Although Ecuador is small, as far as South American countries go, we still filled up a full month of exploration and enjoyment in this great country. We camped on the side of massive snow-capped volcanoes, strolled the historic streets of the capital city, played disc golf through a field of horny llamas at over 11,000′, hiked down to touch the frigid turquoise waters of a crater lake at high elevation, soaked our weary bones in scalding hot springs, hiked lush jungle trails, adopted another dog for a week while we boondock camped on the beach and surfed the perfect waves, and climbed impressive granite walls along shelves of agave and orchids while cows grazed around the van.
Crossing the border from Colombia to Ecuador was easy as pie. Stamp out, boom boom, stamp in, boom boom, car permit, boom boom…what dog? No hustlers, hassles, no questions asked. We drove off into the rolling greens hills smiling.
Our first stop was at the awesome overlanding mecca of Finca Sommerwind in Ibarra, run by a very kind German family. Hans and his wife and daughter cook up an awesome breakfast at their little cafe on the weekends, made even better by home-baked German bread and fresh-brewed strong coffee. The land is across the street from a racetrack, which is normally very quiet, but happened to be having a race that weekend. Hans, apologized for the noise of the cars, but we enjoyed watching the speed demons.
From Ibarra, we pointed south toward the capitol of Ecuador, Quito. On the way, we made a quick stop at the well known market in Otavalo and resisted the urge to buy everything we saw, knowing that we would likely find the same products in Peru and Bolivia.
Just before the capitol city we crossed a major milestone – the equator. We thought that we ought to double-check the official mark, so we brought our GPS. Although the line was pretty close, we found it to be about ten inches off… just sayin’.
After straddling the equator (and feeling the obvious difference in direction of the Coriolis Effect) we saddled back up and headed to Quito. Despite our fears of driving the crazy streets of the huge city, we found it easy to navigate and pulled into the sole parking spot at a great hostel located in the historic district. We spent the day walking around taking in the views, then we enjoyed some tasty beers at a local microbrewery before meeting up with Colorado friends for dinner.
As we made our way out of the city and down the smoothly-paved Pan-American Highway we caught our first glimpse of the snow-tipped cone of Volcán Cotopaxi. It was an unusually clear day, which offered great views of the marvelous mountain. We were disappointed, however, when we reached the entrance to the National Park and were told that we couldn’t bring in our dog. We didn’t even have to ask Hobie what he though about the suggestion to leave him at the visitor’s center while we went hiking, instead we turned around and drove to the other side of the park, hoping to find a good place to camp with a view. Well we got just that, an excellent place to camp for free next the the small hut at the north entrance to the park with spectacular views. We even got to see a herd of wild horses roam across the high plains, then were treated to a spectacular sunset, which we watched warmly bundled up inside the van while the cold, fierce winds howled.
The next morning we asked again if might be possible to just drive through the park without letting the dog out, since we were headed to the highway on the other side. This time we were told we could indeed pass through, but not to stop, just keep driving. (We may or may not have obliged.)
A little further south down the Pan-Am we turned off to drive the Quilotoa Loop, a well-known circuit through lovely rolling farm lands, steep valleys, and beautiful vistas to a stunning crater lake. We spent the night parked at a wonderful little eco-hostel called The Black Sheep Inn, where we dug out our discs again to play “the highest disc golf course in the world.” The course was very challenging, with par four or five baskets hidden in tall grass straight up or down steeps hillsides from the tee point. The course played straight through a llama pasture, where Hobie tried to play with a frisky youngster, while in the corner three older animals played their own form of games…
Crossing over the eastern edge of the Andes we made our way to the popular town of Baños. We donned our obligatory rented swim caps and took advantage of the namesake hot springs, then enjoyed some great beers at a microbrewery. We spent a relaxing weekend reading and chatting with other overlanders, hiking through lush jungle, and joining the masses on the popular walkway to an amazing waterfall.
Heading back into the mountains we camped at the visitor center on the side of Chimborazo, the highest peak in Ecuador and theoretically the Earth’s closest point to the Sun. Before the freezing winds confined us to a pile of blankets in the van we watched a heard of wild vicuñas roaming the mountainside.
On our descent from Chimborazo our GPS, Mandy, decided to play a practical joke on us and took us down a road that was still being paved in the beginning, then turned to dirt and wound a ridiculously circuitous route down the mountainside. We were miffed at Mandy at first, then just sat back and enjoyed the ride.
Back down in the western lowlands we met up with another overlanding trio from Colorado, Shannon, Josh, and Kaleb, of The Next Adventures. The next morning Josh and Shannon headed to the airport for a week in the Galápagos Islands while we took the the big, sweet, slobbery Kaleb to the beach. We spent a great week hanging out at a few different spots along the coast, exploring tide pools with the dogs, whale watching, and surfing. Tim also managed to fix two nagging problems in the van that we’d had since we left the states: the slight overheating, which meant keeping an eagle-eye on the temperature gauge and driving many hills at a snail’s pace in first gear, and the idle-control malfunction, which meant stalling on speed bumps, at stop signs, and in the middle of traffic. Now Chimera’s running cool, smooth, and stronger than ever.
Shannon and Josh returned from the islands smiling and bubbling with excitement. It was our turn to head out to the Galápagos, so we hugged Hobie goodbye and left him in the caring hands of new friends. Needless to say the Galápagos were incredible…but we’ll save that for the next blog post. For now we’ll skip to the rest of our time in Ecuador after our island adventures. After a week of amazing island life we returned to a happy Hobie and once again headed south.
Driving out a winding dirt road near the small town of Paute we easily spotted the impressive cliffs that we had read about on climbing blogs. We camped on an ideal little grassy spot next to a creek, where cows grazed in the mornings. We only spent one day climbing on the beautiful wall, where we had marvelous views and belayed amid cacti, orchids, and bromeliads, but it was enough to give our forearms a good hard burn.
Like our first night in this sweet country we spent our last night in Ecuador camped in a great overlanding spot, this time on the edge of the popular ex-pat city of Cuenca.