Tierra Del Fuego

Day 29 – February 2

Pasto, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador

We left Pasto still a little bit upset about missing Cali and exhausted from driving 360 miles and endlessly reconnoitering locations for next year’s trip. Helge is working us like draft animals – gone is the afternoon siesta.

Today is an exciting day – we will cross into Ecuador and hope to spend the night in Quito, south of the equator.

We headed out amid light rush hour traffic…

With clouds looming overhead.

I packed my rain gear, but did not end up needing it. We shared the Pan American highway with all manner of travelers:
Horse carts…

Colorful private buses…

And people hauling hay.

The road to the border had many overhangs…

And many curves…

Beautifully carved into steep cliffs.

We passed through little villages.

Passing traffic on this curvy road was challenging and thrilling.

Just before the Ecuador border, Helge stopped to reconnoiter possible hotel alternatives for next year. At one spot, Helge determined that the security was just fine – there was a locked entryway for the bikes in front of each apartment and broken glass rimming the compound’s walls like concertina wire – but we resumed our journey when we realized the place was actually a bordello.

The Colombia-Ecuador border line was long but moved incredibly rapidly. It took less than an hour to cross the border – a new record for border crossing.

This is surprising because Colombia and Ecuador do not have diplomatic relations. Diplomatic relations were terminated in March 2008 when the Colombian Army attacked a group of FARC guerillas who had been using Ecuador as a sanctuary while attacking targets in Colombia. A Colombian told me that there have been over-flights by either Ecuador or Venezuela into Colombian airspace but that Álvaro Uribe, the president of Colombia, instructed his armed forces not to rise to the bait. The feeling is that Chavez will be out of power in a short time anyway, and it is not worth providing him a cause that may induce the electorate in Venezuela to remain longer.

At the border there was a mix of people: a classic Indian in a baseball cap…

A German chap who had been on the road for a solid two years with his friend…

We saw a motorcycle seat with the image of a pinup—something that would probably sell well to the Harley crowd.

We arrived at the first village in Ecuador and found ourselves in the middle of a large procession of perhaps 500 to 1,000 people coming towards us and blocking the highway:

Helge, in his classic adventure motorcycling style, led us into the crowd with our motorcycles, which made some of the policemen angry. But after Helge turned on the charm, they were delighted to have us there.

They were carrying a baby Jesus in the arms of a large figure with $5 bills pasted to it. It was a classic festival type thing attended by throngs of young people – clearly a major social event.

We then came upon a disquieting situation –a large number of students in their green school uniforms…

were throwing stones in some sort of protest at cars that were driving up and down the hill. We waved at them and smiled and did not have any trouble.

The remainder of the ride to Quito was absolutely extraordinary. At one point, we reached an altitude of over 10,000 feet on curvy roads carved into the mountains. I was not able to do justice to the breathtaking vistas with my camera.

Powerful sheer cliffs falling almost vertically onto the road:

Vincent gets an oil leak:

This is an incredibly complicated motorcycle—it has anti-lock brakes, an electronically adjustable suspension, traction control (if the back tire is slipping, power to the rear wheel is automatically reduced), and an electronic tire pressure monitoring system. With all this it’s a wonder that all he had was an oil leak.

We cross the equator as we approach Quito—here is the GPS showing N 2.8 minutes. I didn’t notice when it switched to South at the exact point of crossing the equator. Ecuador’s elaborate crossing-the-equator-monument is located in the wrong place. I’m sure it was originally erected in its current location because some politician was sure that no one would know where the equator actually is— that’s not the case now that everyone has GPS.

I will spend most of the first day in Quito catching up on some work. On our second day, we will do some sightseeing and go to a fancy place for dinner.
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