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Riding in the clouds in Ecuador

Tuesday, September 12, 2017   (5 Comments)
Posted by: Bruce Peacock #124445

It started out as a 40th anniversary trip to Ecuador and evolved into one of the wildest and best motorcycle trips I’ve ever had in my 47 years of riding. Ecuador is a lovely and diverse country. It is probably one of the least expensive countries in the world to vacation in today, while still being a very safe one. The people are very accommodating to deal with even if your Spanish is not the greatest.

Our first week in Ecuador was like most tourists. We visited many of touristy things to see like the middle of the earth, Mindo for the butterfly sanctuary and chocolate plantation, a hummingbird aviary and Cotopaxi, one of highest volcanoes, where I walked from 12,000 feet to 16,000.

Originally I thought that when we got to Quito I would rent a motor scooter to see the city and some historical sites, but after looking at the traffic I had second thoughts. There are 2.2 million people in Quito (living in a city is roughly three miles across and 25 miles long), and that ends up putting a lot of vehicles on the roads.

After a week, I got accustomed to the traffic and found Quito to be a very motorcycle-conscious city. Motorcycles do the white line riding and cars are very obliging to them. It started to make sense when you see the number of traffic lights in the city; as the lights changed the bikes come to the front and when the lights change they are gone, leaving the traffic clear of the motorcycles.

It was at that point I started to want to ride and my wife, who is just great with letting me ride though not a rider herself, said maybe I should look at taking one of the motorcycle trips that Adventure Tours had. The one that fit me best was a two-day ride called the Quilotoa loop.

The ride was a mix with about 30 percent being what they called pavement and the rest on secondary and highway roads. It is done solo with only a GPS as a guide. Accommodations would be set up and all equipment that could be needed provided by the tour company. I contacted Adventure Tours and arranged the trip. I had taken my motorcycle jacket, but had no other equipment with me. They had a large store of equipment to meet just about everyone’s needs.

I booked for a weekend and when I arrived at the shop 10:00 am my BMW 650 GS bike was ready. We went through the equipment list first, which included a first aid kit, tool kit, cell phone, GPS, waterproof map, bike lock, saddle bags and tank bag, then we checked the bike to make sure everything was perfect. Then on to the picking out of the boots, pants, gloves and helmet that worked for me. I was informed where my overnight accommodations were; they would be feeding me

dinner and breakfast. The staff was great - they cover everything you need to know to make the trip perfect.

Next were the usual pictures at the start of the adventure and any last-minute directions and answers to any questions that I had were answered. Then I was off.

The first part was through all that traffic of Quito, and it did take a little to get used to the idea of going up the white line between cars. I soon caught on and when it came to mistakes that made me look like a tourist, the locals were quite willing to accommodate me in getting to the lane I needed to be in. It was not long before I was out on their lovely Panamericana Highway, which was only built some five years back and stretched from one end of the country to the other.

The only thing that looked like a problem the first time you see it are the cows, horses and pigs on the side of the road. They are all tied down and cannot come out on the road, so it seems it is their way of keeping the grass down on the roadside.

After a leisurely trip down the highway I came to my turnoff at Lasso onto a secondary road which started out smooth then slowly progressed to potholes and then some gravel and the occasional rock slide on the road, not big ones though and I had been told to expect this type of thing as it is a mix of road and off-pavement riding.

The farther I went the road changed until it was packed gravel, then gravel. I was going up and up to the point where I was some 12,000 feet up in the mountains. The view of the mountains, volcanoes and valleys was breathtaking in more ways than one. If you were not somewhat healthy the elevation would slow you down from the lack of oxygen. The elevation was confirmed as I rode into my first cloud - quite exciting and challenging at the same time!

Further along the road it had you going up and down the mountains and the road continually zigzagged, which was like riding the Dragon at Deals Gap in the US, but at a slower speed on loose gravel. The turns became switchbacks of 180 degrees while going up at 30- to 40-degree angles. The road was now a single lane, but the good thing was that there were no cars and I had not seen any for at least 20 miles. Any that I would see were four-wheel drive types.

At a small town of Sigchos, I know I missed two GPS turns but the GPS just recalculated my course and I decided to carry on. This might have made the trip a little more of an adventure than some riders might want, but I found it to be most invigorating. It put me on roads with those 2,000-foot drop-offs if you went over to far on the gravel trail-like road.

The total off-road riding was only about three and a half hours before I came to a village and stopped for lunch at a small local eatery. The food was what you would call home cooking; chicken, potatoes, plantains, fresh vegetables and a jug of fresh local juice all for US$1.99.

From this point, I got back to a mix of pavement, packed gravel, ruts, holes and rockslides but not anything big. After going through another couple of small towns on these secondary, semi-paved roads, I came upon large section of road construction. Apparently the loop is slowly being paved and in the future will connect back to the Panamericana Highway.

Shortly after 4:30pm I came to the out skirts of Chugchilan, where my lodging for the night would be an eco-minded place called the Black Sheep Inn. I had a quaint cabin, which looked look a something out of a Paradise Island film, but very comfortable and cozy.

The meals were served in a dining lodge and it was an international dinner with people from six different countries. They made sure you had plenty of food to eat, and one could even have beer or wine with dinner. After some small talk with the visitors from the other countries and the day of riding that I had done, I was quite happy to pack it in early and go to bed. As the first day had been quite an adventure and I was not sure what to expect for day two.

The next day I was up and showered, ready to go after a breakfast of pancakes and fresh fruit. As I packed up the bike and was ready to leave, a Black Sheep Inn employee brought a lunch to take with me, that was a plus I was not expecting a nice brown bag of goodies put together for my trip home.

From here on the roads became very European in type - clean, freshly paved, winding and heading down out of the mountains between the volcanoes to flat farmland with the exception of smaller mountains. The road threaded its way through lovely areas and the traffic increased, with their big colorful tourist buses bringing people to see the sights lumbering along the roadway. After a couple of hours I found a spot and stopped for lunch to enjoy the views.

It was not long after when I got to Quilutoa, a small village and volcano that had been dormant for many years but is now a beautiful blue green lake. This is one of those tourist spots where all those buses were coming. The town also has a large farmers market with all the wonderful, great-tasting fresh vegetables and fabulous fruits that we never see in North America.

As I continued on what was a much more normal ride for me, out in the country taking it all in, I could stop wherever I wanted to see something and enjoy both the area and the ride. As I got back towards the highway and the city of Latacunga, thhe road became crowded with people going to church. Many of the stores were open for business for the tourists. I stopped for gas, which was US$1.48 a gallon and then started back to Quito.

I arrived back in Quito at 4:00 PM and checked the bike in. It had been one of those bucket list things I had wanted to do and now I have the itch. I am now planning to return to Ecuador to do the nine-day self-guided tour, which covers the whole country from the Atlantic Ocean to the Amazon Jungle.

The only regret I had was that I did not get more pictures. I had a camera and had to stop and get off the bike to take pictures, but the ground was not too favorable in most cases. I have now solved that by purchasing a camera similar to a GoPor that mounts to allow me to take pictures from the bike.

I am not an off-road rider, and the only experience I had with riding of this type was a half-day training course thanks to BMW Canada. Doing this trip was not difficult by any means. At 66 year sold, I am not a young person. Some people would say I was risking a lot doing it solo, but you should try it before you can’t. At the cost to do it in Ecuador, it makes the experience even better. It was US$470 for everything for the two-day trip. It was an experience I will remember forever.


Jerry Scott says...
Posted Sunday, November 5, 2017
Very good writing. It gave me a sense of deja vu as I lived in Quito while working as a foreign service officer in the American embassy, 1982-84. I went back to Ecuador in 2015 to visit a lady friend in Guayaquil. The low lands are vastly different from the mountains and the trip the writer made. The topography of Ecuador is tremendously varied and an argument could be made for trying the coast roads to experience a different Ecuador from the rural Andes mountains and the quaint Indians living there. While in Ecuador, you should try to visit the Galapagos Islands. The habitat there is protected except for the Island of Baltra where the planes land. There is much to see on the Galapagos and among my many experiences in Latin America during 30 years, I count the visit to the Galapagos as one of my most rewarding. The roads along the coast are much better than the high Andes so a first time visit to Ecuador it might be a good place to start. However, it's all exciting.
Albert Glabacs says...
Posted Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Very nice, Bruce! Looking forward for a opportunity to explore the beauty nature offers there! Thanks for sharing!
Glenn Hamburger says...
Posted Monday, September 18, 2017
Good article! Son and I rode from Baños to Amazon Basin and back one day Beautiful curvy road, waterfalls , little traffic. Ecuador is a pleasant safe country.
steve curry says...
Posted Monday, September 18, 2017
Nice Report. I just got back from my second bike trip in Ecuador, and could go again in a heartbeat. Cheers, SC
Roger R. Mullins Vice President says...
Posted Saturday, September 16, 2017
Very nice report. Thanks Bruce for sharing.

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