An overlander's account of South and Central America by motorbike - the trusty Suzuki DR650. Within are great travel tips and hints (2011).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ecuador - Zumba to Ipiales (24-30 April)

Ecuador...I'd heard only great things about Ecuador.  A small country with some of the greatest biodiversity in the continent!  I was also to catch up with Ricardo's family, a mate from university in Australia.  By now I've become used to the nomadic lifestyle.  Travelling solo, driving into the day until I feel like searching for camp.  Waking up whenever and pushing on.  I also realised I have an addiction.  I find it hard to want to stop riding...I always want to go just that bit further instead of searching for camp.  So I've made myself start looking for camps at 1600 now.  Things are well and Nessie is beautiful.  Here is the tale of Ecuador...

24 April 2011 (? km) - Cuenca (Hostel Majestic)
After leaving the frontier town of Zumba I headed through the southern hills in Ecuador.  Beautiful jungle everywhere!  Unfortunately Ecuador has a massive problem with logging and deforestation and has lost a large percentage of its natural rainforest.  Nowadays there are more reserves but deforestation continues in this biodiversity hotspot!  As I drove on the dirt roads got soggier as road works got heavier!  Crikey you had to watch out for the huge mining dirt removal trucks!!  I passed through the town of Vilcabamba, the village of health, where a high percentage of the population is above 65!  Further north there was another intriguing town (the name escapes me now) which was very religious.  The ladies dressed in beautiful coloured dresses with black overs and the men in knee length pants, white shirts and black coats, top hats and a long ponytail!  An amazing little place and I managed to rock in on a Sunday (the main religious day) when some festivities (and ice cream sales!) where going on.  Eventually I pushed on to Cuenca, a beautiful old colonial city.  I found a place to stay near the square and ducked off to grab some tucker, leaving the bike in the street as the garage for the hotel was locked til later.  I returned an hour later to find a bloke lying next to my bike checkin it all out!  Turns out I'd just met my travelling companion for the next 3 weeks...Calvin Wiley from Kentucky, USA.  A good young fella on a KLR650 who trades small planes back home.

Pension Saracay...pretty neat for 2 bucks a night.  With animals!

Welcome to the jungle!!

The kind of bridge you have to be so careful of as a biker...

Roadside waterfalls everywhere!

Some Belgian cyclists on the way to Peru.  Great opportunities for info and tales!

A neat roadside lunchspot.  There were pigs on the spit all through Ecuador!

Safety at its best.  A baby outside the window on the drivers lap...and the idiot rider behing photographing while riding.

The very religious town which name still escapes me.

Had a big chat with this family who grabbed a photo with a local for me as they wouldn't take one with me.  Too ugly I guess!  Or smelly?

One of the beautiful churches in Cuenca.  I still step in and cross my chest and prey to keep me safe even though I'm a skeptic.

25 April 2011 (? km) - Ambato (Ricardo's house!!)
So 1 became 2, and Calvin and I headed off after a half filling brekky at the old Hotel Majestic.  When I say old I mean over 100 years old...and still beautiful!  We had a nice riding day through the twisty highway in the mountains of Ecuador.  I was leading and enjoying it that much at one stage, I missed a turnoff and we went 20km in the wrong direction...a nice road nonetheless!  I have an easy access dry bag which I carry sitting on my pannier underneath a strap.  Usually I store food I buy for the evening there, but today I'd done the washing and had finished drying the clothes on the bike so chucked a pair of jocks and my towel in it as well...and to someone elses fortune, dropped it on the road going through a city!  As well as the lovely jocks and towel, they scored a cocktail of fruits, some dulce de lecha (caramel), bread and other nibblies!  We eventually made it to Ambato, where Ricardo's family lives.  I met Ricardo at JCU in Townsville and became friends over a year or so.  I mentioned I was going to Ecuador and he hooked me up with his family!  After rocking in to the city at about 1700, we met the immediate family at their FarmaRed pharmacy and got a walking tour of the area.  Later we checked out the beautiful view over the city by night and tucked in to some dinner at a local pub hangout...parking our bikes right outside.  We met up with his brother and wife and newborn son, mother and father and grandma.  His parents showed us an amazing time and we can't thank them enough...especially for letting us crash in their house!

The view of Cuenca in the morning.  The churches jut out over the city...

Looks like a village out of something you make in a computer game.  Amazing.

Ricardo's father and mother.

Ricardo's grandma, brother, sister in law, mother, goofy mates and father.  Also...introducing Calvin!

Ambato by night.

26 April 2011 (89 km) - Banos (Hostel Magdalena)
Calvin and I had arranged to get a VIP tour of the Agoyan hydroelectric dam this morning, so we headed off at sparrowfart for the dam near Banos, 90km away.  The plant provides 20% of Ecuador's electricity, producing about 400 MW from 4 turbines.  Upon arriving we were issued some fancy visitor cards and headed up to the dam wall.  The wall has 4 gates which regulate the water flow over the wall and down the river.  There is also a floating filter, and one similar at the bottom to stop debris passing through the tubes which feed several turbines downstream further.  The filters collect debris and litter (and a dead goat) which flows freely from nearby cities. Paul, Ricardo's brother, mentioned a romantic spot on a hill overlooking the dam where workers occasionally take a girl for a picnic.  This prompted me to ask whether they swim here as well...which was answered with laughter.  Apparently all the sh*t, literally, flows into the river as well, explaining the chocolate brown colouring.  2 doors allow water to flow from the top of the dam and out, while the other 2 pass water from the bottom, used to empty all the rubbish when its too full.  The rocks at the bottom of these have to be replaced every year as they become severely eroded by the waterflow!  We eventually headed down to where 2 turbines are and the electricity is produced.  The facility goes underground nearly 200 m! On Paul's first day they made him walk it all in elevators! 

Eventually we made it back to Banos and went for a ride up to a viewpoint of the active volcano above the city.  We were lucky enough to meet a couple of volcanologists working and found out the volcano is the most active its been in a long time!  Upon returning to Banos we decided to skip bathing in the hot pools, when we saw 20 or more old men packed into the pools like sardines.  Better hot springs in Banos del Inca in Peru!

Ricardo's house in Ambato.

The volcano in Banos smoking away...visible 90 km away in Ambato.

Agoyan dam.

The water escaping here is from one of four doors where water leaves from the top.  Where the guy stands is where it exits from the bottom of the dam taking the rubbish with it.  These are the rocks needing replacement annually!

One of the door mechanisms

 VIP tour...right above the flow!

 The computers are the new control systems for the dam.  Behind are the old systems used for backup still.

The hydraulic valve mechanism opening or closing for the passage of water to the turbines.

The axle of a whirrs!

Looks like something out of an Austin Powers movie!  Beneath are where the 2 turbines are.  This is an old axle.

The lift to transport new parts to the underground turbines.

A turbine ready to be taken away for repair.  Costing 2 million dollars each, they are slowly eaten away by the force of water.

Water corrodes this steel...

 Another old church in Banos



I heard about a bridge jump in town so rode out, asked how much, parked the bike and went for it.  Holy sh*t!  I stood up and was like, well now I'm fkd, I can't back out.  Told the bloke to give me a second and jumped...yelling for quite some time.  My first bungee style jump.  This one used a harness though.


 The view from the bridge.

The road ends here...don't try going further.

The boy can ride...

Rossy cruising some volcano dirt roads.

Swingin underneath the volcano at the research station.

The local street thugs on wheels...

27-28 April 2011 (? km) - Near Misahualli (Camp @ Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve)
Today we were headed into the jungle to check out a town, Shell, which 60 years ago was a remote jungle village.  Apparently 5 missionaries from the US flew down to pass on the word of God and landed near the village.  They were killed by the tribes back then, but eventually their families came back and made good with the tribe and continued to live with the tribe, helping them with many things including medical aid.  In my mind I don't really approve of forcing a religion on people in this way, especially when they've been living without help for hundreds of years or more, however this is how it was and they lived on happily nonetheless.  Check out the movie "Flight of the Spear" detailing the sequence of events.  Calvin and I decided to split up here as he wanted to get a flight to the jungle with the missionaries who deliver goods to the villages, return teachers to their houses and transport emergency patients.  I was also keen to get to the jungle to a biological reserve I'd heard of as it was my birthday...and there was NO place better to be at this time!  We parted ways and I headed to Misahualli and the nearby Jatun Sacha biological reserve, where I was greeted by the Ecuadorian version of Ghandi, 10 volunteers, and a couple travelling in a motorhome (3yrs in South America, and the rest of the world to go).  A few beers were had and I crashed out nicely in my tent in front the reserve.

The next morning I got up at sparrowfart to head to a 40m tower overlooking the forest canopy...a great place to be in the morning!  Eventually I checked out the nearby museum, showing how villages trap and fish using handmade traps.  It also had an assortment of animals, include some monkeys OCELOT!!  I grabbed some Tilapia for lunch in Misahualli and checked out the airport built nearby, destroying hundreds of acres of forest.  The president flew in the next morning with an entourage of jets.  The bloke at Jatun Sacha recommended I try Aiousca, a jungle juice made from vines, with some other volunteers.  We proceeded there by night and were given a small presentation by a jungle shaman and then given a drink which was quite hallucinogenic!  "Don't go near the river, or you might fall in" they warned!  It was all over after a few hours lying under a tree, but was an interesting experience nonetheless.

The road of waterfalls down to Shell...

The original mission house (rebuilt now) in Shell.

For pilot withdrawal symptoms.  I think this was where I last saw Calvin before parting ways.

This chicken was on the delivery list.  One of the missionary planes in the background.

Collared Peccaries.  When returning to the mob they will greet eachother by facing opposite directions and rubbing their heads on the others scent gland on its back near the hind.

The view from the tower.

This plant his a mutualistic relationship with ants.  It provides ants with a home in the lobes at the base of the leaf.  The ants will defend the plant when it is bothered by herbivores or other!

 These seeds were used as money back in tribal days.

 Pretty...The park protected over 1000 species of birds and butterflies.

 The little fella never left me while I was checking out the museum.  Occasionally jumping off to steal a frog off a mongoose, or fight another monkey, or drink sap from a tree.

The ocelot.  The finally let me in with a guy after asking a few times.  They warned its a bit bighty when its hungry...which it was.  Several times it jumped from the ground to my neck while I was standing and started nibbling!  Its a bit bigger than a house cat and a LOT softer.  I offered it my fingers to suck on which kept it tranquilo...

Locals dry beans and other things on the road.

The river convergence at Misahualli

 This guy is in the right place at the right time.  And not by accident.  Selling ice cream as school finishes!

Gday bloke!  Look at how hairy he is!  Quite painful...apparently.

This is where I spent my 23rd birthday.  Amazing!

29-30 April 2011 (? km) - Otavalo (El Generia Hostel)
I woke up in my tent in the morning after a rainy night, to be greeted by ants inside with me!  The little buggers had chewed a hundred or more small holes into the tent to stay dry in the night!  Cheeky buggers!!!  My tent now is a home for me and a horde of other insects who join me during the night...or at least until I fix it.  My last stop in Ecuador was in Otavalo, were there are some massive artesania (arts) and animal markets!  I headed off through the mountains and over a pass and down into the valley of Quito, bypassing the city and somehow missing Mitad del Mundo and the museum, despite several people telling me I was on the road there!  Instead I just took a picture of the GPS with all the 0's!  I'd just rocked into the hostel when I hear another bike coming down the tight passage to the courtyard...welcome Uwe of Germany, riding a KTM Adventure 990, a fine machine at the least!  About half an hour it started hailing, and as Calvin was due to catch up with me today I had a giggle inside hoping he wasn't getting pelted by frozen water from the sky!  Eventually he rocked up, having somehow missed the storm.

The next morn we checked out the markets.  What a site!  The markets spilled into the streets outside the main plaza for about 2 blocks in each direction!  Now 3, we headed for the animal markets were everything from guinea pigs and rabbits to pigs and cattle are sold!  An amazing sight!  After trying some culinary treats we receded to the streets again where we saw an old lady cradling a baby doll like it was her own.  A strange sight prompting many assumptions.  There was a bird of prey park nearby which we checked out and got a free flying show as well!  The last night in Ecuador was spent eating pizza, drinking rum and finding another partner in crime, a Venezuelan-born American girl.  We chilled out and listened to a fine Canto Vivo band to end our Ecuadorian days...

The equator...

The plaza in Otavalo.

Size doesn't's how you use it!

Suckers in tow...

Take your pick!  We bought a guinea pig here and carried it with us over the border into Colombia.  I'd always planned on buying something here and roasting it came down to a plump little, no-named, white guinea pig!

Puppy eyes.  Don't bring your girlfriend here if you don't want a dog.

The animal markets!

Ofal soup...I had to give it a dig!  Was pretty good actually! Stomach, intestine, liver and more!

The artesania markets.

Parque del Condor (Park of the Condor)

The HUGE turkey vulture.

Until next time people.  Follow your dreams, viva la vida, keep living and SEND ME SOME NEWS from home!  Love B.


  1. I've found very interesting the way you remark your experiences and your trip. Isaac's picture is missing though. He's our newborn and Ricardo's nephew. Also, regarding the agoyan Dam, everything is accurate and if you don't mind, I'll share some of your comments with my fellows.

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