Sunday, November 4, 2018

An Old Friend in an Old Town

Well I safely made it to Ecuador as I mentioned in my last post. I managed to evade all the drug cartels, outwit the kidnappers, and dodge the guerilla warfare that was so rampant throughout Colombia. As for the crossing itself I never went into much detail. This would be my first internation border crossing by land. I'll go ahead and fill in that gap now.

I'm in volcano valley now.

The Colombian border town is called Ipiales. It is a typical medium sized town except for it's main tourist attraction, Las Lajas. Las Lajas is a beautiful basilica church that drops down over 300 feet to the bottom of the canyon. It is a very impressive piece of architecture and the art on and inside is amazing. It is built onto one of the walls of the canyon. It wasnt too crowded and tgere was a ton of stuff to catch my attention. After wandering around this peaceful building for about an hour, I decided to hitch a ride out of the valley on the nearby teleferico.

Las Lajas as it dives down into the valley.

The back wall of basilica is just carved into the mountain.

These were all the plaques placed by church goers documenting miracles that had happened to them. 

When I arrived back in Ipiales I had 6,000 pesos left to burn before arriving in Ecuador. Ecuador doesn't use the peso they actually use the US dollar, so I had no use for the remaining pesos. I decided to go againt tge grain and spend all my money in one place. I decided and blow it all at a bakery. It amounted to $2 US dollars. I asked the clerk if she could just give me a mixed bag of bread because I didn't need the money where I was headed. She looked a bit confused as she wandered over to the bread shelf with a large bag in hand. She double checked with me and began grabbing everything but the kitchen sink, and stuffing in in her Mary Poppins bag. By the time she was done I was left with enough food to feed a small army......or me for a day and a half. You gotta be careful how you spend your money here.

This was the batch of bread that I got for two dollars.

When I arrived at the Colombian exit, there was nobody there to stop me. I could have rolled right out of the country. Luckily a fellow traveler gave ne a tip and said I needed my exit stamp before Ecuador would let me in. It was a long uneventful wait to get my passport stamped. There were many Venezuelans waiting to exit the country. After I got my stamp I barreled down the hill to the Ecuadorian border. There was nary a security guard in site. A man directing traffic pointed me ahead right into Ecuador. I started to go, but quickly turned around because I knew I needed an entry stamp. I could have just waltzed straight into a new country unnoticed. They don't have the tightest of borders here apparently. I walked into the immigration building alongside about 100 others. This time the line went much quicker and I was legally riding through Ecuador in no time. The start of country number 2!

The Ecuadorian border sign.

The difference between the two countries was noticeable right away. The Pan American Highway which I was riding on looked brand new. It was super smooth with a large shoulder. They even made there best efforts to grade it. I was not riding up super steep roads any longer, they just chopped down the mountains to make room for the road. Camping my first night in Ecuador was nice. I set up shop at over 10,000 feet which I believe is tge highest I've ever camped. Needless to say it was a very chilly night. I had just settled in for a long cold night in a random cattle farm, when I heard voices outside the tent. It sounded like a dad and his son. They talked for a while and soon the tent started getting pelted with an array of objects. I assumed they were throwing rocks at me. Whatever it was, was small and not harming me or the tent so I didn't bother confronting them. It did shock me though. It seemed like sort of a cowardly thing to do. If they had an issue with me being there they should have come over and spoken to me. The next morning as I was packing up my home, I realized that they had not thrown rocks, but roasted potatoes. Of all the things, why waste perfectly good potatoes!

My mountain camping spot. Not a bad sunset.

A killer view outside of my tent.

They just carve straight into them there mountains.

Bundled up for a huge downhill.

A landslide has occured.

After I crossed through Ibarra and was on my way to Quito, I came to a very unique part of the country, and the world for that matter. It is what Ecuador is know for, it's namesake if you will. I pedaled up a little hill to find myself smack dab in the middle of the world. "Mitad del Mundo" in Spanish. I had finally reached the equator. This was a mythical place that I had learned about as a small child in Geography class. Now I was able to stand with on foot in the Northern Hemisphere, and one foot in the Southern Hemisphere. I also transitioned from on season to another just like that. In the north it is autumn soon to be winter, but as soon as I crossed over I was now in spring soon to be summer. Not a bad trade if you ask me. It was a big milestone for me, and it was especially cool, because I had never been at the equator before.

The middle of the world.

Walking in the sugarcane field.

Looking out into the Ecuadorian pastures.

Give an Ecudorian your camera, and they get creative with the angle.

That's a lot of wood. I was digging the bamboo ladders.

According to Google maps, Patagonia is a bit further away.

Equator baby!

With that hoop jumped through, my goal was now to reach Quito. I camped a few miles outside of Ecuador's capital. I got a real early start as I was excited to finally make it to Quito. At around six in the morning on a long uphill battle I was caught by three older bike riders. They crept up from behind. I'll cast the blame on to the extra weight I was carrying. Yeah, that's the reason these guys were able to catch me. The leader of the pack was a friendly local named Miguel. He was from Venezuela, but had moved to Ecuador and lived in Quito for the past 7 years. He explained how he started a little bike group that rides up and down the Andes of Quito three days a week before work. He was there with a friend that was 73 years old. He's over 70 and he's still rocking the Andes, good on him. Miguel was kind enough to invite me into his home for an authentic Ecuadorian breakfast with his family.

These were the morning bikers. Middle guy is 73, and Miguel is on the right.

Miguel's two daughters and his wife.

Sand flies are here, and the bites are real. Stay alert my friend.

It was lovely meeting up with a Quitoian and his family for breakfast. It was delicious. After leaving his home I made a B-line straight for downtown Quito. I was soon to be reaquanted with a good friend that I had not seen in over two years. I tracked down his hotel and barged in the front door. He was casually sitting on a sofa in the lobby awaiting my arrival. The first thing he did was peer around the corner of the sofa to see if I was barefoot. He didn't seem too surprised once he noticed that I was indeed shoeless. It was a strange feeling meeting someone I know on the other side of the world. We embraced in a tight hug and it was obvious we were excited to see each other. This was my good friend Tormod. He is a crazy European from the far north in Norway. I met Tormod while cycling across the Untied States. He was one of the few people to be able to put up with my hobo behavior for a few months. So long as we don't get on eachother's nerves too much, or get into a machete fight, we should be riding together down to the bottom of Argentina in Ushuaia.

The man himself, Tormod taking my bike for a stroll.

Reunited at last. Soon after meeting he didn't miss a beat. He let me know that he had a friend in Quito and she and her family wanted to show us around the city. That's one of the perks to traveling with a companion. You have twice the potential for contacts and friends along the way. We met up with them in the central artensenal square, where the locals and indiginas Ecuadorians sell their hand crafted products. We picked up a few things. I got an Ecuadorian flag to replace my Colombian one, gotta show that national pride! In the market there are local prices and there are Gringo prices. So every time one of us wanted something, we mentioned it to our tour guides and they would haggle over the price. After our shopping spree they took us out for dinner and we tried some local favorites.

Tormod's friends family.

My purchase for the trip. Not for riding but for the long cold night up in the Andes.

It was amazing seeing the warmth and generosity of the people here in Quito, and it's only day 1 here! We'll be spending a few days here before we leave on a short detour to the Galapagos Islands. This almost feels like a new beginning to the trip.

Biking bros!

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