Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Ecuador's best kept secret

Before we attack our “to-do” lists, we decide to walk around Cuenca’s beautiful old center and relax a little. The colonial buildings are colorful, the many parks are bursting with life and it feels like a city where we could spend many days. We get a message from another one of Diego's friends, Alberto and Andreas: they would like to meet up with us. We had kind of a slow start in Ecuador and we missed the Colombian niceness in the beginning but the Ecuadorians turn out to be just as nice. It was likely our fault that we felt this way as we were rushing through, on a mission to get to Quito and meet up with Azure’s Mom. 
One of Cuenca's many beautiful churches.
We go for lunch with Alberto and Andreas. They have a professional stickering company and upon seeing the map on my box they notice that some flags are missing on my panniers. They offer to fill in the blanks and custom make all of the stickers I’m missing in the afternoon. How incredibly nice!
Back in Riobamba when we met Patrick and another overlander from Serbia, Zoki
Back at the hostel we meet up with Patrick whom we met at an intersection in Riobamba. Together with his friends Tim and Matt they are "The Unknown Roads" and they are on their way South as well. We decide to team up for the border crossing into Peru. My map gets on the table and we start plotting. The guys only use GPS and they were not aware of the small crossing I was thinking of and the archeological site in that area. They are our kind of travelers though. No plan and not too many restrictions. Using both map and GPS we work out a general direction and decide to leave the next day. 
Discussing the route to Peru via Vilcabamba and the crossing at la Balza.
Thanks for a great time in Cuenca, the stickers and all the route advise Alberto and Andres!
In the evening we have a few drinks with our new Ecuadorian friends and, being bikers themselves and having ridden South as well, we spend hours getting road advice and learning of highlights that we had never even heard about. The next morning I pick up a big pack of stickers at DAC Designs. They have printed them in 3D and with 3M sticky tape. No half measures! 

Azure has spent the past couple of days making videos for the TV station as we anticipate that we will not find good internet for a few weeks. The uploading is slow but finally the last video is in DropBox and we’re ready to go... Later than hoped for (as usual) we line up the five bikes outside the hostel and start making our way South. 

The line-up continued around the corner...
It turns into a rainy and very foggy ride. We wait as the guys have to pull off the road and put on their rain gear on. It’s funny how easy it is to take things for granted… With the KLiM gear, which is waterproof on it’s own, I don’t even think about it when it starts to rain. 

We only make it to Vilcabamba at dark. We split up to check out places to stay. We want to hit the road early tomorrow and we don't want to pack up wet tents. The half-way decent places are either full, too expensive or don’t have bike parking. After about an hour of looking around, we all settle on a hotel that has clearly seen better days but at least the bikes will be safe and we can get a good night of sleep. In the morning we have a coffee in the cute little town and we pack the bikes with as much food and snacks as we can find. Azure finds a bakery with peanut-butter cookies and she makes enough space in her panniers to fit about a dozen. Word on the street is that there is no "edible" food in the part of Peru we are going to… at least she will survive ;)
The old town of Vilcabamba with its stunning surroundings. The cafe opened early to serve some coffee-needing bikers.
One day of riding with the guys and my mechanical skills were already made redundant... Thanks for fixing Azure's brake light Tim! Notice Azure's "survival" bag of cookies hanging of the handle bar.
What an amazing feeling to ride these roads with 4 other bikes.
And from a different perspective.
We were hoping for a quick ride to the border but realize that there is no gas station in Vilcabamba, so we have to back track to the last town to fill up. The perfectly paved road turns into dirt. The sun is shinning and it is just absolutely stunning to ride in this area. It is slow going but we enjoy every minute of it. We arrive at the last gas station before the border and the gas attendant is away at lunch. Ugh. Late in the afternoon we ride down a steep road towards a bridge over a wide river. On the other side is Peru! 

Ecuador's best kept secret!
Now imagine this on a motorcycle!
Just another water crossing but we just wish we had made that car turn around...
Pre-border paperwork check.
Peru in sight! What a ride this was!
We get really excited and almost forget that we still have to take care of bureaucracy. The Ecuadorian side is very "unEcuadorian" and consists of a few houses and shacks. A nice policeman comes out and tells us what we have to do. We park the bikes and take a seat in the customs building. The fan is a bliss. We are so incredibly sweaty and hot. I can't believe that a few days ago we were freezing up on the mountain pass on the way to Cuenca and here we are in the same country only a few hundred miles south, getting rid of as many layers of clothes as we can. 

The Ecuadorian side of the border. The first time ever we wanted the official to stay away on his lunch break longer so we could keep hanging out in front of the fan in the office.
The policeman gets on his phone and after he hangs up, goes next door to wake up the Aduana official who is supposed to stamp us and our bikes out of the country. The sleeping man tries to explain to the cop how to do his job so he does not have to brake up his siesta. The cop can't find the stamp however and half an hour later a white truck arrives with a guy we had seen earlier going in the other direction… the aduana official… He knew we would be here waiting for him... Right! He is professional and fast, but because we are at such a small crossing, he must call in all of our information to another office… we all have a laugh hearing him pronounce our names. But soon we are riding on the bridge over the cold river water below. We are very tempted to take a dip before starting the process on the Peruvian site but know it can take a while to get five bikes into a new country. There is a boom over the road and we are instructed to park in front of it. There is no one else at the border. They are very strict and won't let us park the bikes on the other side so we can keep an eye on them. So I stay with the bikes while everyone else starts the paperwork process. 

The Peruvian side, unexpectedly more modern.

I chat with a rickshaw driver and get some information on fuel prices and road conditions. There are some shops as well and it seems that at least here, we are still able to get everything. The guy responsible for stocking the tiendas keeps walking across the border with a wheel barrow. No paperwork needed there... It is my time to work with the official as one bike after the other gets pushed to the other side of the boom. This guy must have some obsessive compulsive disorder: Everything is being done in strict protocol. But he is professional and sort of nice and definitely not corrupt. Only one copy of a stamp the official placed is needed and 3 hours later all bikes are on the other side of the boom. 

Matt made quick work of finding (and drinking) a celebratory beer. Cheers mate!

Peruvian Migration complete with volleyball court.
Jumping at any chance I get for a workout.
 A man in one of the shops keeps signaling me to come have a beer with him. It's very tempting but I decide to play some volleyball with the local girls team instead. Half an hour later we ride out. Yet another country to discover, another culture to get to know, and more people to meet. I was mentally prepared for pothole riddled dirt roads as soon we rode over the natural boundary into Peru but the pavement is immaculate. We had also heard some not so nice stories about Peruvians but everyone we pass smiles and waves at us. It feels good, we feel welcome. We soon find a grassy hill on the side of the road. I ride up the heavily loaded Twin to check it out. It is flat on top and will fit five overland bikes in the back. Perfect! Not perfectly hidden but it will be dark soon. 10 minutes later a local boy shows up with his little sisters. They are mesmerized by the bikes and the gear. They help us set up our tents and then head home for dinner as we cook our own. Welcome to Peru! 

Another hard days work is over.
We just started setting up the tent when these cuties showed up with their big brother.
And the tent gets set up for us... slowly but surely.
And this is what happens when you give a little kid, who has never even seen one before, a camera.

they just kept shooting pictures...
The next day. Making coffee with a view. Peru you are beautiful!
Perfect roadside campground next to a shed for a party of 5.


  1. Happy for for all of you. Enjoyed reading and seeing your photos......big hugs..

  2. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the chance to ride with you two for a month. Look forward to our paths crossing again!