Ecuador had it all, mountains and volcanoes, beaches from dreams, deep and dark virgin jungles, amazingly kind people, wild travelers, party towns, and traditional villages. It’s all packed into a country about the size of Maine. Here I leave you some highlights of two and a half months riding through Ecuador and the pictures that capture part of the story.
Quito, a modern, sprawling, bustling city was where I met 14 other cycle tourists at a place called the Casa de Ciclistas. Santiago, a master bike mechanic and a kind soul, has opened his home and his life to allow cycle tourists riding through Ecuador a place to rest, repair, and regenerate. For 25 years he and his family’s life have been interwoven with the life of cyclists.
Seeing 14 other people doing the exact same thing as me at the exact same time was a bit of a shock. I immediately felt a bit less unique and special as I walked around Santiago’s yard and saw all of the other bikes and tents. Soon my ego calmed itself, and I got to know some of the cyclists and made some new friendships. Cyclists from around the world were represented: Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Canada, Spain, Colombia, and France.
After 2 weeks of recuperation (drinking, eating, cleaning, fixing, shopping), I left Quito with “The Crew”, a group of 4 cyclists.
Together we cycled to Cotopaxi National Park, at the center of this magical landscape towered Cotopaxi a massive lone standing volcano. We camped at approximately 12,000 feet, near the foot of Cotopaxi’s impressive rise. I met a French adventurer here, Vialis, and his crew of Ecuadorian explorers. After telling him about my cycling adventures, I asked what he was up to here.
“Well, we’re gonna climb Cotopaxi there, starting in a couple of hours (1 AM), and then we are going to jump off the top with our gliderchutes at sunrise and fly for as long as we can. We hope to get to the base of the next volcano south of here, so we can climb it tomorrow, and jump off that one too”..
“whaaaa?” I’m more impressed than emasculated.
“Isn’t that dangerous man?”
“Yup, it’s pretty dangerous. You’ve got to be smart.”
“Good luck Vialis!”
We shake hands and say good bye. Our paths will cross again further along in Ecuador.
Next we were off to Quilotoa a 2 mile wide, 1000 feet deep volcanic caldera filled with a beautiful turquoise water. On the ride to the crater we faced fierce winds and cold, making it nearly impossible to ride our bikes the entire distance.
Ladies in traditional dress behind a guard gate attempt to charge a fee to enter the town of “Quilotoa” guarding the National Park Quilotoa. We refuse to pay as all Ecuadorian national parks are 100% free according to the governmental rules and all towns are public property. An hour long verbal battle ensues, town leaders are called, meetings are held. I’m more than ready to pay and go see the crater, but one of my witty, hard headed companions refuses to back down. Eventually we are told that it’s a voluntary fee; we decide not to volunteer any money and we enter the town. For our two day stay there we are stared at, and we must always watch our back. The prices are too high, it has been turned into a tourist trap, but the crater is breathtaking and tranquil and well worth the visit.
If I had to do it over again I would pay the token sum, enter, and enjoy Quilatoa in peace. The experience was however a good lesson in debate, persistence, and politics.
Baños, party central Ecuador, was our next destination. The group had been whittled down to three riders by this point. We relaxed here for 5 days, watching the World Cup with locals, and drinking too much. On one of the strangest nights we ended up in the back of a truck with 10 locals in route to a karaoke bar 5 km from town; by the time we got back to town we said a quick goodbye and broke free from the wild group.
After Baños we dropped into the Ecuadorian Amazon to visit the cities of Puyo and Macas. The mountain coolness quickly turned into a 24 hour steam bath. Rain fell hard all afternoons, but the well maintained, flat roads made riding a breeze; we were able to cover 70 miles a day without much problem. Here we met shamans cooking the famous hallucinogenic medicine Ayahuasca, we heard stories of modern day tribes still practicing the lucrative art of head shrinking, crossed paths with colorful birds and snakes, and enjoyed the chill vibes of the populated portion of the Amazon Jungle.
In my experience in South America the people in the flat areas of countries, the coast and the jungles, are largely different from those in the mountains. The flat land folks are more outspoken, boisterous, physically larger, and they like to drink and party more as a generalization.
Again the group was whittled down, now to only two riders. We said our goodbyes; Lee would head south to stay ahead of the rainy season, Daniel and I would head to the beach and worry about the rainy season later. We climbed from 500 meters to 4300 meters over 3 days or so; difficult mountains, beautiful landscape.
Arriving to the beach felt like the prize at the end of a long journey. We had reached our destination after 11 days, the water, the ocean, the salty air, the smell synonymous with my childhood vacations. After 15 minutes of enjoying this, we started heading north along the coast to find a place to sleep and our first beach town to kick back in.
My riding partner Daniel is a German and needed to see the championship of the world cup. We found a nice little restaurant with a nice TV with minutes to spare before the start of the game. Everyone in the restaurant was pulling for Argentina, a fellow South American country, so we were the enemy. They treated us with respect even though one of the men had $250 riding on the game.
When Germany won, Daniel was ecstatic.
Coincidentally, this night we found a hostel and bar run by a German man. There were other Germans there partying as well. There was no shortage of interesting characters here which led to a wild and strange night.
Continuing north along the beach we ran into the crazily popular town of Montanita. Five years ago, I understand, this town was a hidden gem; the perfect combination of tourists, locals, and surfers searching for the next big wave. It how now been absolutely overrun by a huge tourist “scene”, indoor bar pool party bars, infinite drugs and drunks, hip people everywhere. It wasn’t my cup of tea. After staying for only a couple of nights we took off to find greener pastures. First we found the ridiculously gorgeous beach Playa los Frailes in the National Park of Machalila; it was a beach from a movie about beautiful beaches. A picturesque cove with turquoise water, birds diving for food, beautiful sand, perfect temperature water, and even some beautiful people.
We were able to ride on the beach between towns.
Finally we arrived to Canoa; the beach town I had been looking for my whole life, comfortable and authentic. Our hostel was incredible; I met inspiring travelers here (Ishmael, Andreas, Aaron, Stephan, Dylan). We swam in the ocean at midnight, howled to a full moon, sang at the top of our lungs, and drank too much.
Every now and again you meet a human with a magnetic and healing energy; everyone is attracted to them. You want to be close to them because they feed you with positivity, even in their silence. Their words remind you of all your most important life realizations that you just couldn’t quite remember. They show you that life can be easy and filled with passion. I crossed paths with this traveler in Canoa; he reset me; he put me back on my path; he filled my heart with love. He was the essence of the person that I have always aspired to be. Today, I’m still carrying his energy with me.
After nearly a month on the beach it was time to head back to Quito, Ecuador. Daniels bike frame had been breaking once or twice a week for the past month, and it needed to be soldered each time. We planned to go to Quito to build him a new bike. We returned to the Casa de Ciclistas, my home in Ecuador, fixed the bike over a week of time.
When it was fixed we crossed the mountains and the country another time. We saw many beautiful things.
We found a boat in Coca to begin a 3 week, all boat journey into the heart of the Amazon jungle and the mighty Amazon River in Peru. I’ll tell you about that later.