November 9, 2017
Ecuador: our twelfth country on this journey; second, on this continent.
Note: We have been to Ecuador before; we spent a month here back in 2011 during which time we took Spanish lessons in Cuenca, visited the Galapagos Island for 8 days and travelled around Quito. We will not to returning to the Galapagos this time as we hope to visit Easter Island while in Chile and Antarctica from Argentina.
Ecuador is one of the smaller countries in South America – only slightly larger than the UK – with a population of slightly over sixteen million. It has three distinct regions: the Pacific (including the Galapagos Islands), the Andes and the Amazon. Humans have inhabited this country for more than 8,000 years with the Incas arriving in the mid 15 century. It separated from Colombia back in 1830 and initially, its currency was the Sucre but this changed to the US dollar back in 2000. Ecuador has the cheapest gas in South America after Venezuela: $1.48 US a gallon ($1.03 for diesel). The national beers are Pilsener and Club – we prefer the latter. The roads here (so far) are better, with cheaper tolls when we encounter them than in Colombia.
We arrived at the border south of Ipiales at the Rumichaca Bridge at 8:00. First order of business was to cancel our Colombia TIP (vehicle permit). Went to the DIAN window, no lineup, handed it in and that was it – took a whole minute!
Next we had to go to Immigration to be “stamped” out of Colombia. Here there was a lineup of at least two dozen people. We were a little concerned at this part as they might “discover” that we left the country without our vehicle but we had no issues.
Then we jumped back in the rig and drove across the bridge to Ecuador. (see photo above)
Upon crossing the bridge, there’s a military check point but they did not stop us; we drove around the buildings to park on the street (right behind a vehicle towing a trailer from Manitoba!).
Here first stop was Immigration to get our visa. We had been in Colombia on our US passports and wanted to switch back to Canadian ones so we were asked to go make a copy of the exit stamp at a shop just outside the office in order to enter. Then we returned and got stamped in for 90 days. They could tell from the computer that we’d been here before as well and confirmed the date of that trip.
Next it was the part that is always most painful: the permit for Tigger. We went around the building to what we thought was the Customs Window and met the couple in the Manitoba plated vehicle. They were travelling with their adopted son and moving to Paraguay (where he is from). They want to get there by next Saturday! Wow!
Turns out we were at the wrong window (a woman came over to get us) and upon arriving at the correct window, a man had Doug take him to Tigger to be photographed and confirm the VIN. Next Fran handed over her passport and license, and Tigger’s registration and title and in about 15 minutes we had our TIP. The whole process took one hour and twenty minutes so not super-fast but not a lot of hassle either (no fumigation or insurance needed).
Our first stop in this country is the highest city in Ecuador: Tulcan. There is a very interesting cemetery here; one of only two in the world with topiary figures. Upon parking we saw another caterpillar train! Are they going to haunt us through South America!?
The cemetery of Tulcan was founded in 1932 to replace the old cemetery that was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1923. The key feature of the terrain on which the cemetery is located is the calcareous soil that favors the growth of cypress trees. José María Franco Guerrero, who held the position of Head of the Municipality of Tulcán Parks, started exploiting the favorable soil by planting rows of cypress trees that today cover almost half of the cemetery. He started pruning each tree into various figures inspired by pre-Columbian, Augustinian and Arabic totems. Some were mythological figures; others were animals and some simple geometric shapes. There are more than 300 figures in total. José María Franco Guerrero died in 1985 and was befittingly buried in this very cemetery among the splendor he created. His epitaph reads: “In Tulcán, a cemetery so beautiful that it invites one to die!” His five sons continue the maintenance of the Topiary Garden Cemetery and the creation of its fascinating shrubbery to this day. This was a worthwhile stop.
We got back on PanAm, this part here is known as the E35 (our friends in MN will crack a smile here ).
When you come into Ecuador foreigners cannot buy gas near the border. iOverlander told us there was a station about 90km in and we stopped to fill up there before continuing on to Finca Somerwind near Ibarra. This is spot is an overlander favourite and we were welcomed warmly by the German owners, Patricia and Hans.
We placed our second South American flag on our coach door:
Our friend, Barna, from Al Bosque in Medellin was here as well as two other European couples and then an American couple from Portland arrived. Rosemary and Verna from Switzerland have been on the road two years longer than we have and already they have explored Eastern Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand as well as spending summers back home.
There is also a huge MANN rig here with a German couple named Hennie & Michael and late in the afternoon an American couple from Portland, Heather & Scott arrived – they are travelling the PanAm in a year and are headed south.
Friday, we got caught up on laundry; Doug enjoyed a 9 mile run on the race track across the road from our camping spot. Hans came buy selling his fresh German bread and we bought a loaf – it was still warm and oh so yummy! (He runs a little café on site that is only open on weekends.)
This afternoon a California plated truck camper pulled in with an American named Jeff and his Ecuadorian girlfriend, Cassandra. They have already travelled all of South America and will be heading north to Colombia soon.
Before five o’clock today, Doug returned! He’d climbed up to 4100m and felt good enough to do the remaining plus+ and get back all in the same day. Shortly after he got back another rig pulled up and a German couple joined the crowd and then a French couple with a toddler.
As we’d posted last month, Doug had been trying for weeks to hike one of the volcanos – came close at Purace, then the required guides went on strike; Next Galeras, but the military prevent access as it has been active; Azufral closed the trail “for maintenance”, for a year!, just a couple of weeks before we got in the area; Last chance in Colombia was Azufral, which he couldn’t find any information about, other than two people advising it too was closed – as it was far off our route and he had no routing info he passed on.
Finally, he got his chance in Ecuador with Volcan Imbabura (4557m/14952′). He headed out on foot from our camp spot at Finca Somerwind towards the trailhead (3350m) 20kms away. After 3kms he came upon a taxi that took him to 6km away. He walked to the trailhead looking along the way for the highest point with accommodations. He then turned back to stay at a Refugio at 2950m. The Quechua owners were so friendly and kind. He got a bed with a bathroom and they provided the meals and arranged a ride to the trailhead for the next morning.
His intent was to just do a 2hr acclimatization hike as he’d been down at 2200m for a while and then to try to summit the following day. So he didn’t bother with a 4 or 5am start that day. He reached the trailhead at the same time as three younger Ecuadorians who had the unnerving practice of chatting the whole time while he panted desperately.
Doug would begin to fall behind but then catch them on one of their many breaks. After 2 hours Doug found himself a little over 4000m and feeling no headache or illness, so decided to go a little further.
After 4200m the trail turned into a rock scramble, at times on a knife edge and at times with no hand holds. The three Ecuadorians turned around shortly after the rock scramble started. In addition, visibility was poor, as is typical for this and other mountains at higher altitude. He finally turned around 39m (vertical) from the summit as he was tiring and had felt he was taking more risk than he should, especially being alone.
The main goals were already achieved – some exercise and to be above all the peaks in the continental US. Getting down was no small feat – negotiating the rock scramble backwards; hiking the slippery steep trail; getting lost twice – costing over an hour and a half and having to hike back UP 250m. It felt good though, like scratching an itch that never fully goes away.
our camping spot was on the far side of the lake in this photo
Fran stayed at Finca Somerwind. Saturday morning she arranged with Hans for a ride to the bus stop to go into the city of Ibarra. Bus ride took about twenty minutes and she wandered by the market a bit, hit an ATM and then a grocery store before catching a cab back. She has a number of things to do on the computer and internet so this weekend alone will be spent doing that stuff as the Wi-Fi is decent here.
So Doug was back in time for a potluck bbq hosted by Hans & Patricia; each camper brings a potluck dish to share and the meat and potatoes are supplied by our hosts (which we all chip in to pay for of course!). It was another pleasant evening of swapping travel highs and lows.
Sunday we hung around the campground, did chores, another load of laundry (sheets and the like) and Doug worked on the water pump trying to reduce the chance of air in the lines (which has been happening a lot lately) and after that got done, the toilet sprung a leak! Well not actually the toilet but the attachment from the toilet to the line. So it looks like we need a new part because after attempting to repair, it was not fixed. So Doug closed that line and we’ll have to do the Latin American “bucket flush” system – means do your business and instead of flushing the regular way, add water to the toilet bowl manually with a “bucket” from the sink, then use the handle to flush it all down. Not a perfect fix, but certainly manageable.
So instead of the relaxing day we’d hoped to have, we had a day with chores, so we decided to hang here one more day. Two more German Overlanders vehicles arrived yesterday – we are now ten rigs! Some people are storing their vehicles here while they fly to the Galapagos and others are flying home to Europe. Hans offers rides to the airport in Quito which is less than an hour away.
Last evening another German man arrived, Bernhard and a British couple on motor bikes, Steve & Jeannette.
We have been in touch with Christine and Mark and have made a plan to meet up by the end of the week. They got to Ecuador back in August before they flew home for 8 weeks and have been here for about three weeks exploring and volcano climbing. We hope to meet them before we head east to the Amazon; they had planned to come with us until a friend from Canada decided to come down for ten days an join them. We’re sure we’ll meet up soon.