Ecuador Off-road Adventure

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by CanuckCharlie, Dec 26, 2015.

  1. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 9, 2014
    Oddometer:
    407
    Location:
    Detroit / Toronto
    I took a 9 day trip around Lake Superior back in August and I’ve been craving for a bigger piece of adventure ever since. I’ve randomly came across Ecuador Freedom Bike Rentals and found the 6 day off-road self-guided tour to fit my budget and schedule so I booked it for end of November. My overall trip lasted 13 days but I will only cover the riding portion in this RR.

    The bike rental is located in the capital city of Quito at an elevation of over 9000 ft. I was feeling light-headed as soon as I got off the plane and it took a couple of days to adjust. The average temperature in Quito is fairly constant all year round but varied a lot through my trip depending on the region and elevation. I was initially concerned about the forecast of thunderstorm every single day but was told by the rental place that Ecuador does not have accurate weather forecast like in the US. Rain is pretty much expected but it’s not too bad outside of the wet season months (February is the worst). Ecuador also uses US dollar as its currency so it’s nice not having to make any currency exchange.

    This is a map taken from the rental website. Each colored line represents a daily route. The off-road trip is a bit more intense averaging 150-250 km per day which turned out to be about 10 hours of riding in mostly dirt, gravel, cobblestone and mud. The rental package includes the bike, a pre-programmed GPS and pre-arranged hotels. You have the option of fully guided tour with a group and support vehicle or a self-guide tour by yourself. I went for the self-guided tour because it was cheaper and I was feeling adventurous.

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    #1
  2. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 9, 2014
    Oddometer:
    407
    Location:
    Detroit / Toronto
    Day 1 – Quito-Inti'ñan-San José de Minas-Laguna de Mojanda-Otavalo – 179 km

    Freedom Bike Rental in Quito
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    In Ecuador, dogs guard your doors from above. I watched this fella jumped 7 ft when the owner showed up.
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    Inside the rental office
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    Here’s my steed for the week, a Suzuki DR200
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    Ready to roll!
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    Traffic in Quito was mad, tons of one way streets and pretty much no rules. I got rear ended about 10 minutes after leaving the bike rental at a roundabout. I didn’t go down and and the driver waved apologetically so I just took off. I reached Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) after about an hour. This is a monument/museum to mark the equator but ironically missed the equator by about 200 m.
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    It’s like a science center and cultural museum inside the monument
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    And you can climb all the way to the top
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    I went to check out the Intinan museum just a couple hundred meters down the road where the equator actually passes through.
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    Lovely illustration showing the process of creating a shrunken head
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    No, you can’t buy one in the souvenir shop…I checked
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    Ancient burial that was roomier than my dorm in college.
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    The real equator. You don’t make the same mistake twice.
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    If you had seen Long Way Down you are probably familiar with the demonstration of the Coriolis effect using water rotation. The same sink was drained on the equator line and then a few meters on either side. You can also perform some fun and interesting experiments that you can only experience at the true equator.
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    Roasted guinea pig is a traditional Ecuadorian cuisine
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    Ecuador used to be the largest exporter of cocao beans (becomes coco after being processed). I sampled the beans at various stages throughout the process. It almost tasted like chocolate with a hint of bitterness and I snacked on them the whole time while standing there.
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    This guy is ready to spit in my face
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    Rural village just outside of the museum
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    First half of the day 1 are mostly paved mountain twisties. It sort of reminded me of Borrego Springs in southern California.
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    Guayllabamba River Canyon
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    First small town after leaving Quito so I decided to check it out and get some lunch
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    As soon as I entered the church in the town center, three people inside approached me. One spoke some English asked me if I wanted a tour. I had a feeling that I was about to get ripped off but went with them anyways. It turned out they were just some nice local who wanted to show me around. They locked the doors afterwards and we part our own ways.
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    There was a family restaurant next door so I got some lunch there. A typical Ecuadorian meal consists of rice/beans/lentils and some grilled meat. I also sampled an Ecuadorian special: roasted guinea pig. The skin was tough but the meat was lean and tender and tasted like rabbit. Check that off the list…
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    Entering the village of San Jose de Minas
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    This entire road going up and down the road was paved with cobblestones.
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    Cows and other livestock wander freely on the streets
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    Keep an eye out for the massive speed bumps. Some aren’t marked and I almost went airborne after hitting a few of those at 50 km/h.
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    I stopped by the first gas station I saw in half a day. My bike had no gas gauge and I wasn’t told the range on the bike so better be safe than sorry. Gas prices are nationally fixed by the government at $1.48/gal. Filling up the tiny tank on my DR200 cost about $1 and change.
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    Passing through Otavalo…it was all nice and pretty until I saw the dog chasing the car in front of me got run over. Dogs in Ecuador like to chase passing by cars and motorcycles. I tend to end up with a herd of dogs after riding down a neighborhood street. I had kick a few vicious ones from biting my leg while I was on my bike.
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    This was the point where I realized I was way behind schedule. I should have been at the hotel before sunset around 6 but I still haven’t made to the last POI. It also didn’t help that I went up the wrong road through some farmland and got the bike stuck in mud. Eventually I made it to Mojanda lake high up in the mountains on an ancient pre-Incan cobblestone road that climbed through several climatic zones.
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    Laguna de Mojanda is a high altitude (3800 m) lake. Mojanda is a complex of three lakes Caricocha (male lake) or big lake, Huarmicocha (female lake) or small lake and Yanacocha or black lake. The three of them are connected by different paramo paths and defended by two mountains, the Fuya-Fuya to the east and the Yanahurco or Black mountain to the west.
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    Looks like Scotland doesn’t it?
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    I raced down the mountain in the dark and fog on the cobblestone road. All I really wanted is to get to the hotel…
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    Even with GPS I still manage to get lost because I forgot to zoom in...
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    Finally made it to Cabanas del Lago on Lake Pablo around 8PM. Lago San Pablo is Ecuador’s largest lake and a popular weekend getaway destination for both locals and tourists looking for a more tranquil alternative to nearby Otavalo. The village of San Pablo del Lago sits on the southeast end of the lake and the rest of the shoreline consists of small indigenous villages, haciendas and a rolling vista of fertile green farming lands.
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    I had a nice dinner and a couple of cervezas to celebrate not dying on the first day…what an accomplishment!
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    I sat around for bit and decided to call it a night early since I have to get up at 7 and do it all over again, and again… Falling asleep was never a problem after an intense day of riding.
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    #2
  3. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 9, 2014
    Oddometer:
    407
    Location:
    Detroit / Toronto
    Day 2 – Otavalo-Cotacachi-Cuicocha Lake-Apuela-Nangulvi-Mindo – 281 km

    Woke up to a beautiful morning on Lake Pablo
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    Great breakfast with an even better view
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    Time to pack up and get on the road by 8
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    Otavalo artesan market at Plaza de los Ponchos had lots of handmade clothing and crafts
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    It’s Sunday and there’s mass going on…
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    Don’t mind if I come in and snag a picture
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    Passed by another town and people are just coming out of Sunday mass
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    Some unpaved sections are really bad. I was so glad I had a light and nimble DR200
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    Lake Cuicocha – I had to register at the entrance with my passport but there’s no fee. Cuicocha means “guinea pig lake” in Quechua - for the island in the middle. The lake is over 600 feet deep. Since no one could find the bottom, it was believed at one time to be a tunnel to the Pacific Ocean.
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    Village of Apuela was packed with locals. I started to see a trend that all town center plazas have a church, a football (soccer) court and a market surrounded by shops and restaurants.
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    Nangulvi hot springs next to the Intag river
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    A complete meal for $3. Your money goes a long way here…
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    Lunch was good, I had a nice break and weather is still looking good. What could go wrong?
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    I was on gravel road for quite a while in the mountains and it was getting remote. I came to a T-junction in the middle of nowhere and looked down on the GPS. Holy Shit, I’m no longer on the route. I kept zooming out and realized I had ventured off course for the last 2 hours. It’s passed 4 pm and gets dark around 6 so I started to panic. I started heading back where I came from but it still looked I was going the opposite direction on the GPS. Finally I remembered that I restarted my itinerary on the GPS after turning off the bike and GPS probably wants to take me back to start of the daily route. I asked everyone I passed by on the road where Mindo is by pointing fingers just to make sure I was going the right direction.
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    Soon it started to rain and it was all slippery slope from here (no pun intended). It was getting dark and cold in the mountains and some area was quite foggy. I was still going about 35 mph despite the lack of visibility and slick road conditions. I’m afraid of crashing but I was more afraid of getting stuck in the mountains overnight.
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    I was supposed to get to the hotel before 4:30 for a tour of the El Quetzal chocolate factory but that didn’t happen until 7:30. The roads were complete dark and it was still pouring. I followed a truck the entire way into Mindo because I couldn’t see a damn thing other than the two tiny red lights in front of me.
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    I stayed at Hotel Caskaffesu in Mindo
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    My hand after a day of intense off-roading in the rain
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    I walked out to the main street of Mindo looking for a place to eat. It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere yet everyone at the restaurant sounded like tourists. How do people find places like these?
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    Shrimp ceviche was delightful but I think anything would have tasted just as good by end of this day
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    I walked around town after dinner. Most places were closed around 9 so I should probably head back to the hotel before getting mugged.
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    I should have no problem falling asleep tonight
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    #3
  4. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 9, 2014
    Oddometer:
    407
    Location:
    Detroit / Toronto
    Day 3 – Mindo -Las Pampas-Sigchos-Chugchilan – 214 km

    I think I was the only person staying here last night. After what happened in the first two days, my goal is to get to the hotel on time today. I got up nice and early so I can stick to the itinerary.
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    Hotel Caskaffesu roasts their own organic coffee and it was fantastic. But I had no room left in my saddle bag to fit anything that I wanted to buy along this trip.
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    Is this a primary school or prison?
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    Free-ranged alpecas
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    I’d totally get a gas guzzler with these prices (USD/gal.)
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    I took a wrong turn and ended up in a mine shaft. I don’t know how I got through the security guard at the gate. He had a perplexed look on this face when I waved at him on my way out.
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    More switchbacks going up the mountain. There weren't many straight roads on this trip and that’s a good thing.
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    Town of Las Mercedes
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    Hmm…not looking good
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    Time to turn around and find an alternative route. GPS only works about 70% of the time, sometimes it would tell me to turn where there is none; sometimes I would go off course completely without making any turns and then there’s construct zones that I have to find my own way around…
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    And the rain starts again…sudden weather change is expected in the mountains so keep your rain gear handy
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    Rain was getting heavy so I waited a bit under a bus shelter. 20 minutes later and no sign of rain slowing down so I moved on.
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    The road literally melts when it rains
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    Riding in the mist
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    Pretty steep drops here…I nearly lost it once and went off the mountain
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    Getting gas ADV style…believe it or not this is a legit gas station
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    There are some construction zones along today route where they bulldozing through side of the mountain.
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    Mud bath…
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    They were blocking off traffic to let the construction trucks through but lucky for me they let the bikes go through. I had to push it in some sections though.
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    Baaaaa!
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    That slide looks like fun! (ok, it’s probably a water drainage)
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    Entering the village of Chugchilan. My route suddenly disappeared from the GPS and I started to panic again…
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    Little did I know I was right in front of Mama Hilda’s Hostel, my destination for day 3…and it’s only 4:30. This is new record for me consider what happened in the last 2 days.
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    I was soaking wet despite having been wearing rain gear all day. Luckily there’s a space heater in the room to dry my stuff.
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    The hotel will be serving a traditional style Ecuadorian dinner at 6 so I decided to go for a stroll around town. It’s nice to be able to walk around and relax when there’s still day light out.
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    Notice all of the PVC drain pipes buried in the porous concrete reinforcement
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    Another typical town center
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    I think this is a farmers’ market
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    All of the kids were well dressed in school uniforms which is not what I expected to see in a muddy mountain village
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    I decided to get some pre-dinner snack…mystery street meat…yum
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    My meat-on-a-stick attracted a lot of attention from the local gang so I bought another one and fed it to them.
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    After returning to the hotel I saw a Suzuki DL650 was wearing Freedom Bike Rental decals. I went to hang out in the lounge and met TJ and Daniel who were on a 6-day tour from the same rental company. We exchanged tons of travel stories over dinner…this is the first proper conversation I had since I landed in Ecuador 5 days ago!
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    I went out looking for a rave after dinner but the village was complete dead at 8 pm.
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    #4
  5. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 9, 2014
    Oddometer:
    407
    Location:
    Detroit / Toronto
    Day 4 – Chugchilan-Quilotoa Crater Lake-Zumbahua-Angamarca-Salinas – 195 km

    Climbing over 12,000 ft towards Quilotoa. My DR200 start to feel lethargic and can barely hold 2nd gear. The bike wasn’t only one suffering as I was running out breath as well.
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    Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. The 3-kilometre-wide caldera was formed by the collapse of this dacite volcano following a catastrophic VEI-6 eruption about 800 years ago, which produced pyroclastic flows and lahars that reached the Pacific Ocean, and spread an airborne deposit of volcanic ash throughout the northern Andes. This last eruption followed a dormancy period of 14,000 years and is known as the 1280 Plinian eruption. The fourth (of seven) eruptive phase was phreatomagmatic, indicating that a Crater lake was already present at that time. The caldera has since accumulated a 250 m deep crater lake, which has a greenish color as a result of dissolved minerals. Fumaroles are found on the lake floor and hot springs occur on the eastern flank of the volcano.
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    I tried to ride down this dirt path before realizing it was a hiking trail. Good thing the bike was light enough for me to swing it around while pivoting on its side stand.
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    Looks like I got here just in time before fog start to settle in
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    There was another lookout point near the entrance but at this point visibility is slim to none
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    Town of Zumbahua
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    Landslides are common occurrences
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    Rain and fog was so heavy in the high altitudes I had to get off the main road because I couldn’t even keep up with the cars in front of me.
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    Road condition was terrible but at least I can go at my own pace
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    The good ol’ simple life…
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    The mud was so slick I was sliding all over the place. To make the matters worse there are construction trucks racing up and down the mountains and I would occasionally meet them face to face mid-corner at a switchback.
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    Weather was looking better once I passed Angamarca
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    This place really feels like taking a step back in time
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    Interesting agricultural irrigation system. Too bad my picture came out blurry.
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    My rain pants are a tad short so my waterproof boots would fill up with water after every water crossing.
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    The vegetation is becoming more amazon-like but I’m still in the Andes region.
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    I love blasting down these gravel mountain roads with the exception of oncoming traffic. Large buses and trucks take these roads as well and I don’t know how 2 way traffic squeeze pass by each other.
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    A random shrine in the middle of the bridge
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    Approaching El Corazon
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    Loading up on street meat and enjoying some local company…this one had no patience.
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    I’m guessing this guy forgot to turn at this corner
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    Final stretch into Salinas where I will be spending the night. It was cold and raining and I was soaking wet but at least I was on schedule.
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    Village of Salinas at altitude of 11,650 ft. This town used to produce salt from the mountain side deposits hence its name. Today it’s famous for its cheese and chocolate production.
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    I stayed at Hotel El Refugio. This hotel is run by a youth foundation created by the Swiss man who taught the locals to create chocolate and cheese.
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    In the ayer, ay-ayer…
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    I don’t really care for nice hotels but this one didn’t have heat and it dropped to 40s overnight. All my riding gear was still wet the next morning…arrrgh
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    My poor hand after another day of riding in the cold and wet
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    Went out looking for food and got splashed by a passing by truck. This was after I showered and changed into fresh cloth at the hotel.
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    I settled for a pizzeria since it’s a cheese town. Anything would have tasted amazing at this point.
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    It was so cold out so I sat in the foyer next to the fireplace for an hour. I was the only guest here…it’s all a bit strange.
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    #5
  6. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 9, 2014
    Oddometer:
    407
    Location:
    Detroit / Toronto
    Day 5 – Salinas-Gulag-Matiabi Bajo-Quevedo – 197 km

    Sunshine in the morning is always a good sign
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    I went out to lube the chain and notice the tool box cap was missing and half of the tools had bounced out along the way. I put whatever was left in the saddle bag.
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    Less than 50 ft after leaving the hotel the mirror had come loose and lock nut was stuck on tight so I had put that away as well. The bike also wouldn’t hold idle even with the choke on due to the high altitude so I had restart it every time I pull the clutch in.
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    Someone parked their llama randomly on the side of the road
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    At this point of the trip I no long had range anxiety. Simply pull up to anyone and point at the gas tank and I would be directed to some local that has gas. I borrowed a wrench from a hardware store next door and was able to put the mirror back on.
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    Cows everywhere just out on side of the road
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    I’m guessing this is a controlled burn for cultivation
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    La Palma
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    I parked the bike to take a picture and some people came up to me and started talking in Spanish. I smiled/nodded and just took off.
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    Tight squeeze…
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    Looks like a logging community
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    The right side handguard bolt fell out along the way and was catching my knee and the gas tank. I walked back a couple hundred feet in the mist and had no luck finding it.
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    I did find a piece of cloth to hold up the handguard so I can continue.
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    San Luis de Las Mercedes
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    Banana plantation
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    Sugar cane plantation
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    Road ended here with the bridge construction…nothing I could do but to turn around
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    Police check point…I find it odd that it’s in the middle of nowhere deep in the mountains. I heard stories about corrupted police looking for bribes but none of that going on here. I showed them the documents for the bike and they were happy to let me take a picture.
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    Moraspungo
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    A local bus…looks safe to me
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    I stopped for lunch and a few policemen and kids came up to talk to me. I don’t think they get a lot of tourist traffic through here so I stick out like a sore thumb. They were all very friendly and wanted to know where I came from and where I’m heading to. It looked like we were communicating in sign language since I don’t know any Spanish. At the end, one of the policemen took out a notepad and got my contact info. That’s right…now I have connection with the Ecuadorian police.
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    Palm Groves are harvest for its oil and are also used as animal feed and bio fuel. It went on for miles and miles.
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    Arrived at the hotel in Quevedo. It’s a decent size city and traffic was bad on the way in but lane splitting was a lot of fun.
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    It’s hard to believe the temperature dipped below 40 in Salinas the night before and just a couple hundred kilometers away in Quevedo it’s close to 90 and very humid. Good thing the hotel had a pool…time to take a plunge
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    After soaking up in the pool for a while I took a taxi into town searching for dinner[​IMG]

    Quevedo is home to a large Chinese-Ecuadorian population and is famous for its Ecuadorian Chinese cuisine so I went with Chifa Jade as recommended by the daily itinerary.
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    10/10 on authenticity since the chef personally took my order in Chinese
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    I went to explore the city after dinner. It was still in the mid-80s and I was drenched in sweat within in minutes.
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    Locals exercising at a playground
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    Muscle alley
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    Motorcycles were sold long household appliances
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    Went to bed with AC on full blast
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    #6
    ONandOFF, 10ecjed, bamamate and 2 others like this.
  7. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 9, 2014
    Oddometer:
    407
    Location:
    Detroit / Toronto
    Day 6 – Quevedo-Pucayacu-Sigchos-Lasso-Quito – 251 km

    Last day already? I was just getting used to this lifestyle.
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    At this point I had already gaven up on dodging potholes
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    Pucuyacu
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    I’m pretty sure everything here is organic
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    Looping back into Sigchos where I had passed on day 3…not that I remembered
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    I went back and forth on this road twice because I was off course on the GPS and I thought I took another wrong turn.
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    Overlooking the town of Sigchos. This town was an indigenous settlement long before it became a Spanish town in the early 1500’s.
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    Constant reminders that I need to pay full attention around those mountain twisties
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    Why piss inside when it’s nice out all year round?
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    Motorway leading back to Quito
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    In the far distance is Cotopaxi, an active volcano that erupted recently. The sky is still covered in dark ash cloud.
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    More rain on the way home
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    Back in Quito
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    I made it back alive!
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    Overall I had a wonderful time in Ecuador. The sceneries are amazing and people are very friendly. This is the most mental and physical challenging ride I’ve ever done but I survived without any off-road experience or knowing any Spanish. It is a great way to experience true adventure riding without having to leave your life behind. Now it’s time to return to winter Michigan and dream about my next adventure…

    THE END
    #7
    KarenB, knight, poolman and 23 others like this.
  8. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
    Oddometer:
    66,472
    Thanks for sharing your excellent adventure and superb photos.. a fun and scenic ride!! :clap Self guided tour is the way to go..
    #8
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  9. GSPD750

    GSPD750 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,595
    Location:
    Calgary, AB
    Good job! :clap
    #9
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  10. Max Wedge

    Max Wedge ADVenture mowing

    Joined:
    May 16, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,186
    Location:
    Lwr Mi
    SO WANT to do this! Thanks for sharing it and all the great photos! :clap
    #10
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  11. #1Fan

    #1Fan Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    925
    Location:
    Lakewood, CO , USA
    Fantastic!! Thanks for sharing!
    #11
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  12. lexluther11

    lexluther11 Ride,Eat,Rest-Repeat

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2010
    Oddometer:
    1,412
    Location:
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    That was great and thanks for taking the time to share you're adventure with us all.
    #12
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  13. Hipster

    Hipster Long timer

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Oddometer:
    2,326
    Location:
    Mpls, Mn.
    Thank you for sharing. Ecuador is on my list of places to ride.
    #13
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  14. RiderRick

    RiderRick Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2013
    Oddometer:
    263
    Location:
    Southeast Minnesota
    Great report and pictures Thank you for sharing.
    #14
    black top bob and CanuckCharlie like this.
  15. ScottyXR

    ScottyXR Just a Kid

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2014
    Oddometer:
    544
    Location:
    Ozark Highlands
    That was awesome photography! Thanks for taking the time to share...
    #15
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  16. Coffeeman

    Coffeeman Coffeeman

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2014
    Oddometer:
    216
    Location:
    Reading, UK
    Thanks for this, it was very interesting, good photos, many of them
    #16
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  17. poolman

    poolman Gnarly Poolside Adv.

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2010
    Oddometer:
    841
    Location:
    Darnestown, MD
    Great ride report and pictures! A friend and I did a self-guided trip using Ecuador Freedom two years ago (see link in sig line), so you rekindled some fond memories!

    Thanks for taking the time to write and post!

    Cheers,

    .
    #17
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  18. De Oppresso Liber

    De Oppresso Liber Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2011
    Oddometer:
    952
    Location:
    Taxachussetts
    Awesome! It amazes me how adventurous some folks are who just embark on these kinds of journeys with limited or even no knowledge of the local language! And no dirt experience?! Good on ya, mate!

    Earlier this year my wife and I took a trip to Ecuador and we rented from Freedom Bike as well. Did a mostly paved self guided tour of nine days on a wee strom and a G650GS. We met up with Junyah who was on his WR 250 R and rode together. He did very well staying up with the bigger bikes the majority of the time, guessing it was due to fuel injection vs a carb? I was glad we were on bigger bikes. I have very limited Spanish skills, and that was anxiety enough! Throwing yourself into the fray was an adventure all by itself even without the riding! :lol3

    Excellent report! Loved the narrative of coming through the security point at the mine!
    #18
  19. mark2wheeler

    mark2wheeler Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2006
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Chicago Suburbia USA
    Thanks for the effort. Ecuador seems safe and inexpensive and plenty interesting.I should brush up on my high school Spanish and go.
    #19
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  20. Toofat2fly

    Toofat2fly Almost ADV

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2011
    Oddometer:
    92
    Location:
    Amish Country, PA
    Great pictures, Thanks!!!
    #20
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