Wednesday, December 12, 2018

21 Things I Learned About Ecuador

Since the last time we spoke I met up with Tormod again, and we crossed the quiet border into Peru. I can already tell that Peru is going to be a blast. Without further ado enjoy my list of "21 Things I Learned About Ecueador"

How's this for a campsite view?

1. Menus are Just a Tease
No matter how fancy, or run down the restaurant in question is, this holds true. You find yourself browsing the menu for five minutes trying to decipher what exactly each item is. Finally you procede to place your order. You soon find out none of your top three picks are in season on this particular day at this particular time. Guess it's chicken and rice again.

I spy a grasshopper and a smiley face. Can you fin 'em?

2. Cambio is a Delicacy
Cambio means change in Spanish. In this case nickels, dimes, maybe a 5 dollar bill. When purchasing anything, you better have exact change. If not you will likely get an astonished look from whoever it is unfortunate enough to have to deal with the gringo. This will either be resolved by them pleading with you to use smaller bills, or they'll scurry down the street and buy a pack of napkins to retrieve some change for you.

This was when I received $5 in nickels. When they do have change you never know what you'll get.

3. It is a Country with Vastly Different Landscapes

For how small this country is it has some amazingly different landscapes crammed within its borders. Its possible to climb an active volcano topped with a glacier, chill in a hot spring, and take a swim in a steamy jungle all in the same day. I saw some of the most breathtaking scenery of my life in this little Andean country.

It's not all lush forest and gloomy mountain tops.

4. They are Infatuated with the USA

No joke, I'm like a celebrity here because of my nationality. Tormod tells them he's from Norway and they give him a sour disenchanted look. I say I'm from the Estados Unidos and they look as if they've just seen a trio of puppies riding a unicorn. Word travels fast here. Once a neighbor came to speak with us. The man asked Tormod where he was from. When Tormod answered the man disappointingly looked to our host and said "I thought you said there was a guy from the USA here!"

What's not to love about about me?

5. Everything is Claro or Tranquilo

These are two of the go to words. My guess is they picked them up from their father after he passed them down for generations. I'd bet it's part slang. They use claro to mean "Yeah, sure" or "No Problem" and Tranquilo means "Chill". Ask them if you can camp in their coffee field, they'll respond with "Sí, claro. Es muy tranquilo aqui." Translation: Yeah, no problem. It's super chill here.

Can we camp on your soccer stadium? Maybe even in the goal? Claro, es tranquilo.

6. They Always Mess Up Change

This one perplexes me. In the event they do actually have change, there is a 4 out of 9 chance you will not be getting the correct change. I'm not sure if they're not paying attention or if they're just nervous that they're dealing with a "Hippy" as they call me. You are likely to get a mistake in the $.25-1.50 range. I would think this was just an added Gringo tax, but it works in my favor about half the time. Too bad I'm an honest person.

Make sure you pay the Bugs Bunny ice cream man with exact change.

7. There are No Flatlands
This one is a double edged sword. Since I crossed the boarder into this country I've probably had about 20 miles of riding on a level surface. It's always a leg busting, lung bursting uphill into the mountains followed by an epic decent that is never quite long enough. Once you reach the little creek at the bottom, rinse and repeat. Somedays I really miss riding through the desert in Australia, not a hill for 1,000 miles. Mile for mile Ecuador was without a doubt the most difficult country I've ever ridden. It blows New Zealand and Colombia away.

The final mountain pass in Ecuador. We even got a faint rainbow as a Farwell.

8. The Galapagos Islands are Magical
Really, if you're a lover of wildlife and nature add this place to your bucket list immediately. True it's expensive and you won't get much of a feel for Ecuadorian culture, but where else can you sun bathe with marine iguanas, get face to face with 200 year old tortoises, and chill on a park bench with a seal as you enjoy your morning cup of coffee? It's a place unlike any other.

This guy probably starred as a dinosaur in some old 50's movie.

9. Landslides are Part of the Scenery
Huge landslides are everywhere. Rocks may slide onto the road, or the road may just slide off a cliff. Don't be alarmed by the loose boulders that cover 78% of road or the left lane that just fell 400 feet off a perilous cliff. They don't appear to be in any hurry to clear the landslide that just occured either. It is very tranquilo!

This pic is actually from Colombia, but it's the best landslide shot I've got.

10. We are Great for Business
Picture this, the two of us walk into a ghost town of a restaurant. Not a person to be seen. Within minutes, word spreads of our arrival and the restaurants is full by the time we leave. The other day we parked our bikes outside the restaurant of our choice. Only one customer inside. All eyes where on us. Tormod went in as I grabbed a few things from my bike. Before I could even sit down, all the tables except one had filled up. You may say "Coincidence!", but this happens to some degree almost every time we sit down.

Who wouldn't want to eat with us?

11. It has the Coolest Capital City Ever
I've visited the capital of every country I've biked through. I know that's not many, but Quito takes the honor of being my favorite one. Even though is a huge city with nearly 3 million residents it still manages to have a small town feel. It is situated at over 9,000 feet and landlocked by towering mountains in all directions.  It is a beauty in and of itself. People-watching from a hotel rooftop in Quito entertained me for far too long.

This city rocks!

12. Roads are a Mixed Bag
It wasn't only the landscape that varied greatly, but also the roads. They had perfectly graded roads along the Pan-America highway. After we veered off the main road we found roads comprised of sharp rock that where nightmarish for bike tires and spokes. Loose dirt roads, that spun up mountains and couldn't be pedaled up due to lack of traction. Some of the steepest darn roads you've ever seen. And everything in between. Respect these roads!

If you want a special challenge on your bike try riding through the Oriente in Ecuador.

13. They Have the Worlds Best Chocolate

Now I won't even attempt to be the judge of this. Mainly because to me, chocolate is chocolate, I love it all. To the Ecuadorians, their chocolate is a great source of pride. I heard many swear Ecuachocolate is the best on the planet. They made sure to tell me that Swiss chocolate is imported from Ecuador. I ride pass cacao foelds every few hours. I've sampled many varieties of their chocolate and it is pretty killer.

This humble fruit is where all your chocolatey treats are born.

14. Ecuavolley is the National Pastime
Of all the sports they could love, I'm glad it was a version of volleyball. While I have been unable to spike the ball on the ten foot nets they use, I relished getting a taste of VB while away from home. Every village has one or two courts, and every weekend you're bound to stumble across a few intense games. Usually with some money on the table.

An empty court, just waiting for a few friendly games.

15. They Import Their Peanut Butter from Ohio
Believe it of not, the hiker, biker, body builder staple, "Peanut Butter" is extremely scarce here. The only peanut butter I have bought on the whole trip was a container of JIF imported from Orrville, Ohio. And its expensive! It's gotten to the point where I walk into a grocery store, head directly to the jelly isle and scour the shelves. Where's Waldo?

The food of champions!

16. It's Got More Waterfalls than You Can Imagine

There are more waterfalls here than I thought existed in the whole wide world. In the Andes there are thousands. Don't even get me started on the waterfalls in the Amazon. They created unmatched swimming holes to enjoy during hot sweaty rides. I think I rode past a new waterfall every ten minutes. They were so beautiful with such glistening water that I taste tested numerous falls. No ill effects thus far.

I hope waterfalls will remain a common site as I progress further south.

17. It is Full of Crazy Creatures
Quite the contrary to Colombia, I saw tons on crazy amazing critters on my ride through Ecuador. To name a few of my favorites, I found a Hercules beatle that looked ready for battle, a walking stick slowly crossing the road, a stunning blue morpho butterfly hanging out in our hotel room, and a deadly coral snake. Not impressed? Wait until the next country list. I imagine Peru will raise the bar.

How many more bugs can I stick on my face?

18. They Eat Some Crazy Foods
These may not seem crazy to some of you, but I for one have never eaten cow intestines smothered in a peanut sauce before visiting Ecuador. The best tasting of these cuisine oddities is definitely "cuy". It's just guinea pig, and it tastes great, but I would have never thought to eat guinea pig back home. Rice and cow liver was also a first. They enjoy dining on three foot long cow tongues, and slashed cow legs that look disiesed. Yum!

I liked everything about guinea pig except for the bizarre smell it left on my fingers.

19. The Amazon is All it's Cracked Up to Be
I was delightfully surprised by the Amazon. It will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of my trip. After hearing all the talk about "Save the rainforest!" and "Deforestation" my expectations weren't too high. While I'm sure in some parts of the jungle those are huge issues, I didn't notice these things playing a major role. Besides the few tiny villages we rode through and the small farms that lined the road the forest seemed basically unspoilt. It was very refreshing to see such an amazing and unique part of the world in a relatively primitive state.

A typical medium sized Amazonian village.

20. They Love Their Booze
While in Colombia the people certainly loved drinking on Sundays. Ecuadorians aren't so exclusive, they don't limit the festivities to one day a week. It was not uncommon to see people walking around town in the middle of the weekday blind drunk. On the weekends you could guess that at least one out of five drivers was drunk. It's a bit scary when you think about it like that. Also they say the weekly fiesta is four days if drinking, Friday through Monday, every single week.

Thankfully this guy was a bit too young to drink the powerful whiskey he was shaking up.

21. It is Home to Some Real Characters
While in Ecuador, I came across all kids of people. It's true I usually meet a couple of doozies in every country I rode, but the folks in Ecuador were a different brand. We met a machete wielding coconut seller that went by "Malcom X" on the streets of Quito. There was a man in the Amazonian village that insisted upon marrying my sister. Word to the wise, never show a villager a picture of your single sister. An inventor that designed a bread rolling machine, a Brazilian barbeque, and a bike chain cleaner. An Amazonian that still hunts using a blow gun. That's just to name a few of the great folks that make up this country.

I won't forget all the friends I made in Ecuador.

If you're ever hanging out near the equator pay Ecuador a visit!

So long Ecuador!