Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Welcome to the Jungle

I know I keep saying in every update that a ton has been going on, but it really does. Things keep perfectly falling into place. This trip couldn't be scripted any better.

Welcome to the Jungle!

For out last night in Baños, on the brink of the Amazon, we decided to visit the little mountain town's namesake. In Spanish "Baños" means "Toilets" not a very appealing name, but it got this name because of the abundance of thermal pools in town. We spent a night relaxing and chilling out in the pools. After a few days of riding a night in a hot spring is much appreciated. They had a hot pool, two freezing cold pools and one boiling lava hot cauldron that was not for the faint of heart. It was a good ending to a memorable town.

With much rain comes many waterfalls.

In the morning when we left town and were soon faced with a riveting choice. To go or not to go? That was the question. Over the gaping gorge that was carved out of the mountains, there was a steel cable that spanned the length of the canyon. The purpose of the cable was to send thrill seekers flying above the gorge to enjoy the rush and the view. Tormod looked to me and said "You wanna go?" I had never ziplined on anything substantial. I figured, what better place to cross this off my bucket list. I said "Let's do it!" We were both a little skeptical about the reliability of the contraption, but we decided to give it a go. We got harnessed up and hooked on to the cable. Then my legs were picked up and strapped in place. With a final shove I was gliding across the huge split. Once I was moving it wasn't scary, it was more energizing than anything else. It was nowhere near bungee jumping or skydiving in terms of terror. It really made me feel like I was flying.

Would you zip line this?

Feeling the breeze.

After a crazy time hiking through the bush to see the Paílon del Diablo, we ended up camping in the parking lot because it was already dark by the time the fun ended. The next morning I was faced with some epic riding. We were surrounded by thickly vegitated mountains and a raging chocolate river to our side. It's not called the rainforest for nothing. Before long I was completely drenched through three layers of clothes. The downpour only added to the experience though. It was hot so the rain actually acted more as a boon and less as a burden. We eventually veared off the main road and onto a virtually dead back road. Now we rolled through tiny indigenous communities and passed mostly small wooden huts. It was a very "tranquilo" road, as the locals would say.

Gateway to the Amazon.

Gray skies means slightly less sunburn.


If you ever need a break to just get away from it all. The Amazon is your place.

Thoroughly soaked, but still lovin' it.

The steps to the Devil's cauldron.

El Pailón del Diablo.

This was a very memorable hike.

We made some friends along the way too.

One of these villages in particular caught my attention. A bunch of the villagers were playing in a large soccer game, but more importantly they were playing a game of Ecuavolley. I asked if we could join in on the next game. You could see by the look in their eyes they were ready for some fresh meat. They happily agreed to let us play, but we had to fork over the team entrance fee, which I have a feeling was actually a Gringo fee. As we waited to play, we became to talk of the village. People started popping up all around us. Before we knew it, we had received an invitation to stay at one of the villagers houses. Eduardo was his name. He was to be our host, and our third volleyball player. Unfortunately things didn't play out so well for our volleyball team. We got manhandled by the locals A-team even with the help of Eduardo. That didn't seem to sway their opinion of us, we were still popular guest stars in the community.

Eduardo and some of his kids.

Our village campground. That's Ed's house in the background.

This version of Ecuavolley involved a basketball.

Imagine living down there in one of those houses.

This house had a wooden fence to keep their fish caged in.

After losing that game we tuned in for the last soccer game of the night. It was a tribal showdown between the best lady soccer players in the village. It turned out to be quite an entertaining game to watch. I didn't feel out of place either since the majority of the people playing weren't wearing shoes. During the game we were frequented by the "chicha" delivery women. Chicha is a homemade alcoholic drink, this variation was made from fermented yuca. Although calling it a drink is a bit misleading, it's more of a soup that has a milky appearance. If you got lucky when she reached into the bucket to fill up her gord, you may get a couple peanuts in your drink. For the rest of the night, these three ladies walked around to every man, and the occasional woman. They stopped and gave you just enough time to gulp down this hearty drink before moving to the next in line. And don't even think about saying no, they wouldn't accept that. After the big soccer game finished they all moved to the dance floor. One of the men insisted on showing me a few of his best dance moves that were gaurantied to fetch me a lady. He showed me his stuff and prompted me to test it out. I moved to the dance floor and found a partner. It was clear the ladies were embarrassed though. Red cheeks emblazoned their faces, and they nervously glanced around at all the eyes glaring at us. I doubt they had seen more than a few gringos in their lifetime and I would venture to say I was the first one they had danced with. After an hour or two I could no longer understand any of the locals. The drinks had gotten to them and their Spanish lingo became too fast and slurred. I was not able to make out much over the blaring music. I just smiled and nodded. It was a bit slow getting started, but it soon became a dance til you drop party. By the time we decided to leave the Amazonian disco, at least two party goers were curled up on the dirt dance floor passed out.

Jungle Boogie.

This was the largest butterfly on the trip.

Morning came quick. I was awakened by Eduardo's kids playing in the dirt and swinging from a rope swing tied onto their guava tree. When I emerged we were treated with a traditional jungle breakfast prepared for us by Eduardo's wife. It consisted of steamed yuca, hard boiled eggs, and a spicy tomato and onion salad. The entire breakfast came straight from their backyard. Eduardo was very proud of this and preached about how natural they lived at his house. Rightfully so, I would be proud of a self produced breakfast too. He even went so far as to show us how natural his two year old son Moises was. He demonstrates how Moises preferred to be completely naked by stripping off his clothes. Moises did like it though, when they tried to put a shirt back on him he put up a bit of a fight.

Little Moises feeling free. His toy happens to be some strong whiskey with a few roots cut up and added for flavor.

Exploring the forest.

After breakfast Eduardo wanted to show off one of his prized possessions. He showed us his homemade blow dart gun. This piece of expert craftsmanship was almost as long as me. He said he had used it for birds and monkeys mainly. He grabbed a sharp slender object off of the palm thatched roof, and wrapped a fluffy material on it. Voila! He had made a lethal dart. He loaded it into the gun and handed it off to me. With one good blow the burst of air sent the dart soaring through the forest. It was not hard to see how effective this would be for hunting. He said "Es muy silencio." Or it is very silent. We waited out the daily downpour as we talked with Eduardo and his family. Although I didn't think of it at the time I was fulfilling a childhood dream. I was in the largest jungle in the world, learning from a native that was born and raised there. The Amazon has been a place I have been facsinated with ever since I watched nature shows on Animal Planet. This visit with Eduardo and his family will be an encounter that I will never forget.

Anybody home?

She started sprinting for cover as the rains came.

All natural.

Practicing with the blow darts.

He was a curious little guy.

After we left the village it was not long before we approached a river. On the map we noticed there was no road traversing this Amazinian tributary. I figured there would be a ferry boat to take us across, or a felled tree to clamber across on. If those both failed I reckoned we may be able to just ford the river holding our bikes. Well when we arrived I realised that none of those options were possible. There was no boat, so no ferry ride. The river was about a quarter mile across, so the tree method was out. Lastly it looked to be about 20 feet deep and rushing at a pretty good clip, so we definitely were not fording it. But there was one other option.  There was a single steel cable that hung above the mighty river. Attached to that cable was a small metal cart. "We had already ridden a zip line for fun, now we will ride one out of necessity." I thought to myself. We inquired with the operator if it was possible for us to cross in the crate. They assured us everything would be fine. They warned "No tocar." (Don't touch) as they pointed at the fat steel cable. We packed this cart to the brim. Two bikes and two Gringos, there wasn't room for anything else, or so I thought. The two boys operating the zip line detached the cart, got a running start and jumped on. These two hung off the back of the cart as we soared 50 feet above the rapids. In the meantime touching the steel cable would have meant sudden death for your hand or a arm. It would have been promptly sucked into the back of the cable cart and extracted from the body. Lucky no limbs were dismembered. We crossed the river and came in pretty hot. There was a large tire resting on a cement wall just in case any carts are coming in too fast.

Tormod closely inspecting the souvenir stand before making a purchase.

Packed and ready.

Tarzan swinging from a vine.....okay it's a cable.

That dude has got to pull this thing back up.

This was the condemned house we slept in. You gotta be resourceful in the forest.

Dude using a flamethrower on a hanging pig......need I say more?

On this side of the river our surroundings changed. The road became really rough and rocky, and there were lots of small Dragon fruit fields that were being cultivated by the locals. On this side of the river the forest was denser with a higher canopy. After several hours of riding through the pristine forest we arrived in a little forest town. This isolated place was formed way out here in the jungle. They had a soccer field, volleyball nets, a basketball court, and a little restaurant. That's where we found ourselves for dinner. It was run by a lovely couple. The wife was from Cuba and her husband was from Equatorial Guinea in Africa. They were very happy to fill us up. They made us a great pizza and topped it off with some tropical bits. After we ate dinner they kindly invited us to stay the night in their restaurant. What a week!

Potholes for days.

Dragonfruit, love it or hate it.

A neat little home on stilts.

Stream through the forest.

Saved by the bell.

Nice quiet road.

The pizza man.

I loved this little house.

Dynamic Duo

We found a gorgeous swimming hole and played around there for a few hours. Now we are now in the forest town of Macas getting ready to continue South towards the border of Peru.


The water was moving deceivingly fast. I was not a strong enough swimmer to cross over to the waterfall.

I could have spent days here.

Just hit the 2,000 mile mark today!

Butterflies and waterfalls.

The pieces of life will fall into place, you just need to create a space for them.

Catching raindrops.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Demons and Angels

These last few days have been as action packed as ever, as is the recurring theme of this trip. Once we arrived back in Quito we needed to make our way to Miguel's house. He had been keeping our bikes while we were on vacation to the Galapagos Islands. A vacation within a vacation....inception. When we arrived at his place he was happy to show off a bit of his work. While we were out, he resharpened my machete and sharpened Tormod's once dull machete. They could now cut through a jungle vine like butter. Although they never asked I'm sure Miguel and his wife had to be wondering why two traveling Gringos needed machetes in the first place.

These guys were so adorable!

In addition to housing our bikes he also cleaned my chain and lubricated it with two of his devices that he invented. After the bikes were good to go, he did one more favor for us. Tormod had a tooth that had really been bothering him in the Galapagos. He had me look at it and it wasn't pretty, only about half the tooth was remained. He needed something done ASAP so we asked Miguel if he know of any good dentists. He called up his dentist and got is in for a Saturday morning appointment.

Morning came and Tormod seemed a bit nervous. He was just hoping they didn't have to pull his tooth. We hopped a taxi to get to the dentist. The taxi driver knew the game. He was milking the clock as he asked us 101 questions about our siblings, work, and friends back home. As he poked along at 22 miles per hour. After a $20 taxi ride (which is a small fortune here) we arrived at the place we thought the dentist should be. We asked a security guard for directions and in typical South American fashion, instead of saying he didn't know he acted like he was a expert on the subject. He pointed us off in one direction and told us that it was five blocks south. Since we were already a few minutes late Tormod took off running. He wanted to make sure he didn't miss his appointment. Upon reaching the five block mark we realized something was not adding up. I compared the address on the business card to the place we had been directed and realized we had just traveled five blocks in the wrong direction. We ran back to where we started and saw Miguel standing on the sidewalk jumping up and down to flag us in. It was literally right across the street from where we started. Lesson learned, don't ask security guards for directions.

Tormod's day of truth. It all went well though.

The US isn't always the most popular country over here.

The dentist had requested Miguel to be present as a translator so Tormod wouldn't unwittingly agree to have all his teeth pulled. They got Tormod in right away. The dentist said she could put a temporary filling in the tooth that was bothering him, she found that another tooth was infected. She decided to fill both with temporary fillings that he would need to get replaced when he arrived home. The dentist seemed good although it was a very casual surgery. She carried on several conversations with Miguel and I as she operated on Tormod's mouth. She had a ton of questions for me about the trip. If Miguel or I said something she found interesting she would just stop operating for a few minutes to hear the story. I would have probably been a bit nervous if she was repairing my teeth while firing off questions. She was a pro at multitasking though 'cause in about two hours Tormod had two shiny new molar fillings. They warned him several times that they were only temporary and that he needed to avoid crunchy food, hopefully they will last.

I've got a bunch Tormod's new dentist would not approve of this.

On the walk back we tracked down a taxi, but made sure to negotiate the price before getting in. We've got this saying in Texas "Fool me once, shame on.....shame on you." We got the price down to $3. We had considered walking, but the sky suddenly turned very dark and the winds picked up drastically. Within minutes of hopping aboard, the sky burst wide and began gushing everything it could onto Quito. Massive bolts of lightning and heavy rain. After a few minutes of rain it changed to a brutal hailstorm. Everyone on the streets ran for cover. We were being bombarded with so much hail I was sure the windshield was going to crack. Even our cabby said it was crazy weather for Quito. We trudged on for a few minutes, but soon the roads looked like muddy rivers that were moving a bit too fast to freeze over. Piles upon piles of hail floated down these makeshift urban streams. It got so bad the roads backed up to a stand still as we watched and waited in awe at the power of nature. The sadwalks were covered in ice and looked like New York City in the middle of winter, despite the fact that it's summer here and we're only a few miles from the equator. After about 30 minutes the hail subsided and we began driving through the flooded streets of this unique city. Tormod said it was the best $3 he had spent on the trip. This was truly the most bizarre weather my eyes have ever witnessed.

To anyone complaining about crazy weather in Ohio.

These little guys had some kick to 'em.

Couldn't resist having a bit of fun in the ice water on the roof.

I'm gonna miss this special city.

Malcom X, one of our many friends we made in Quito.

The next day we finally hit the road on our bikes. I was surprised by how long it took us to get out of Quito. It seemed like several hours just to get out of the city and it's suburbs. We had a good first day. For Tormod's first camping spot we found a nice spot on the side of the mountain which overlooked the expansive valley and the four neighboring volcanoes. It was a really epic camping spot without any animals or crops inside of it. The catch was, it was on a farm and we had to duck under some barbed wire to get there. It was nearly dark so I hoped we wouldn't have any problems. I dozed off pretty early glad we didn't run into any diplomatic issues. At exactly 4:36 AM I woke up to some furious screams followed by profuse yelling from right outside my tent. In my groggy early morning state I wasn't able to make out much more than "Diablo!!!!". In addition to that there was heavy breathing and grunting from some large animals. I knew things were serious when I heard Tormod yell "Dan" from his tent. He always calls me Ohio so I knew the situation wasn't ideal. Within a few minutes and a few more outbursts the enraged farmer left the site and I fell back asleep. A few hours later I woke up to the vibrations of something moving my tent. Was it the farmer coming back for revenge?! I peered out the opening at the front of my tent. It was a cow liking my tent pole. He had about five other cow friends too. I packed up my tent and got off this dude's property as quickly as I could. Before I got out the farmer smiled and waved hello to me. I don't know if it was the same guy or not, but I bet I'd be a bit grouchy if I was herding cows at 4:30 in the morning too.

Leaving the Grandest of Hotels.

Wake up......WAKE UP. Don't make me like your tent.

My tent got hit with a bit of shrapnel from a cow poo grenade. 

Cows in the mountains.

The scenery never gets old. Especially when looking at active volcanoes.

With that close call behind us we continued on with a fresh start. For the most part it was an easy day with tons of downhill riding, just the way I like it. Soon the rains came and it was no longer a leisurely ride. As I was pedaling up a long hill hoping to get to cover until the rain stopped, a Jeep headed me off. He parked a bit in front of me and got out of his car. This was an Ecuadorian man, Marco. In the first sentence out of his mouth he invited me to stay at his house for the night. He said he lived right down the street and welcomed me into his home. What a guy, he knew nothing about me except that I was riding my bike in a foreign country and he trusted me. I said I would love to stay, but Tormod was ahead of me and I didn't want to leave him in the dark. Marco said "¡No problemo!". He offered for me to wait at his house while he went ahead and rounded up Tormod. He pointed to his house which was visible from where we met and he drove off.

Icy mountaintops in the background and greenery in the foreground.

Gotta love when you pay with a 20 and get $3 In nickles.

No idea why this lake was so green. Probably aliens.

Tormod, Yuri, and Marco.

About a half hour later Tormod came plowing down the hill led by Marco in his Jeep. Tormod was all excited to show off who he had just met. He told me he was so happy that finally he was the one that made the new friend and got invited to stay somewhere. It killed me to break the news to him, but that was not the case. I made sure he knew that I had already met Marco before ;) He had two extra beds, warm showers, good Wi-Fi, and a really nice place. His girlfriend Yuri cooked a delicious dinner for us. Marco runs his own bike park and hosts a few mountain biking races every year. He said since he lives right off of the PanAmerica Highway (Runs from Alaska to Argentina) he sees a few loco bike riders every year. He said every time he sees one of us he can't help but to offer a place to stay. He had one couple in the midst of riding around the world through 25 countries, and another guy going from Alaska to Argentina on a skateboard. I was the first guy he had seen coming through without any shoes though, it blew his mind.

You can see the swag.

Tormod with a few of his new friends.

I told you he had a cool place.

Mommy wasn't in the mood to feed her babies so Yuri got them some milk.

Smuggle up for a good night's sleep.

The coolest part about his place besides Marco and Yuri, were his 13 dogs and one cat. He said he has a soft spot for animals and all four of the adult dogs and kitten he rescued from the streets, the other 9 dogs were newborn puppies that two of his dogs produced. The puppies were already asleep for the night when we arrived, but in the morning they were wide awake. I woke up and wandered outside. I found Tormod like a kid on Christmas, he was overjoyed to be playing with these adorable little puppies. They were really well behaved and they loved the attention we were giving them. Yuri prepared breakfast for us and we spent a bit more time with the dogs. Time really flew at this place, but all good things must come to an end. Soon we were back on the road headed for the Amazon.

No angry farmers or hungry cows at campground 2.

Cemetary on the mountain.

There is so much going on in this picture.

Bamboo and a lot of cement. That's how you build a home here.

The temperature is rising as we are defending.

This downhill was nuts.

Note the glass shards cemented on the top of the wall. Wouldn't want anyone stealing our green beans.


We're now in Baños, the last stop on the list before riding into the Amazonian Jungle.

This was a really far drop. It made me A bit uneasy looking down.

South America, you rock!!!