Tierra Del Fuego

Day 30-34 – February 3-7

Quito, Ecuador to Cuenca, Ecuador to Cuenca, Ecuador, to Macara Ecuador to Chiclayo, Peru to Huarmey, Peru

We took the day off in Quito on the 3rd – I caught up on work, and the others went for a tour of Quito. They visited a park which celebrates the equator; you’d assume it is located on the equator – but it’s not – and everyone with a GPS knows it is not. It’s largely a tourist trap. At the park along with them were 18,000 Latin American Herbal Lite sales distributors from Latin America. In Bogota alone, one distributor told us, there are over 4,500 distributors. Herbal Lite, as you may know, is a dietary supplement that is supposed to make you feel better – and we were told that even the poor Ecuadorians were gobbling it up. They use a very effective pyramid marketing approach in which if you are a successful salesman you can graduate to a distributor and receive commissions from all of your salesmen. The raw material cost is practically nothing – sales commission is by far the largest cost component.

That evening, we took a taxi to a restaurant with a 360 degree view of Quito and were amazed at the size of the city. The capital is the largest city in Ecuador and has a population of approximately 1.6 million.

The next morning, we again followed our early morning routine, up at 6:00 a.m. to avoid the traffic. We headed out of Quito as the sky was just beginning to brighten:

After passing through a tunnel that got us out of the city quickly, we had breakfast at a gas station.

Vincent starts each morning with a nice big can of Red Bull to keep his senses sufficiently electrified with caffeine and sugar.

It looked like rain all day, but we escaped it.

The clouds were captivating; we climbed through them on our way to 12,000 feet.

They seemed to pour over the mountains like water over a dam, creating a chill in the valleys.

As we had seen in Central America, there were a lot of roads with steep inclines carved into the sides of hills, creating the potential for mudslides and cave-ins—these roads must be a bear to maintain.
We saw a lot of homemade improvised logistics along the way – a man transporting bananas in his pickup truck . . .

A man carrying water and his son on a motorbike . . .

And more produce in a pickup truck . . .

This cow seemed to want to hit us . . .

We decided to have lunch the Ecuadorian way: pig chunks cooked until nearly brittle
. . . not very tasty…

Nor were the assorted accompaniments, like field corn and a mystery potato concoction . . .

Three enormous pigs were lined up and hanging in a row at the outdoor market. The proprietress said it takes two days to sell the whole pig . . .

We were in an area with mostly Indians – a very handsome group...

Including lots of children . . .

Well cared for by their mothers and grandmothers . . .

Who wore hats that looked like they were inherited from Eliot Ness.

In Central America, school children wore any attire they wanted; just passing by on the road, I could see some unhealthy competition between them as they vied for highest fashion honors. But in Ecuador it appears as though all the children wear uniforms – they look neat, clean and sophisticated.

I think this uniform approach would work in any large city where there is difficulty controlling the culture in the schools.

We’ve met a number of other motorcyclists. We met software engineer from Washington State who had been on the road for six months – his wife joins him periodically. We met a 35-year-old Swiss man who had been on the road for nine months and a Brit who had been on the road just as long. They all planned to ride another 3 months. Here is an Ecuadorian minister of some evangelical persuasion who is an adventure motorcycle fanatic and very knowledgeable. He told me things about my own motorcycle that I didn’t know.

We arrived at Cuenca, Ecuador that afternoon – not quite as far as we had hoped to go, but it turned out to be a very nice city. We stayed at the Victoria Hotel, which I would highly recommend. Out my window, I saw a religious procession passing by with some sort of holy figure, loud music, and all sorts of chanting.

The only downside to the city was that it was filled with American expats, students and tourists.

The next morning, we got up early and later stopped for lunch at a truck stop . . .

. . . where our vegetarians, Vince and Helge, had quite tasty fried fish. Roger and I had something called SARC – short for South American Racing Chicken. We got one slender leg with all the properties of a Goodyear tire – nearly inedible. The backyard near the outhouse was full of chickens that were foraging on their own – these were not coddled Purdue-type chickens. Only the fastest and the leanest survived long enough to make it to Roger’s and my plates. This explains the tardiness of our meal as the owner does not attempt to catch a chicken until he has an order.

We saw a lot of different travelers along the road – the donkey was popular . . .

There were three-person motorbikes . . .

And four-person motorbikes . . .

The roads, which were carved into steep cliffs, were lined with only a small curb at best, which for a motorcycle can only serve as a particularly effective trip-line.

The fields we rode past were well-tended, and we were surprised to see them growing rice.

We were still riding in and out of the clouds.

We arrived at the dusty little border town of Macara, which appeared deserted at first. We found a $10-a-night hotel and were able to lock our motorcycles inside their basement garage. I got a can of fruit juice and two water bottles – the bill was US$1.25.

That night the town came alive: children were running in the streets with their dogs, and virtually everyone was out on the town. To me it looked scary – the next morning when we left, everything was again boarded up – it looked like Baghdad. Poverty and petty thievery is a big problem here.

It rained the entire night. When we started out in the morning, it was still drizzling – the roads were a muddy mess and the rivers were raging:

We crossed the border into Peru at Macara, bypassing the main PanAmerican highway border crossing which is closer to the coast. Crossing the border at this point is far less cumbersome and time consuming. The crossing started out smoothly, but soon the computers shut down and the poor border guard had to go through the process by hand (Helge helped him out).

We had breakfast at the border and met this adorable Indian family selling fruit:

Vincent amused the border guards with the apps on his iPhone.

There was a big difference between rural Ecuador and rural Peru. Peru has significantly more poverty – the housing is often made from woven palms, with dirt floors and of course no plumbing. We saw many animals on the road – goats, donkeys (one donkey was nursing its young in the middle of the road), pigs, dogs and chickens (one of which Roger hit – but it was robust enough to keep running).

Three-wheeled carts dominated the roads:

The road was covered with debris on both sides. It appears that when someone needs to dispose of something, they just take it to the side of the road and dump it. At one of the restaurant, we watched an attendant throw a pile of dirty napkins on the ground in front of his restaurant. All of this debris makes a mess of the highways in the poorer areas, but this behavior seems so culturally accepted that it would be difficult to change.

We came to an American-style gas station that had two female attendants dressed in red (not something we had seen before). It turns out the owner (pictured here with one of the attendants) is from Vancouver.

He married a Peruvian girl and is building gas stations for his father-in-law. He told us living in Peru is fun and that a beautiful beach is only 20 minutes away – although he does miss Vancouver.

We spent the night in Chiclayo, Peru and tried to sleep, but there was wedding taking place despite the pouring rain, both of which reverberated until 2:00 a.m. Even so, we arose early and were on the road by 7:00 a.m., having put on our soggy clothes from the day before. We made our way through the city’s flooded roads:

We headed south on the PanAmerican Highway, which runs between the Pacific coast and the mountain range for the entire length of Peru and into Chile. Dunes rise 300-400 feet above the road in some spots; where possible, they elevate the road to prevent the accumulation of sand. In parts of this desert, it only rains every 15 or 20 years. All around us is barren desert, pockmarked with rocky summits emerging from the sand dunes.

The road was covered in brown water that atomized into a spray with the passing buses and trucks – we breathed it in, and I could feel it on my lips. I thought about the possible organic content of this spray – pig snot, donkey dung, road kill puree, spit – you get the picture. I could feel a tickle in my throat as my imagination ran wild.

The four of us have managed to stay healthy during the first five weeks of our trip (and the others have even been eating salads – a definite no-no). The next couple of days will tell if the road spray was as bad as I imagined (I’m fearing Montezuma’s revenge or worse).

We passed a breakfast meeting with a group of “investment bankers” polishing off a dog in the middle of a village:

In Peru it’s a dog, but in Cleveland it would be an automobile parts supplier.

What truly interests me about this is why the village would allow vultures to gather in the middle of town and assume the role of sanitation worker. But this lackadaisical attitude about hygiene, cleanliness and littering has been a recurring theme in Peru. The roads are littered with trash in dump truck-size quantities – this is littering on a grand scale!

As we continued south just a few miles inland from the Pacific, we came across a number of rough and ramshackle little towns. The rain finally stopped, and we pulled over for a snack.

Here are three guards standing watch over a children’s park—they carried billy clubs, but I’m not sure if they were for enforcing the “children only” rule, keeping the children in line, or protecting the children from some unseen threat.

There are some beautiful beaches extending all along the length of the Pacific coast of Peru, but they are not widely used. But this town is trying to save its beach with a seawall – something that won’t work in the long run.

Vince and I bought some Red Bull in an attempt to diminish the longing for an afternoon nap.

This stuff actually works – it keeps you awake without the unpleasantness of too much coffee. Even if you drink it in the afternoon, you can still fall asleep by 10:00 p.m.

We shared a can of tuna fish and crackers and gave the leftovers to a dog that looked much like our Border Collie, Chase, the Whiskey Island goose chaser:

The trip is nearly half over, and I still haven’t gotten my POV video camera working correctly and my bike is looking dirty and uncared for.

In stark contrast to the dunes and the desert, there were patches of irrigated farmland that were lush and fertile:

This is possible because of the overabundance of water from the Peruvian mountains. The water is guided by simple mechanical gates such as this one:

The Mayans were masters at irrigation but Peru has only scratched the surface, as they use only 1% of their renewable water resources per year for industrial, agricultural and domestic use. This raises the question of whether Peru has enough of a transportation infrastructure to allow them to compete on a worldwide scale.

As we continued through the desert, which was pockmarked by fertile irrigated areas, we were surprised to see a significant asparagus farm. There were also substantial chicken farms with large sheds – each perhaps 75 yards long. It would seem to me that the chicken feed would need to be imported and that the chickens would have to be exported.

It was disappointing to see sugar cane fields and trucks hauling cane– it would seem to me that there would be a better cash crop for this luscious irrigated soil.

We attempted to leave the road and head up into the mountains . . .

Through some lush irrigated countryside . . .

. . . but ultimately had to turn back because of the muddy treacherous road conditions. At one point while heading up the mountains, Roger and I both dumped our bikes . . .

It was a two-hour diversion, but we saw some lovely countryside and had it not been for the unprecedented rain the night before, we would have made it. The unrelenting rain has even caused the closure of Machu Piccu. Next year, I’m sure Helge will include a heavier dose of mountain riding to replace these long stretches of riding in the barren desert.

We got back on the PanAmerican Highway . . .

And stayed in a small hotel in Huarmey.
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