……and we’re off
Day 1; Quito to Otavalo. 117Km/72m
Via; “El Mitad del Mundo” and San Jose de Minas
Yeehaw, the day we have been planning for the past 8 months finally arrived!
We tipped up at Freedom Bike Rental at 10:15am. Transferred our luggage to the bike, it came supplied with two side panniers and a top box. See part 4, Packing, to see how I made this work! We paid a bit extra for a tank bag, but they are so handy for the things that you may need quick and easy access to – such as my hair brush and hair band when stopping anywhere! Then we added in some emergency tools, spare inner tubes, a first aid kit and a pre-paid cell phone, all included in our rental. Iain had a chat about how to handle police stops, accidents, speed limits etc etc and then we were ready for the off….after the obligatory photo shoot, of course 😉
Today was really all about learning the lie of the land! Riding in Ecuador is definitely very different from riding in the UK or the US. There really seems to be no organization or rules. In the city the vehicles; lorries/car/buses/bikes, just weave in and out of lanes and the beeping of horns is a continuous sound! One of the most important things we were told was that if another vehicle were to flash his lights at you, contrary to UK/USA road etiquette, this means that they are taking right of way NOT that they are giving you the right of way – good to know!
The other thing was getting used to the bike. This was Iain’s first time on the BMW F800GS. At home he rides the BMW R1200GS. See Part 1 for why we choose to rent this bike. This bike was lower than he is used to, add in his new boots that have a thicker sole and plonk my fat arse on the back and this means he can virtually flat foot. A great advantage, especially given the roads we would be riding! He did have an embarrassing clutch issue and stalled on the way out! No man wants to stall his bike with 5 guys looking on to wave you on your way! We got over that and then we really were off…..hitting the streets of the city and trying to get out of that craziness as fast as we could and into the hills that were teasing us up ahead.
As we rode up an up and away from the city, the roads became much quieter, the craziness slowed down and Iain was able to settle in and begin enjoying the ride.
Our first stop was approx. 26miles north of Quito. The Intiñan Museum, in the Pichincha province marks the “Center of the World”, it boasts co-ordinates of 00o-00’-00”! Interestingly, there are two markers for this spot. The first was placed by the French, relying solely on math calculation back in 1736. With the introduction of GPS, it was found that this original marker was not, in fact, accurate. The true equator marking was discovered to be 250 yards away. However, in my opinion, 250 yards is not a bad miss when just relying on mathematical equations. If it had been me doing the math, I’d have placed the monument in bloody Australia!!
After a fun little tour, we hopped back on the bike again and headed on further up into the hills.
Not 5 minutes after being back on the road, we were pulled over by the police! We will never know why. The cop said, “blah blah blah blah” to which I responded with my now very well practiced, “Lo siento, no habla Español”. He said something about “tourista” and waved us on our merry way again. Hopefully all such events will be resolved as easily!
The road climbed steadily up. It was a fun ride. We got a taste of differing road types, asphalt, dirt roads and ancient cobblestone roads.
The road swept higher and higher, sharp turns back and forth until we were higher than the clouds. The traffic was light and we met no obstacles – aside from the odd kamikaze dog that got brave enough to take on a bike! The views were spectacular and the drop off was STEEP! Always worrisome when trying to avoid a dog attack, or even a crazy chicken!
At one point, I looked at the GPS display and it looked like a kid had taken a crayon to it, the purple route line was all over the place, twisting and turning here, there and everywhere! The roads were not in great repair! The potholes were like craters. There were areas where the sides of the roads had just caved in and you had to move to the center to stay on the road.
It was interesting to see the homes and structures along the route, the folks outside chatting or walking home and the kids running around. Everyone was very friendly; a nod and smile was their greeting. These are clearly hard working folk who lead tough lives but nearly everyone, from young to old, looked happy, relaxed and were quick to wave a greeting as we passed on by. It was curious to see how many still dressed traditionally. Not just in their fancy “Sunday clothes” but as daily work wear.
We noticed that the trash was kept in wire, cage like structures that were elevated off the ground. I can only assume that this was to keep the multiple dogs from tearing the bags apart.
We also passed women washing their clothes in the streams ~ I really wanted to take pics but didn’t want to be rude :/
We had a quick stop in the cute town of San José de Minas. In the town square, there is a beautiful stone church and as we arrived the bells were ringing in the faithful for a service. The streets were fairly busy with town folk. There were men sitting around chatting, a woman cooking food to sell in the front doorway of a store and older women in beautiful traditional dress made their way up the steps of the church to worship
From San José de Minas, we carried on climbing in altitude and immediately the road surface changed to dirt track! This was interesting! We passed many local folks along the way and more mad dogs. Some were just happy to look and move away, others liked to make out they were brave and barked their heads off but every now and then you’d get one that was out to impress and would bark and chase us up the road! Not so bad when it’s just one but the time when 5 clubbed together to defend their territory was a bit hair raising! Oh, I’ve just read that back, I should confirm that I’m talking about the dogs here and not the locals!
The road climbed up and around and in varying conditions but Iain managed well and we had no mishaps even at the impromptu river crossing!
After a pretty sharp left turn, the road changed again. We hit an ancient cobblestone road. The road continued undulating up and down, climbing steeply and dropping down again fast with switchbacks rather than gentle curves. Spectacular views that I couldn’t do justice to from the back of the bike….but I had to concede to Iain’s comfort level and I may not be writing this now if I had asked him to keep stopping for photo ops!
This was a bone shaking part of the ride and on occasion the road became very narrow which was somewhat nerve wracking when oncoming traffic just appeared around the corner at surprising speeds! Not to mention the moment we turned a corner and a herd of cows was staring us down!
We were surprised at the number of heavier vehicles on these roads, we passed a few big buses and trucks, thankful that they were going the other way and we weren’t stuck behind them.
However, we sighed as we came up behind a big truck, thinking we’d be tootling along at 10mph BUT man, he was actually hard to keep up with the way he swung his big self around that track!
I should mention the smells – wonderful smells of eucalyptus and pine from the forests around us. Also, the tenacious crop farmers. It was quite impressive to see rows of crops planted and thriving on the super steep hillsides.
As we descended back down and into town, the road hazards changed some. They have the biggest road bumps (sleeping policemen to the UK readers) ever, like small hills! I was lucky to stay on as we bounced over some of them! Also, the most bizarre menace, so far, was a pile of stone, slap bang in the middle of the road……?!?
We arrived at our stop for the night in Otavalo not too exhausted but ready to stop. It was also beginning to get a bit chilly. Our lodgings are at the lovely Cabanas Del Lago, quite literally cabins on the lake. Very well appointed, comfortable and spacious and…as the name states, right on the lake! After a quick shower and clean up we ate at the restaurant on site. Most delicious and very reasonably priced. Excellent service even though there was a language barrier – we got by and weren’t served up anything that surprised us!
On arriving back at the cabin, we were happy to note that two toasty hot water bottles had been placed in our bed and shortly after a guy arrived to set a log fire going – it was wonderful.
I settled down to write and Iain settled down to snore!
It’s been a great first days ride and a fantastic introduction to Ecuador and all that it has to offer 🙂
Follow our posts as we prepare for our 13 week tour of Europe that starts in May 2018!