I am writing on Friday, June 25th from a hostel in Quite, Ecuador. Lonely Planet strongly advises to stay away from the new part of town at night due to robberies, drugs and violence. Given that a 50km stretch of road in mountainous Equador takes a *lot* longer to traverse than you would think — a constant battle of passing trucks doing 20-30km — and thus I arrived in Quito after dark. A seemingly endless stream of highways finally led me to downtown Quito. I had already torn out the maps and descriptions from my LP guide ready to look more closely at a gas station, or your local Rotten Ron’s Supper Club (McDonald’s) or anywhere else where there is some light and general security.
The Old Town was the suggested alternative. Sounded good to me. Why would I want to stay in a new town, when I could be in an old, colonial place anyways? So my search began. As typical of the colonial areas, there are a lot of one ways streets, and in this case, on steep slopes. The original place I was looking for (Hostel Chicago) sounded good but I suspected parking was to be an issue. After about six attempts to locate it, circumnavigating the same area, I did find it. They had no parking and only dorms, and no food — only order-in pizza. This was passable but not ideal. I was told that other motorcyclists had parked in the public lot. Not ideal but worth checking out the security. I went off to do so and upon asking a question, someone mention that the place I was in front of — which looked like a sandwich shop — was, indeed a hostel. It has single rooms for $11, laundry services (yes! no reusing of underwear today — I have NOT yet to date — but getting close), small restaurant, small shop, beverages, wifi, and secure parking. It is some old colonial building where in which is composed of a small courtyard (looks like a garage) on the centre and the four sides of the building are built around it facing in. Perfect! I wouldn’t have been much happier at the Hilton (for the same price). My room had a nice, firm bed, heavy blankets and sheets (it gets quite cold here), and was quiet. I slept like a rock.
Today I am planning to find the local Kawasaki dealer to try and replace the broken clutch cable (replenish the spare) and head to Volcan Guagua Pichincha which is just outside of Quito. My friends Tyson and Ted climb this volcano several years ago and Tyson won an award for his “ridge” photo with the Horizons Unlimited motorcycle traveling website/organization. Incidentally, the photo shows up as one of a half a dozen photos when one does a good search for “Guagua Pichincha” — very cool!
Yesterday was spent gather a couple provision including canned tuna, crackers, pasta a four litre jug of water in the event that I have to camp out. My intention was to head to Volcan Cayambe. On route, I realized that I had almost passed over the equator without notice. A *little* fanfare, please. I knew I was close but not *so* close. I found the “equator monument” and spoke with the guy there briefly about it. He explained that the indigenous people knew about the equator (or at leasts its significant in relationship to the sun) many, many centuries ago and archaeological sites reveal something about the use of sun for planting, planning the year and so forth. So with a little discussion, some photos and some questions about Cayambe, I headed towards the volcano.
Tyson and Ted had camped up in Cayambe three years ago minus a month. I wasn’t really sure what I was headed towards beyond that one of their bikes was sputtering (lack of air) and Ted was suffering from altitude sickness. While a little later in the day that I would have like, I have all of necessary provisions — food, water, fuel, heated vest, heated grips, winter camping gear, excellent lighting — and so forth. So I have it a shot. I started at the small town of Cayambe, and asking questions along the way, I followed cobble stone paths for quite a while. These are the “made out of natural stone” type, not the rectangular cut stone type. The riding is slightly bumpy, but fine. I had to stop a few times to tighten up gear as stuff was starting to fall off but that was no big deal. At one point I had to do a small stream crossing and head up a steep little hill and then cut to the left hard. I dropped my bike. It was the first real drop of the trip. I had tipped it over parked in Costa Rica once but that doesn’t count. Tyson and Ted’s stories had me a little spooked as there were two of them to lift up bikes. I am, of course, traveling solo. I lifted the bike without much issue. I decided to go a little further and see how much worse it got. Actually it got better. For the most part, it was stone paths amongst dwellings, farms and ranches.
Adults generally waved to me when I waved to them but the children thought I was from Mars. Well, in fairness — I am sure I do. There were plenty of chase dogs — I missed not being chased by dogs for the last couple days — no day is complete without out running at least one dog, if not a small pack. I passed several children on horses, and children herding cows. The use of the pig mower is also common here — furry cute pigs. The scenery was breath taking. In the lower areas it was mostly farm and ranch. As I climbed, the roads got a little rougher but nothing to serious for a dual sport bike or 4×4 — not a car though. I managed to drop my bike several more times. One was pulling off to the side of the road to take a photo. It was a weird balance thing. Like turning the wheel to sharply on an incline. It’s a bit strange. My bike feels very stable once it is moving. I can toss it around, and traverse all sorts of tight space. But once I am going less than 10km an hour it feels really top heavy and heavy. Well, it really is both but I don’t usually feel it. So I have discovered that righting it is quite easy so the “fear” of dropping it fully loaded has dissipated.
I climbed and climbed and eventually ended up on a sierra plain (there is a name for this which I forget) where trees are replaced by long grasses. And the snowy cap of Cayambe is visible. This is a familiar vista by way of photography. The track got a bit tougher and I had to press the bike a little hard. Finally I ended up in an ad hoc parking area where several trucks were parked. I stopped to take a few more photos. I was deliberately trying to make more stops. For me, to catch me own breath — while not “feeling” the altitude, surely my physiology was. And, to let the bike “relax”. The engine is not overheating but there have been a number of stories about rear shocks bursting. Tyson’s advice was to stop often and take photographs — as he suspects that the bursting shocks are related to overheating. Sounds like sound advice.
The next course was a less than moderate incline up and elbow with a bit rougher track. I went for it but found that my engine lost power. At 4256 metres above sea level, not enough air was arriving to my fuel-air mixture. Perhaps the trucks were stopped there for a reason? I did see knobby motorcycle tire tracks going further but perhaps the bike was fuel injected, or properly “jetted” (in carburetor) speak to compensate for the altitude. While I am carry extra jets, I wasn’t about to re-jet just to get up this hill. Re-jetting has its own consequence when I head to lower altitudes and the change needs to be reversed. After several last attempts, I called it quits turned the bike around and headed back down. Tyson and Ted had made it up to about 4700 metres but their stories include towing and getting other to help push the bikes. I was alone except for the parked vehicles so this was not happening today. Not far from here there was a small flat plain which looks like it may be used for camping. While certainly not disappointed, I considered camping but decided that I had enough time to make it down and to Quito. I am trying to make up some time. After to trip to the volcano today, I plan to motor to Peru. Riding down Cayambe was pretty much a breeze and involved coasting in first and second gear in standing position. I seem to have taking a slightly different route in coming down as I missed that small stream where I had dropped, in favour of heading through a neat earthen tunnel. Well, time to motor.