goodbye to Ecuador by riding through the mountainous jungle down to the less traversed border crossing at La Balza. We had obtained information from one the bus companies that drive the route that the road was in drivable condition despite the heavy rain two days ago.

Lise assessing the misty morning weather
Lise assessing the misty morning weather

After eating breakfast and checking out from our peaceful hostel we mounted our steel horses an galloped into the hills.
In a blog I had red from 2015 it was mentioned that the paved road turned to gravel after about 10km of the 140km from Vilcabamba to the border. We found that improvements had been made and we rode up and down jungle covered mountains with breathtaking views on nice paved roads, with the exception of a few stretches where flash floods and landslides had destroyed the surface. These stretches were cleared up but dirt and sometimes a bumpy single lane or an occasional small stream crossing.

After the flooded streets in Cartagena and Vilcabamba, this wilderness stream is a breeze
After the flooded streets in Cartagena and Vilcabamba, this wilderness stream is a breeze

A little more than halfway to the border the pavement ended and we drove on dirt roads of varying quality. Sometimes the switchbacks up and down the mountainsides were pretty sharp and steep, and we had to move fairly slow.img_2016-12-12_19-19-48

The temperature kept rising too as we slowly descended into lowland jungle full of gnats and other annoyances. In some villages the road split up and we had to ask for directions. Luckily everyone was very nice and helpful and seemed excited to have us driving through. We stopped to top of the gas in the village of Zumba, and shortly after ran into a military checkpoint. They inspected our passports and sent us on our way, pointing us in the right direction through some intersections.
After about five hours driving we finally descended into a Canyon with a bridge over a river at the bottom. This was La Balza. We drove up to where the closed boom separated us from the bridge. A little restaurant, a few houses and the border offices was all that was here. No annoying helpers and no waiting, the immigration officer shook our hands and we quickly sat down in his office, filled some forms and hot our exit stamp. Then next door to the vehicle office where an official collected our Ecuador vehicle permits, opened the boom and sent us over to Peru. Fastest border ever!

The bikes waiting to get through to Perú
The bikes waiting to get through to Perú

On the Peruvian side things would have been real quick too, if it weren’t for us showing up during their lunch break. We walked around the building to wait in the shade and found two overlanders from Australia who were on their way north in a Toyota suv. We chatted for a bit and soon the officials returned from lunch to get us going. The immigration was really fast, the only thing taking about twenty minutes was filling out the info for the bike import papers. But soon it was done and we were let in to Peru!
We got on our bikes and continued south. After about one hours driving, which included some rain and plenty of rocks and stones on the road, we arrived in San Ignacio. This is a little uninteresting and gray town with lots of half finished brick buildings and a not very charming center. It was time to stop for the day though, and we quickly scouted out a few hostels, checked in to the best alternative and got our of our stinky riding gear.
We went to look for dinner around the center square, and chose the only option we could find. As we were in a new country we didn’t recognize many dishes, so we asked for a chicken dish. The waiter said they had a chicken and potatoe dish and we agreed to get a big order to share. As the order came out we found that it was french fries and deep fried chicken. Starving as we were we still ate our fill, hoping our stomachs wouldn’t give us a rough night.
To balance out the dinner we went to buy some fruit and breakfast for the morning before retreating to our hostel for the night.

A Most Beautiful Rest Day

A Most Beautiful Rest Day

We landed at the most perfect spot after a long day of riding yesterday. Hosteria Izhcayluma. It’s a perfectly peaceful retreat just a bit south of the village of Vilcabamba. It’s a place I would gladly spend a week or more when escape is needed. It is on a mountain side above a beautiful valley at about the same elevation as Cache Valley, my home (around 5500 feet). With free morning yoga, endless hiking, a wonderful and affordable menu, a pool, massage, amazing beds aaaand hot water, it was a nice little respite from rough riding and noisy hostels. And it’s pretty affordable considering what you get (38$/night with private bath). There’s my pitch for anyone coming to Ecuador ☺️

View from the dining area
View from the dining area

We woke up around 8:45, and had a nice breakfast, then moved our stuff to a new room (since we showed up without reserving). After sorting out dirty laundry and hanging all the still very wet gear around, we headed out for a hike around the valley. It was nice to move the legs and get a good view. We hiked for about 3 hours and had good conversation along the way. And got a nice view of the little town and all the mountains.

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Back at the hostel, we took advantage of the sun showing itself and relaxed at the pool for a bit. I did some reading on Peru and swam in the pool. It was cold! But felt really good. We then enjoyed a lunch of veggie burgers (house made) and salad. My plan was to attend the 4:00 yoga class, but I guess they are hosting teacher training right now, so afternoon classes are cancelled. Maaaybe I can convince Linus that 7:00 yoga is a good idea, but tomorrow is border crossing day, so we should probably hit the road early.

I spent the rest of the afternoon reading, chatting with our neighbor and then did some yoga and exercises of my own. There is a huge porch outside of our room, perfect for it! I really need to get into the habit of doing this every day…

Outside of our room
Outside of our room

Dinner was nice, and we made plans for tomorrow while we ate. Linus had the hostel call some local bus companies to ask about the condition of the road we want to take tomorrow, as it is dirt and it’s been raining. Word is that it’s all in good shape, so we’ll stick with our original plan of taking the quieter and more beautiful crossing tomorrow. After dinner we got crazy, split a big beer and Linus taught me another new card game so he can beat me and be entertained at my juvenile reactions to losing. A good end to a nice rest day. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventures. Hopefully there won’t be too many!

To Vilcabamba through pressure changes and flash floods

To Vilcabamba through pressure changes and flash floods

Today’s first mission was to find chain grease for the bikes. There are thousands of bikes around and so, by logic, there should also be basic maintenance products around. Right? Turns out it isn’t that easy. The nice old man at the hostel pointed me towards a bike shop a couple of blocks away. I walked over and asked for chain grease. Turns out they only have generic spray lubricant/rust loosener a la wd-40. Bought some extra light bulbs and walked back to the hostel. Found a shop on Google maps and decided to pop by on the way out of town. It was a clean and nice looking motorcycle repair and sale shop, but they could only offer motor oil. Got new directions to a lubricant shop a few blocks away. Didn’t find the place and asked some motorcyclists on the street. They gave directions to another place. It wasn’t there but found two nice looking bike shops further down the street. Walked in and asked for chain lubricant. The guy behind the counter told me that sadly they don’t sell that kind of products. He then tried to come up with a store that could possibly have this rare thing. After pondering a bit he suddenly brightened up and gave me directions to an oil and lubricant shop at the next traffic circle. We went there, no shop. Defeat…
At this point I decided we can live on wd-40 for now, and so we rolled out of town after spending about an hour and a half chasing a goose. The way people give directions and the feeling of running around in circles looking for something specific reminded me a lot about China. And what people grease their shiny motorcycle chains with in this place is still a mystery.

So we went out of Cuenca and continued south on E-35 towards Loja. The elevation differences are really noticeable here. In the first twenty minutes we gained about 1000m, from 2800 to 3700 meters over the sea. Then we dropped down to 2000 meters so quick you could feel the pressure change in your teeth and bones. And so it continued, the landscape changing from green and lush in the valleys and gray brown barren hills up in the mountain plateaus.
After three hours of fairly empty roads we decended into Loja. It is a fairly big town with the feeling of being a bit more simple and remote over it. Still there were plenty of signs along the roads there encouraging people to protect the water, regrow the forest and respect nature, giving the impression that the area wanted to make a difference.
We had a short lunch snack break and gas refill, and Lise went to a little restaurant to buy some coffee to go. She came back with a surprised look on her face and two plastic bags with coffee. Luckily we have our mess kits or it would have been a real challenge to drink.

Two coffees to go, please.
Two coffees to go, please.

On the way out of Loja and towards Vilcabamba, our goal, it started raining. About one hour later when we were getting close it really rained. I needed to stop to get our bearings and thought I found a good spot on a side road. The road turned out to be full of water, about knee deep or so. I managed to wade through the water to a shelter where I could check my maps. After this we had to turn around plowing through the brown liquid. Further up the main road towards Vilcabamba water was sprouting up from the sewers and running in rivers down the streets. At times the road was littered with stones and rocks the size of footballs (yes I meant soccer balls) that had rolled down from the surrounding hills. Our bikes did a great job getting us through the mess and we finally rolled up, half drowned, to Hostel Izhcayluma, a neat hostel perched on top of a ridge overlooking the jungle. Of course I realized that my gopro camera had been stowed away the whole time, and I cursed myself for being so task oriented. Next time I WILL get some cool photos!
At the hostel one of the German owners told us that this year had been very dry, and that this was the first day of rain they’ve had. Usually it rains in October and November so this was very unusual. We felt very happy for the locals getting their rain of course, but even happier for the opportunity to get out of our rain drenched clothes and order some food and hot drinks in the nice and busy hostel restaurant.

Rainy mountain view from hostel izhcayluma
Rainy mountain view from hostel izhcayluma

After the food we decided to use our deck of cards for the first time, and we had a good time playing Spanish Skitgubbe, one of my favorite card games. Lise learned quickly, and even beat me once!
A long hot shower later we were ready for bed.

Up and down and up and up and down and up some more!

Up and down and up and up and down and up some more!

I know it’s cliche to say anymore, but all I can think to explain Ecuador’s roads is EPIC. We drove from Baños to Cuenca today, around 200 miles of driving. It may be a record, we were on the road by 7:30! We are making our way south towards Peru and the roads here are endlessly beautiful. And cold! We even put our neck/head warmers on today.

¡Linus, es muy peligro!
¡Linus, es muy peligro!

We drove past quite a few stratovolcanoes today, but unfortunately couldn’t really see any of them as they were all covered by clouds. Hence the name, I suppose. The road switched back up and up and up and then down into little river valleys and then back up again. We drove through some pretty tiny little towns, some seemed to be without electricity as the gas stations had generators running.

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We were cruising along what felt like a high and empty desert plain and just when I was settling in to drive for a while with no sign of civilization, the road dropped down again and a pretty good sized town appeared below us in the shadow of the mountains. We decided to stop for some coffee and second breakfast. We were already more than half way to our destination and it wasn’t even 11 yet.

View from second breakfast
View from second breakfast

After eating we picked our way through the town which seemed to be an even mix of younger more modern looking people and older traditionally dressed natives. The road dropped a bit more and then quickly climbed up the side of another dry mountainside. Something I love about this terrain is that you look across a dramatically huge gorge and think “wow! Look at that crazy road over there!” And then you realize that’s the road you are on. Makes me smile every time.

Pretty soon we were high enough that we were snaking through misty clouds again and dodging cows and crazy dogs. Again. Quite a few times the map we were following did not at all seem to match the road we were on. At one point in all the crazy up and down, linus stopped to double check our location and I noticed he still had the lense cap on the GoPro. Second time that’s happened these past few days right after a particularly crazy cool stretch of road. Damn. Another thing to double check!

Taken with my phone, while stopping when I shouldn't have...
Taken with my phone, while stopping when I shouldn’t have…

We kept climbing in and out of these beautiful little villages pinned to the side of these massive mountains. They all had beautiful little churches, some high above the towns and some on a ledge below. How in the world did all this get built??

As we neared our destination for the evening a duo riding similar bikes to ours zoomed passed us. I think they had Swiss plates. The second of the two went to pass me, but ran out of room and hung back a bit. We made eye contact and waved, I’m pretty positive this rider was a girl! First one I’ve encountered on her own bike so far. I wish we could’ve chatted, but they were moving much faster than us, so off they sped.

Cuenca is a really nice city. It is the third largest in Ecuador with beautiful cobble stone streets and colonial architecture. It has a university and a few big hospitals. It is a beautiful old city mixed with a modern vibe. It wasn’t too terrible to drive through, almost more stressful to be a pedestrian, actually. It has a few big churches and a huge cathedral.

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We explored a bit before finding a cozy place for dinner. We had some sort of chicken and black bean melt on a crispy tortilla with a delicious papaya salsa. All while watching some big program of Mark Anthony and his salsa band playing on the tv. It was quite the spectacle. Makes me think, now that we are getting further south, we need to make finding live music a priority!!

I’m snuggled into bed now (still trying to warm up) and ready for sleep. Long days of driving make for a tired Lise, and we have another long day tomorrow that I’m sure Mr. Linus wants to start early… Sweet dreams!

Bike repairs, Baños and crazy volcanoes

Bike repairs, Baños and crazy volcanoes

Today started out with some parking lot repairs. The bike had been running crappy and kept dying on idle, and I had my suspicions it was the vacuum powered petcock that was the culprit. I had found gas in the vacuum line and that shouldn’t be.
After a quick ride to a bike shop for a piece of gas tubing I gutted my petcock of the vacuum membrane and zip tied two pieces of short tube on the tank and carburetor sides. I then put it all together, switched the petcock on and prayed that there would not be gas flowing out on the parking lot. It was a success! And the bike ran like a champ again!

Zip ties, probably the most important detail in any repair kit!
Zip ties, probably the most important detail in any repair kit!

After this positive start not even the fact that the room turned out to be $16 per person, not room, could bring us down. We checked out and got on the road towards Baños.
The ride was only an hour and a half in good weather, and soon we came winding down into the town of Banos. The town is located in a canyon at the foot of Tungurahua, a 5,000m high active volcano. There are hot springs, waterfalls and numerous adrenaline filled or more tranquil activities to part take in here. It’s also a gateway to the Amazon forests that stretches out to the east.

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Baños

We checked in to a hostel and went for lunch. After lunch we walked around town, visited the basilica at the town center and one of the waterfalls. The town is pretty touristy but it still feels like it has retained its integrity pretty well, and the location is really pretty.

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Basílica de agua santa, a place for reflection and rest both for man and beast.

We walked around and looked through some artisan shops and trinket shops before returning to the hostel for a short rest. We both felt pretty exhausted and we both also had slight headaches, probably from the changes in altitude. Yesterday we were at 4000 meters and today 1800 and the roads go up and down pretty constantly.
After dinner we had first planned to go for a healing mineral bath but once our bellies were full we both ran out of gas. Tomorrow will be a long day and we’ll need to be well rested. Feeling like old boring people we retreated to our hostel for a rejuvenating nights rest.

The Quilotoa Loop

The Quilotoa Loop

Oh boy! Where do I even start? We woke up today in the town of Latacunga in central Ecuador. It’s a sort of base camp town for a lot of surrounding adventures. Volcán Cotopaxi is to the north, and the beautiful Quilotoa crater lake is to the west. This old volcano is part of a trail system that links tiny mountain villages, there is also a small road that makes a loop from the crater to the small villages and back to the main road. You can do a three day hike between the tiny mountain villages or ride the loop. As much as we wanted to do the three day trek, we realized after studying the map and the calendar that it would be a stretch to complete the trek and make it to Peru in time to meet mag and Jackson. So we decided to ride the bikes up to the crater, do some hiking, and then complete the loop by bike. I had no idea what I was in for.. but that’s what this is all about, right?

The road out of Latacunga towards Quilotoa climbed very quickly into very high mountains. The highest we’ve been so far, 12,500 feet! It was so cold!!

High mountain pit stop
High mountain pit stop

When we got up to a stopping point I even put my down jacket on as a fifth layer! Linus very nicely loaned me some glove liners to put on under mine. Also, new challenge accomplished:  pee in the bushes while wearing multiple bulky layers and realizing you’re not alone when you’re about to drop your drawers when a herd of llamas and sheep come over the horizon being steered by some locals. Oops.

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After about an hour or so of driving through these high and bare mountains (it actually really reminded me of home) we arrived at the Laguna de Quilotoa. When we pulled into the parking lot we were met by a cute couple that were driving their Volkswagen van from Michigan down. It was fun chatting with them and exchanging stories. It’s always uplifting to meet fellow overlanders. The girl was from Michigan and the guy was German. They said they were definitely moving to Germany after their trip as a result of the Trump disaster. Sounds familiar…

We hiked up to the edge of the crater, and wow (!), nothing could have prepared us for what we saw! It was so big! It almost didn’t look real.

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We decided to hike along the rim for a while before driving the rest of the loop. We met a few backpackers who were at the end of the three day trek. They all seemed to have really enjoyed it. It’s cool, because you can hike with a day pack and stay at hostels in the little villages along the way. After about an hour or two of hiking, the misty afternoon clouds started to roll in and over into the crater, so we decided we better get a move on with the bikes.

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Here is something difficult to describe in words, but I’ll try. There is something incredibly beautiful about riding a motorbike through white clouds of mist at 12,000 feet while the smells of eucalyptus leaves waft in and out of your helmet. And then the sun comes out for a peak and you look down the ravine to your right and you realize you are looking down at a rainbow! I’ve never been above a rainbow before! I was so tickled. I’ve also never been south of the equator before. On a motorcycle. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and giggle.

Anyhow, I was really enjoying this tiny and perfectly paved road. I was really getting into the twists and turns and staying relatively warm! The road seemed to be brand new. After we passed through one of the small villages on the loop, the road was still new but with no lines or shoulder. I had a sneaking suspicion this was a work in progress, and just as fast as the rain picked up, the beautiful pavement ended. But it wasn’t bad gravel and I was feeling up for some adventure! Cue the big dump trucks, back hoes, thick slippery mud, throw in a half cleaned up mudslide, some boulders, oh, and some buses, and that’s exactly what we got. Instant adventure. New skill added to list: mud riding.

So we rounded an uphill corner (my favorite) and met a big dump truck full of dirt. After he passed, we slid our way up the rest of the hill to find that they were cleaning up a huge mudslide. They motioned us by, linus went first, and I noticed he hesitated, which he rarely does. Once he was through it was my turn and I saw why he had stopped. Right in our path were three or four big rocks that weren’t there before… I could hear linus’ instructions in my head: “once you get going, don’t hesitate or slow down or you will slide out of control.” Okay, great, how do I keep up my momentum when there are three huge rocks in my path, a huge backhoe to my left, a dump truck backing up towards me (pretty sure he didn’t know I was there) and, oh shit, here comes a small bus! All I could do was go forward and hope I could sort of nudge the rocks out of the way. As I got going, linus came running up, but I was determined to move through this on my own, even if it meant doing a face plant in the mud. And guess what? I slid my way through and came out upright on solid ground! Yes!

We muddled our way along through a few more muddy patches, but it wasn’t too bad. We eventually came to the last village on the loop, muddy and rain soaked, but feeling good! The road from here was paved and the clouds cleared for a while and it was soooo pretty. And really fun to ride. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face!  Pretty soon we climbed back up into the clouds and fog and this seemed to go on and on forever! It was a bit unnerving because all the sudden there would be a big herd of cows appearing in the road, or a really confused pig, or crazy dogs that pass the day chasing motorcycles… by the time we got back down to clear air and the main road, we were exhausted! In total we rode about 100+ miles today, and I got to do it gear free! It really makes a difference when you aren’t carrying all that weight.

Once back at the hostel, we warmed our cold bones with hot showers and enjoyed some decent Mexican food for dinner. I have to admit, lately I’ve felt slightly eager for life after traveling and I’ve also been missing family and friends and Django. Taking this journey together has not been without daily challenges. Today’s adventures were a nice and uplifting reminder of why we are doing this crazy thing! At 2.5 months in, I can look back at pre -trip Lise compared to present Lise and see some positive growth!

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Good roads to Latacunga

Good roads to Latacunga


The last week or so I’ve started to wake up by myself at 05.58 and checked my phone about a minute before the alarm goes off. It’s pretty cool the way your body keeps track of time somehow! Today I was awake for a while before I decided to look at my clock. When I finally did it just switched from 05.59 to 06.00…

Up we went, both of us eventually, and packed before breakfast. I went to get the bikes out on the street from a locked courtyard behind the hostel. There I ran into an old man and we spoke a bit. He lived there and took me upstairs to his little balcony. He then showed me the view from there where you could see three big mountain tops: Imbabura, Cotacachi and Mojanda, and this early in the morning they were clearly visible. It was really stunning and of course I didn’t have a camera. He then showed me the old huge avocado tree right in front of the house with loads of fruit and said that if I ever came back he had a spare room for me on the top floor. Very sweet indeed. I got the bikes out and said farwell to my new friend.
After breakfast we loaded up and took off south. We were aiming for Latacunga, but we weren’t really eager to drive through the huge city of Quito,   so we decided to follow road 35 circling around the capital on the east side through small unnoticeable mountain towns.
The roads were all very new and well built with multiple lanes most of the time. They were so new in fact that they were not in the GPS map, and at times we were floating around outside any marked road in the application. In the real world that meant I had to turn at intersections in the general direction of our goal. Luckily  the road number is displayed at intervals so we knew we were at the right track most of the time.
About halfway to Latacunga we took a break in Pifo, and I realized my headlight was out. I had a spare and got to work changing it while Lise got us some refreshments. Now I just have to remember to buy a new replacement bulb…
After Pifo we started going downhill pretty much all the way to Latacunga.
We arrived to our goal around 14:30, found a hostel, Hostel Tiana, $16 for a nice double with private bath, breakfast and parking included!
We checked in, chilled a bit while a rainshower went by and then went to look for food. The receptionist at the hostel provided us with a map of the center with food places and markets etc was marked our. Excellent! We found a few seafood restaurants and chose one. I wanted to try something I didn’t know and got shrimps with Guatita. It turned out to be potatoes and cow guts in a sauce… It wasn’t awful but I didn’t have the stomach to eat much gut, the potatoes were OK though.
Once done we went to the grocery store and bought some light food for the evening.
We then went back to the hotel and I went to try to find out why my bike won’t idle properly. After pulling things apart for a bit I found gasoline in a vacuum line from the tank to the carb that should not have anything wet in it. A Google search later I had learned that this was a fairly common problem and there was a cracked membrane that needed to be replaced. I ordered the part to Jackson in US in the hopes that he would be so nice as to bring it down to Peru with him when they come to visit in about ten days. I also found a possible way to fix it temporarily. I just need to drive a bit more to empty the tank so I can work with it easier.
Once I had put the bike together again it was dark and I returned to the hostel and Lise to do some more research and prepare for the day tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll go for a nice hike!!

Saturday Market Extravaganza!

Saturday Market Extravaganza!

So, funny story, today was actually a leisurely not set the alarm day, and guess who woke up before 7? Yup. Sleepy head here. Anyhow, we lazed around reading in bed until about 8 and then had simple breakfast from our hostel. It was a chilly morning and as most of my warm clothes were being washed, I creatively pieced together something relatively warm to wear and we headed off to the infamous open air Saturday market of Otavalo.

Apparently it has been a tradition for hundreds of years for the natives of the country side to gather all of their handmade goods (alpaca sweaters, ponchos, hats, rugs, jewelry, farmed goods etc..) and bring them to Otavalo to sell. It has been an increasingly popular tourist destination for years. I was a bit apprehensive about what we would find, especially since our discussion while waiting in line at the border. I’m overly optimistic to find authentic goods, but am sadly sure that the “traditional” Oaxacan shirt I bought in Mexico probably came from China. I guess I’ll never REALLY know, though.

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The market was huge!!! The center of it being in the town plaza, but spilling out into all of the surrounding side streets for a few blocks. In addition to traditional clothing, art, and woven goods, there were also countless food stalls and mobile food carts with traditional fare. A lady passed us with a cart that had a bubbling kettle of something that smelled incredible: figs! She was selling homemade buns stuffed with the figs and queso fresco. We had to try one, and it was so good!

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We came up with a plan to take as much time as we needed to explore the market, talk to the vendors and really get a good idea for what things cost and where they came from. It became pretty easy to spot mass produced items from more local and handmade things. We took a few hours  to look around and started to narrow down things we might like to buy, then we started comparing prices and I actually got to the haggling point. And, wait for it, I was actually comfortable doing it! This is a HUGE step for me as it has made me super uncomfortable in the past. I was interested in an alpaca sweater. I narrowed it down to two different places and finally got the perfect one for $14. They ranged from $14-28 throughout the market.

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Linus has been wanting a linen style shirt for a long time (like since our wedding) and finally found some styles he had in mind. It was pretty difficult finding one to fit his long frame, as the locals are much smaller compared to him. We finally found a really nice lady selling hand made stuff and only one out of quite a few fit him perfectly. Luckily, it was an acceptable color for the Linus!

While I was trying sweaters and Linus was holding my purse for me as he waited, an artisan across the way called Linus over and in Spanish expressed that he really liked my purse. It is one I got in Antigua. He asked Linus if he could copy the pattern and he proceeded to write down the script for the weaving pattern on his arm! The Otavalan weaver borrows from the Guatemalan weaver, if it truly was made in Guatemala… Anyhow, still pretty neat!

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After haggling for and buying a few more items, the afternoon thunder started and so we headed back to our hostel to drop our stuff off and grab the rain gear before finding lunch.

For lunch we first checked a vegetarian place recommended in lonely planet, but the menu was pretty blah with prices ranging 5-10$ for mains. We decided to walk and explore. We settled on a “comida typica” place with a set lunch menu for $2.50 and packed with locals. We could choose from three different meats, so we chose the chicken and waited to see what local delights it came with that were different from the Colombian plates. And guess what she brought first? A starter of popcorn!! We have been missing our popcorn so much! This was followed by steaming hot root veggie and beef stew, and the chicken came accompanied by a beet/tomato salad, rice, and a lightly fried mash potato cheese ball thing. I was full!! And all for $2.50. Eat where the locals eat! Oh, and as we paid she sent us with tiny flans to go.

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We spent the afternoon hiking above the city in the drizzling rain to find a lake we had read about. We zigzagged up and up through corn and bean fields lined with eucalyptus trees. It was beautiful and smelled so good!! I’ve noticed a ton of eucalyptus trees since we have entered Ecuador. There were quite a few dogs around as we hiked up, some were a bit aggressive, but most were friendly. Especially this adorable little guy:

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He followed us for quite a while and then took off down the path. He turned up later with his owners up by the lake. We also found some ginormous yucca looking plants. Not exactly sure what they are, but they were tall and sharp!

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It was nice to get away from the crowds in the afternoon, the lake was pretty and actually had a few small villages scattered around it. We didn’t stay too long as it was getting dark and the rain was picking up.

For dinner we walked to the main plaza to explore the street food options. It looked similar to what we had for lunch, so we opted to try a little place Linus had seen earlier that had falafels and hummus. It was nice and cozy, they played great music and the food was yummy. It’s been really neat to hear the difference in music just between Colombia and Ecuador. Here in Otavalo you can hear a huge influence from the native people. Lots of flute and percussion, really beautiful! We tried some street food desserts, a cheese empanada and a sweet corn cake thing cooked inside corn husk. They were okay, but the pie was much better! Ready to snuggle into bed now. It is chilly up here around 10,000 feet!

Bonus picture because it was just so damn cute!
Bonus picture because it was just so damn cute!

 

Riding up to Ecuador

Riding up to Ecuador

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Something had a feast on our bread tonight! We left it in a plastic bag on the counter, and something, probably a rat, promptly ate a hole in the bag and finished about half the loaf before he or she probably staggered home and fell asleep, full and satisfied.
Luckily we had some other things to eat, as we were up early to get going to the next country on our trip; Ecuador.
We got on the road and started driving towards the border town Ipiales. We went through a long tunnel and onto a road circumventing the big city of Pasto. The roads were quite chilly and we had to stop to put on some extra layers.

Daily riding games shots
Daily riding shots

After about two hours driving on the usual winding mountainous stunning green roads we reached the border crossing to Ecuador. For us this was a very relaxed border. No “helpers”, no copy hysteria, no running between fifteen buildings. Sure, we had to wait in line on the Colombian side, and the lady doing the vehicle import in Ecuador was new on her job and had problems at home that called at her attention all the time, but still. Easy peasy and totally free. Our only friction was a heated discussion about genuine local clothes really being genuine as we waited in line, and the toothless guy claiming to watch our bikes being a bit grumpy because we didn’t give him any money.

The border crossing to Ecuador is on pretty high elevation, around 2800m, and as we drove into the new country we continued driving up. When we stopped to fill up our bikes ($1.48 per gallon!!) I noticed a slight headache, probably from the elevation. We were then at 3300m.

No more sneaking through tolls without paying. But I guess 20 cents per bike would t break the bank...
No more sneaking through tolls without paying. But I guess 20 cents per bike won’t break the bank…

After a light lunch we continued on roads that were under construction. At times we had four lanes and fast traffic, then suddenly only two lanes and road markings going sideways over the road, and half finished intersections and unmarked roundabouts. As we got higher the green mountains turned into dry sandy bare mountain ridges. I checked the altitude as high as 3400m as we rode along.

Ecuador. Still green
Ecuador. Still green but a little dryer and higher

After navigating through the fairly big and confusing city of Ibarra we got on to the final stretch towards our goal, Otavalo. Here we finally had some real rain, it had been threatening all day. We were well protected though and soon we rolled in to Otavalo, dripping wet on the outside but dry on the inside.
We went to the first hostel we had checked out online, got a good deal and checked ourselves in. After unpacking we went out for dinner. Around one of the squares we found a nice little Mexican restaurant where we had dinner. We were a little upset though as we found that while we ate, the street food vendors had set up on the square outside and the food looked and smelled delicious. Well well we will have to eat there tomorrow. To feel a bit better about it we went to a pie shop Lise had read about for a cup of hot chocolate and a sick piece of marenge and chocolate pie. It was great!

Mmmm! How can something this good possibly be bad?
Mmmm! How can something this good possibly be bad?

After this it was time to get back home to the hostel and get connected again. My bike has been running a bit funny today and I’ll have to figure out some possible solutions to try.