Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Adv # 7 Continued: Last part of Ecuador

So after Baños, Ecuador I headed down further into the Amazon rainforest through Puyo and Tena, really putting my Klim riding gear to the test for the first time. Riding 4 straight hours in rain, the GoreTex proved itself as I showed up in Tena completely dry inside. (My previous gear I used in Patagonia failed me miserably.)

What a beautiful ride though! Through the valley of the River Pastaza that I had just rafted, and all the beautiful waterfalls and vegetation, absolutely nowhere near what could be considered a major city, traffic, or pollution.

(Above, just like any other day in a random small town in Latin America, there seems to always be a celebration going on. This was in Tena, a small parade with all the costumes and locals. Below, buzzing by on the route to Quito, somebody either didn't do her homework last night, or was so anxious to do her homework, she had to do it there in gutter along side the road : )

Looping back out of the rainforest to Quito, I had the chance to meet a group of motorcycle riders after a meeting I had with KTM-Ecuador's management (they want to start hosting tours of Ecuador, and of course will enjoy my marketing assistance outside of S. America.)

The next day, these riders and I head out of Quito a bit to see some Rally Racing action, and had a great time touring around the beautiful countryside of Ecuador. Much of our conversation was about this topic of motorcycle touring in Ecuador, as there's very little of it being done. Without getting too much into this topic here, let's just say there are ENORMOUS possibilities for running great tours. Having the beach, mountains, jungle, and valleys all concentrated in one country, and so much dirt-riding connecting it all, I predict the touring of Ecuador is about to BOOM.

Finishing my time in Ecuador is tough to do, but Colombia is a large country, and I’ve only got about a month or so before I plan to be back in the U.S. to enjoy the holidays with my family (whom I have not seen for 2 years.) As I headed north out of Ecuador, the obligatory visit is a pass over the equator. That’s right! “Ecuador” of course being on the equator, which runs right through the middle of the country.

Stopping for all the photos, the park ranger actually did a nice job explaining all the history of this location called “Quitsato” and how pre-Incan cultures were actually using the surrounding mountain and volcano peaks to mark the Tropics of Cancer, Capricorn, and solar declinations, etc. This moment, actually stepping across the line represented my first time being in the northern hemisphere in almost 2 years (the last time being on the steamship headed from Panama to Chile, shown in the February 5, 2009 blog post.)

Northern Ecuador becomes even more beautiful than parts I’d previously seen, as the cloud covered mountains carve the pathway to Colombia. Whereas the Pan American highway is generally not a pretty stretch of highway (usually polluted, and littered with too much traffic) this final stretch out of Ecuador is simply beautiful. It was interesting again to see how the faces of the people change, this time evolving from the more typical Inca-Indian appearance to that of Caribbean & African black. Whatever the case, the people have been completely friendly and always inquisitive about where I'm from, and where I'm going.

More news soon….the thirteenth and final country on my trip is ahead….

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adv #7 Continued: Ecuador!

The site of American cash: I hadn't seen it for almost 2 years now, so pulling these out of the cash machine in Ecuador sure made for a strange feeling! (They use our U.S. Dollars.)

After Peru came Ecuador, yet another great surprise in all my travels. I mean, who knows anything really about Ecuador? As I got closer to the country, I had heard a few things, but nobody did a great job just explaining how beautiful of a country it is. (I'm guessing that's because many folks only ride the Pan American highway in a bus, and don't get to explore other routes. Chalk one up for Julius The KTM and Eric!)

I had the chance to meet the owner of KTM-Ecuador while I was in Cuenca. Great timing for that, because he's interested in starting adventure tours for the public, and needs help of course with the marketing aspect of things (perfect for my project http://www.rideadv.com/)

After a few nights in Cuenca, getting to know the city and doing a few things to my bike, I headed up to the highly talked about town of Baños, just on the eastern side of the Andes on the way down to the Amazon. For an outdoors-lover, Baños is a paradise!

One of the first things I did was rent a mountain bike and head down to check out some of the dozens of waterfalls in the area. Most notably (above) is "El Pailon del Diablo," or "The Devil's Punchbowl," and certainly worth the hike to see!

The next day, I had the pleasure of meeting Ellen and Susan from Holland, both traveling Ecuador and Peru for a few months before getting back into the working world. We met on our half-day canyoning expedition, and had a great time for a couple of days and nights meeting other people along the way. The girls quickly named me the "Inca guy," as for some reason I was given the raincoat with the most local feel. (Plus, I look so Incan.)

Canyoning is basically rappelling down cliff walls, and in this case, through waterfalls using all the necessary ropes and harnesses and such. Below, Ellen is starting to look like a pro already. We rappelled down 6 waterfalls in total, progressively getting longer and longer as we continued. The final drop was around 120 feet, and difficult to photograph of course because of the situation we were in.

Above, our tour guide, Jose preps us for the biggest drop down into the canyon of the day. Below, to finish out the day, the girls and I rented a Jeep to do a little exploring in the San Antonio Forest Reserve, and finished out the days with locals and other travelers we'd meet throughout the day. I also spent a day river rafting on the Pastaza river in some nice class-4 rapids, but of course, the photos in that situation are pretty tough to take, so just take my word for it: It was a great day.

The entire area around Baños should not be missed, as there's limitless hiking, hot-spring bathing, waterfall watching, and even bungy-jumping to do there. I only spent 4 nights there, but could have easily enjoyed 2 more weeks.
More news coming, as I have met some local KTM riders in Ecuador and will share news on that soon.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Adv #7 Continued: Done with Peru, and now in Ecuador

Finally here in Ecuador! Just left Máncora, Peru today after 14 great days on the beach...

It’s been about 7 weeks since leaving Santiago, and a great trip so far. Had a few mishaps that led me to delays and searching for new tires and such, but it’s funny how those bumps in the road can lead you to new and interesting people.

Through some of my contacts in my work, I was in touch with Luis Deza in Lima, a fellow KTM rider and extremely generous guy. After helping me track down the right tire (a tire that even motorcycle tour operators in Peru swore was not available) Luis invited me to stay with him and his family in Lima while I spent a few days freshening up my motorcycle. What a great treat that was, staying in an actual “home” for a change, and not to mention his sister Carmen Rosa’s cooking non-stop everyday for us! As good food and hospitality seems to be tradition in the Deza family, I was welcomed and enjoyed a great visit with my new friends, Luis for sure being a guy I'll be in touch with for a long time.

After leaving Lima, I headed up the coast and actually met Luis’s brother, Carlos in Trujillo. Had the chance to visit the beach town of Huanchaco, the Sipan Museum in Chiclayo, and eventually made my way here to Máncora, just about 2 hours before the border with Ecuador.

I’d heard about Máncora from a few friends and random travelers along the way, and figured I’d spend at least 3-4 days here to relax, take some time off of the motorcycle, and just enjoy the sunshine and beach. Those 3-4 days turned into 2 full weeks, as I absolutely loved Máncora!

Not that it’s the most beautiful of beaches, or towns for that matter. But when you combine the weather, location, activities and pricing….it’s a place I just adored. Upon arrival, I learned that a major tourism factor here is the kitesurfing, and that Máncora is considered one of the Top 3 destinations in the world for this growing sport. As kitesurfers search strong steady wind, the right wave situation, and hopefully warm water and nightlife, Máncora is definitely a great combination for a large portion of the year.

The authority on kitesurfing in Máncora is definitely Skip from www.perukitecamp.com. I was introduced to Skip through Canadian Honeymooner’s Neil and Lindsay whom I met on my first night in Máncora, after which I quickly found myself bouncing through lessons, kitesurfing, and a daily routine that was so much fun!

Along with all the other kite surfers including Mike the Free Swede, Nadia the Swiss Chick, Bill from Australia, Doug “Stingray” from Calgary, Marina and Holt from California, and a handful of other people who circled throughout from day to day, it was so much fun to have a regular crew to run with. We started at about 10am for breakfast, overlooking the beach and early morning surfers. Then around 11am, we’d gather around Skip’s shop on the beach just to take it easy and make some rough plans on where to go for the day. Fresh empanadas and treats are always circling around us as locals make themselves plenty available.

(Above, Neil and Lindsay spending their honeymoon with all the kitesurfers....great! They've kitesurfed Vietnam, Venezuela, Brazil, and quite a few other places around the world.)

Usually by around 12 noon, the decision is made if we were going to stay right here in Máncora, or head down the coast a bit where the wind might be a bit stronger. If traveling was necessary, we’d pack up the 4x4 van, crank up some Warren Zevon, Rolling Stones, or Led Zepelin, and head down the coast to pick the spot for the day (usually a small beach called Los Organos.)

And the kite surfing begins! A steady 25mph wind seemed to be offered every day, as arid inland areas heat up and suck in the cold air off the ocean. From about 12:30 to 4:00 every day, it’s a smooth pulling wind just perfect for learning this sport. The experienced riders were twirling around in the air, and the rest of us just tried to perfect the part on the water. The whole time, Skip walks up and down the beach giving lessons with his beach dog, Rubina always by his side.
(Mike, El Sueco Libre above, and Nadia the Swiss Chick below. Everyone developed a simple nickname pretty quickly.)

(Above, one of Skip's instructors, Alexei shows off above, and there I am below!)

(Doug, above we easily named "Stingray" because he stepped on one and got stung the first day. Below, Skip works the barbeque situation at the end of the day. What a great time we had!)

I would have gladly spent another few months (seriously) there in Máncora, but my plans are still to be in the U.S. for the holidays, so it’s time to move on. Here in Machala, Ecuador, heading further north tomorrow, I’ll try to post news more often.