Quito, Ecuador to Tacna, Peru
In this episode, after a month exploring the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and the Sacred Valley in Perú with Tracy, I set off to explore these two great countries by motorcycle. The two countries are side by side, yet so different in many ways.
Keeping with the program, here’s a video version of this post.
I spent a few days in Quito getting ready to get back on the road. This involved not only prepping the moto with service and taking care of a few logistics, like laundry, but also getting my mind ready again. After a month living in relative comfort and safety, I knew I needed to reflect on the miles and places ahead. So, to start, I planned a short day’s ride to Baños. I soon discovered, though, that the roads and scenery in Ecuador were top notch. Seriously, these were some of the best riding roads I’d experienced since Mexico.
Baños is an amazing town a couple of hours south of Quito along the PanAmerican highway. It is surrounded by mountains and waterfalls, which were visible even from my hostel.
While in town, I signed up for a 4-hour tour on one the Chivas (an open top bus), stopping in at all the major waterfalls, including the Cascada del Diablo, an absolutely huge chute of water. I also tried some ziplining. It’s stopovers like this where I feel more like a tourist, but I did enjoy my first easy day back on the bike!
The following day however, tested me. It was a wet ride through the mountains and I was cold and shivering in the fog. Cuenca is another in a long line of colonial Spanish cities, and one of the first I’d seen in a while that was clean and orderly.
The churches in Cuenca were the first I’d seen that were painted hues of blue – very pretty.
It was in Cuenca that I also I had my first thoughts of getting to Ushuaia. I think it was the cold and wetness of riding here that got me thinking about several friends who were just making it to Ushuaia and telling me it was cold, windy and wet there!
Ecuador is not that large a country and in less than a week, I found myself at the border town of Macará. It was another day of riding through heavy fog and cold. But, I happily ran into another adventurer, David, from Germany, heading north to Prudhoe Bay.
I also met Betty and Beat from Switzerland, who have been travelling for a couple of years now in their Overland Toyota.
From my hostel in Macará, I could see the mountains in Perú through rainy mist.
My border crossing experience entering Perú was not ideal, but still better than those I experienced in Central America. The one immigration person was asleep and had to be rousted and the one aduana agent had to finish his breakfast first. Haha.
When I entered Perú, they were getting massive rains in the north, which made for not only a wet and cold day, but a very muddy one as well. It made the roads quite hazardous and I saw two buses overturned on the side of road. I finally made it to Chiclayo, but even that town was suffering from massive flooding.
The next day, I finally had decent weather and the desert, mountain, and ocean all came together in a beautiful landscape.
I ran into Mark from Saskatchewan and Don from New Hampshire and we ended up riding together for a bit. We stayed together in Chimbote and then split up the following day as I peeled off into the Miraflores section of Lima.
Don did pick up a nail somewhere and got a flat, but just a mile away was a tire shop. This guy had us in and out in less than 30 minutes.
Miraflores is a wonderful neighborhood, super modern, clean, and family oriented. It’s a place I could live tomorrow and I didn’t want to leave.
While in Miraflores, I watched the Superbowl on Spanish ESPN. I was very disappointed they did not have any funny or entertaining commercials on the Spanish version.
In southern Perú, I stopped in for a couple of days in Nazca – and it was HOT! Turns out the Atacama Desert starts in southern Perú and stretched half way down Chile. Nazca is famous for huge line art drawing on the desert floor.
The drawings are huge, of uncertain origin, and 2000 years old. Most peculiar among them is a figure that looks eerily like an astronaut. I took an airplane up to check them out.
In Arequipa, I came down with my second bout of a stomach bug, which is the absolute worst travelling on a motorcycle. For several days I could not be more than 5 feet from a toilet. But, Arequipa is yet another beautiful Spanish colonial town surrounded by three volcanos. Also, all the old buildings, including the large church in the square and a monastery, were all built with white volcanic rock.
My last town by motorcycle in Perú was Tacna, a hot, deserty border town. And yes, the traffic was a bad here as it had been throughout Perú.
My overall impressions of Ecuador and Perú are very positive. In Ecuador, the roads are great and clean and the drivers are good, just the opposite in Perú. But, in both countries, the scenery is beautiful and the people engaging and friendly. I ate something bad both in Ecuador and Perú, still not sure what, that sidelined me for several days each time. Maybe it was these?
1) Ecuador is a great country for motorized vehicles of any sort. The highways are immaculate, well-maintained, and fast. And gasoline is the cheapest I’ve found during my whole trip, about $1.75/gallon for the good stuff.
2) One thing I noticed in Perú was, what I think, it is full of the world’s worst drivers! You really have to be on your toes there. People there see two lanes painted on the road and try to fit five lanes wide of traffic into them. It’s very chaotic. They also use a horn blasting system that I never figured out, but it’s a constant and distracting cacophony. And the buses… OMG! The buses simply go where they want and everyone else just has to get out of their way. There’s another dangerous habit I witnessed. The stoplights have a visible countdown timer and people routinely time their sprint from the lights ahead of this timer, like with a second or two left, they take off. Meanwhile, people also maximize their green lights squeezing through even after the light changes to yellow. Why I never saw an intersection collision is beyond me.