After a nice night camped up on the lakeside and a visit to a crazy church perched over a canyon (complete with Holy hydro) we made our way to Eucador our first border crossing of South America.
I am happy to admit that border crossings make me a little tense, unlike in Europe were you breeze through occasionally with a wave of your passport, I am actually importing my car to each country under a temporary import permit and so if things go wrong, or a bit of paper is missing, you can actually be stopped and not proceed. Now the good news is that the borders in South America are really easy, at least in comparison to Turkmenistan or Russia, but I still have a residual level of tension from my big trip in the stans.
As it happened this border went reasonably well, in that it only took a few hours and we did get in. There were the usual complications, we turned up just before the customs lady was due a shift change (ie 30min before) so she just told me to wait in the rain until the new, but very efficient chap turned up and took 10min to make the paperwork. Just the usual “computer says no” moment that happens at nearly every border. The inspection hit new levels of easy, he asked me to go and take photos of my car with my camera, and then he took photos of my photos on his cameral to load into the system as inspected…….
Meantime the Landy had stepped out at the back on a wet mountain road on the way to the border, Errol and I spent some minutes discussing the merits of different springs and anti roll bar settings only to find at the border that we actually had a nearly flat rear tyre. So while I was standing in the rain waiting for shift change Errol was doing the pit stop and changing the wheel on Nelson, probably I got the better deal as the wheels are heavy and dirty !
The offending roof nail was removed at a little garage in the next town and the puncture repaired for the princely sum of 4 USD. Ecuador uses USD as currency so that makes transactions easy to evaluate.
Once into Eucador we were amazed at the change in the roads, lovely smooth and empty dual carrigeway opened up before us and our average speed went up from the truck dodging 20kph of Colombia to about 60kph which makes travelling around a breeze here. Another delight was our first stop at Finca Sommerwind, a lovely place with a beer garden, Bavarian sausages and great views over a lake to a volcano. The German owner Hans is very friendly and has helped out many overlanders over the years so it was great to meet him face to face. Finca Sommerwind is the type of place you could easily get stuck and we do know some folks who spent weeks there trecking around the lake and horse trails into the mountains but we did not have that luxury with only six months for the whole trip and a few weeks to get Errol to Lima we had to press on.
The plan has a few things that force a date and one of them was the big Saturday market at Octavalo which was the very next day. So we headed off reluctantly after a lovely waffle breakfast for a spot of retail therapy. The market is a genuine market for local people and also has a proportion of its stalls directed at the tourist who come from all around on day trips to see the biggest market in the Andes. The local people are very distinctive and full of character as they have been resistant to the modernisation that we have seen in many of the cities. You got the feeling that this was still the market it has been for many years and the quality and prices for the goods was actually quite impressive. So, starting cynically thinking we would just have a look around, we ended up with armfuls of Christmas presents each much to our surprise, not only that but some excellent coffee and carrot cake thrown in !
So far we had been presently surprised by Ecuador and this continued in the capital Quito, nestled high in a valley in the mountains the climate is agreeably cool. On the first night we found a lovely restaurant, a notch up from our usual camp cooking of pasta and sausage as it was an Ecuadorian speciality place, so we were able to sample traditional dishes cooked to a very high standard. My dishes of three types of ceviche and a main entitled “a tour of our villages from the sea (prawns) to the mountains (beef and chicken) were a treat and we even managed some desserts. The area around the restaurant was very lively reminded me of Lang Quai Fong in Hong Kong so a lot of ex-pat or tourist types mixing with the locals on a Saturday night – we toyed with the idea of clubbing for about a nanosecond and then headed back to the Landy for a quiet nights sleep instead !
The next day we did the tour of Quito old town which is full of really nice cathedrals and churches, as it was Sunday they were in full swing and packed so I ended up going four times to mass and once to a sung Novena ending service (which was beautiful) so my mum would be very pleased but not so many photos as we felt it rude to use the camera so just sat or stood and enjoyed the atmosphere. From the old town after a lunch of empanadas (both chicken and cheeze types) we made our way to the cable car that takes visitors over 4000m up into the mountains overlooking the city so our ration of tourist sites was used up.
Later in the afternoon we continued the work to repair the damage done to Nelson by the crash, in this case it was finding a way to restore a horn before we hit the high mountain roads and tunnels were a horn is necessary to signal when coming round a single track bend or tunnel. Mine had failed before the crash and the actual horn itself was broken so we had bought a new one. Fitting did not go to plan as the fault was in the horn switch which we do not have a spare for, however by a bit of jungle mechanics, and a cup of tea to think about it, I was able to wire the new horn to the now-defunct spotlight circuit and so we can sound the horn by engaging main beam, sorted !
Tonight we met up again with my friends Debbie and Gary who have some woes with their clutch and steering linkages which they have limped to town to fix, I carry spares for both specially after my experience in the Gobi last year and may end up lending the bits that fit if they cannot source them locally tomorrow.
Meantime what happened about the riots, a week ago this whole country was in lockdown with friends of mine stuck in every city in Ecuador and burning barricades across all the roads (which still bear the scars), well thats all settled now, fuel subsidy has been reinstated and all is calm and well.
We are hoping that the same will happen in Bolivia and Chile which are taking their turn at rioting this week, politics is a bit more exciting over here than in jolly old UK even including Brexit !
Meanwhile after a series of really interesting days already in Ecuador we are set to descend into the Amazon Jungle tomorrow, follow some massive rivers and ascend to a snow covered volcano, watch this space…..