Saturday, 19 July 2008, Cuenca
We were both so impressed by the Galapagos Islands that we wasted no time in writing the update about that experience, but we would be remiss if we didn't share our other experiences of Ecuador with our readers. This report will cover the places we visited North of Quito to the Colombian border, as well as the several visits to Quito itself, both before and after Galapagos, and the final one to eventually get Juergen's new license in hand.
When we left Colombia we were most impressed with the ease of crossing the border into Ecuador. In Central America we had become very used to drawn out processes, whether they needed to be or not. This time in 40 minutes we were across the border with a 3 month visa and a car permit to match. It felt like a good start to a new country and we headed down the road in a positive mood. We had heard from fellow travellers that around 50 km would bring us to Ibarra and a place to stay, at the home of a fellow Australian, no less. We didn't check our map too thoroughly and looked forward to a relaxed day with a secure overnight stopping place at the end. Well we all know what happens to best made plans...
Tulcan is the first town across the border and I had read about the topiary at the cemetery. Well, the sign-posting in the town was certainly lacking, and the traffic was everything we hoped it wouldn't be, and suddenly, after stopping to fill up the diesel tanks (for just over $US1 per gallon!!!), we were out of the town and heading south. Oh well, we weren't going to turn around for a few pruned trees, were we? Since we thought we had plenty of time, we decided to take a detour in search of the 'spectacular 60m high Paluz waterfall' (Footprint), near San Gabriel. The road was cobbled, very rough, very narrow and very steep. The waterfall (when we finally found it after an extremely hazardous u-turn on this very narrow and very steep road) was underwhelming - it took at least 2 hours for a bit of a fizzler!
The mountains were once again full of the patchwork of cultivation and very scenic. We also drove through the Chota Valley, where the temperature was considerably higher than in the mountains. It seems to be a favourite holiday destination for both Colombians and Ecuadorians, predominately for the warm weather. The most interesting thing we saw along the way was the locals, black descendants of early slaves, using half the Pan-American Highway to thresh some of their grain crop, without a thought for the problems created for the passing traffic having to cope with only one lane open.
Even though it was much further than we had thought, we arrived in Ibarra early enough to easily find the place to sleep before dark - or so we believed. We only had the GPS coordinates to help us because we hadn't actually contacted our would-be host. And as we keep learning, to our constant disappointment, GPS readings are not always the best tools for navigation in towns - the roads have the annoying tendency to turn corners without any consideration of the direction that one needs to go to follow the sacred coordinates. After asking directions, and driving up a track that was little more than a creek bed, we did finally find our destination - only to discover that our would-be new Australian friend was not at home, but in Australia on an extended visit. Fortunately for us, his caretaker Raul was in residence and he made us feel most welcome, providing us with everything we needed, including helpful advice. We ended up staying for 4 days, relaxing and doing some jobs. There was a washing machine which we were encouraged to use, so I spent all the next day washing my own clothes - we had not been able to do that in a while, since laundromats don't seem to exist in these countries and we have become quite used to just dropping off our laundry at a 'lavanderia' and collecting it the next day, washed, dried and folded into a large plastic bag. But there is something nice about being able to wash your own clothes, and dry them in the sun. Juergen dealt with a few things on the truck and camper, and we wrote our final update for Colombia. It was a lovely place on the side of a hill with a view of the city. We caught a bus into town one day to buy some food, but otherwise we just stayed put. When we moved on we were somewhat revitalised.
The drive to Quito was faster than we had expected, although there was a lot more traffic on the highway than we had experienced between the border and Ibarra. This may have been because it was Sunday afternoon and people were returning to the city from a weekend in the country. We drove on by Otavalo with plans to come back after our trip to the Galapagos. Between Ibarra and Quito we crossed the Equator for the first time - we were quite excited by the fact that we had now made it from the Arctic Circle to the Equator. We arrived in the city and started looking for somewhere to stay - we had a few suggestions from other travellers but mostly the parking places were not really suitable for our vehicle. As it was getting later we eventually drove to Cometa Travel and asked for a room in Maja's B&B. Fortunately they had one, and also showed us to the parqueadero just down the street, where we would be able to leave the truck during our stay in Quito and our trip to the Galapagos.
Although we always prefer to sleep in the camper if we can, the B&B is a nice place with only 3 double rooms and 1 single. They provide a sumptuous breakfast and there is WiFi with a computer for guest use. The only other guests when we arrived were Peter and Esther, a Swiss couple, who had just returned from the Galapagos Islands. It was nice to talk to other travellers and, since they are travelling south with their own vehicle as well, we hope to meet them again. We had come to Quito quite quickly because we were still a bit worried about the coolant overflow problem and Juergen also needed to consult a dentist. So on Monday morning we made an appointment with the dentist for the next day and then went to find a mechanic, recommended to us by Juergen and Eli, whom we had met in Bogotá. Tito turned out to be most helpful. The problem seemed to be only a matter of air caught in the cooling system and, after replacing the thermostat, he set about the painstaking process of clearing the air out. We assume this should have been done when the engine was put back together in Bogotá, but obviously it had been overlooked. With that problem solved we parked the truck back in the parqueadero and left it there until we left Quito after we returned from Galapagos. It is always easier to navigate the streets of cities in a taxi or on your feet!
Juergen had his tooth pulled the next day and, after time to recuperate, we spent the rest of the week checking out the old city and the new city, updating our page, contacting friends and family in Australia, and preparing for our trip to the Galapagos. It was relatively relaxing and the staff Cometa Travel and also the B&B were most helpful with everything. They allowed us to use their address to have Juergen's new license sent. My sister sent it the 'quickest and most secure way' and it cost $A41!!! But for that it should arrive in 6 days, so we expected it to be there when we returned from the Galapagos.
In Quito we also met an American family - Robert, Susan and their son Evan - who had found our website and emailed us saying they hoped we would meet somewhere along the way. Coincidentally, they had emailed saying they were in Quito and when we got their email we were too. We spent a very pleasant day with them on Friday and parted hoping we would meet up further down the road. They left on Saturday for the coast and we left very early Sunday morning for Galapagos. (As I write this they are parked with their van next to us at a camping place in Cuenca, and Evan is washing our camper.)
Continuation on > Page 2 > !