Final weeks in Ecuador

January 22, 2018, Trip: Ecuador
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January 22, 2018

We left the lovely hostel in Salinas about midmorning and made our way east on pretty decent four lane highway to Guayaquil. The 150km/90m drive was uneventful and not scenic; a few rolling hills, no towns of any size and hardly even a gas station.

We made a pit stop for an ice cold drink at McDonald’s as well as a trip across the street to the Mega Supermaxi for a couple of items.

We arrived at Talleres ARS (recommended by two other overlanders, including Mark) after lunch and Angel met us and got us parked inside his garage compound. Similar to other Latin American garages, there are many have disassembled cars inside, parts are everywhere in this we assume, organized chaos. As seems usual, they drop what they are doing and are happy to help.

Doug discussed the first major problem we’d been having with the generator: it would start and run but not power the camper at all. He wanted them to sort this out before tackling the other two problems (the grounding issue with the entire rig and the massive amounts of dust that get in the generator).

Angel believed that in order to work on the generator it had to be taken out. So we unhooked the hot water tank (it’s attached to a storage bin) emptied the right storage bin and removed it. This also meant detaching the shower from the rig but we’d wanted to do this to clean the hose so that part Fran took care of. They also removed the skid plate on the underside of the truck and cleaned it, sprayed some kind of rustproofing stuff on and repainted it for us. Doug had to go get the paint and they didn’t have black so now our skid plate is now grey.

Fran then went for a walk doing Spanish and encountered a huge mall with cinemas and an IMAX! (we’d read that Guayaquil had the first IMAX in South America.) There was a huge department store (think upscale Walmart) with groceries and she found a few items we’d not seen in a while before walking back; best part was the place was air conditioned!

Angel and his crew removed the generator and so began a long afternoon……it would seem it was now powering outside appliances, they’d reinstall it and then it wouldn’t even start, so out it came again and this happened a couple of times. They looked at the wiring and it seemed fine and eventually they got it powering the rig but it would short out. By sundown, they felt the generator had a short, so they decided it needed to be taken apart in the morning…….He did advise that dust prevention was pretty much impossible where the generator was stored and ventilation was necessary so the best advice was using the air compressor hose bimonthly to clean it up.

So we spent the night in the garage, it was quiet and we had power which was good as we needed AC. The temps here hit the mid 30’sC/90’sF and it was humid – not intense like Cartagena, but quite “moist”. They showed us where the bathroom was and a simple shower which was in a small “apartment” where someone must sleep at times on a second level. The water was not hot nor was it cold and we felt refreshed before bed. Angel lives nearly kitty corner to the garage and if you stand outside the garage (or across the street) you can access his internet.

Tuesday morning, Angel brought his wife over and she offered us some Venezuelan arepas (a kind of small thick tortilla with various types of stuffing). They tackled the disassembly and diagnosis of the gennie. They found the short, repaired it and eventually it was running the rig again! It was now lunchtime so the guys stopped for lunch and we went to the mall to eat at the food court. They installed the generator, helped Doug remount the box and shower and put the second coat of paint on the skid plate. As it was now afternoon, we confirmed with Angel that we could spend a second night here since we wanted to check out Guayaquil’s updated malecon and it was too hot to do that at this time of day.

As we were eating dinner, Angel pinged us and invited us for dinner! When we said we were eating he then invited us for breakfast but since we want to head into the city early, we passed. It was very kind though.

So Wednesday morning we were up early before the garage opened (we could get out of garage okay but when you leave the door locks behind you) and caught a cab on the main drag about two blocks away to go downtown – took about an hour with the traffic. The sky was mostly overcast with the odd blue patch. We’ve had some sprinkles here in the past few days but no real rain since we got back from Canada.

Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city and is the main port. It sits on the Guayas River: the largest river in South America that does not flow into the Atlantic Ocean. For many decades it was not a tourist destination and had much crime. In recent years the downtown has received a revitalization and the malecon area is quite safe, well patrolled and draws many visitors.

We walked up the steps to the top of Cerro Santa Ana (Santa Ana Hill)

for the 360° views of the city and then walked back down to explore the 3km malecon. We were here on this boardwalk and walked those stairs back in 2011 but they have expanded the malecon to including a ferris wheel (a smaller version of the London Eye) called La Perla (the Pearl) but it was not running this early in the day (many of the cafes and shops along the staircase were also not open at 9am). There was plenty of security and we understand this area gets pretty lively at night.

The Malecon starts below the staircase up the hill, past the cultural centre, another IMAX theatre and then you see the Rotunda with statues of South America’s liberators: Simón Bolívar and Jose de San Martin. There is a yacht club, botanical gardens, children’s play area with merry go round etc., more statues and a replica of a 17th century pirate ship, Henry Morgan, and the malecon ends past the statue of Guayaquil’s first mayor, Joaquin, de Olmedo and an artisans’ market.

We stopped for a late breakfast, walked a bit more and caught a cab back to Angel’s garage in the La Aurora suburb. The ride back only took 25 minutes and our skid plate had been reinstalled. We thanked everyone, gave out a few gifts and left.

We are making our way towards Cuenca but want to stop in El Cajas National Park enroute but the elevation there is 3900m/12800’ so if we want to spend any time, we’ll have to acclimatize after being at sea level for nearly three weeks.

We found a place on iOverlander at 2300m/7500’ before the park, just a rest stop but we stopped there, had lunch in the restaurant and spent the night. As we drove up here, the fog set it, then the rain and it’s now 16C/61F instead of 33C/91F like we had in the big city. Quite a difference but we don’t miss the humidity.

Thursday we awoke to socked in fog again and we packed up and left heading east towards El Cajas National Park. We visited this park back in 2011 and remembered how beautiful it was. You have to drive through it to get to Cuenca anyway…..

There were a few blue patches in the sky as we approached the park but once inside, the sun never fully appeared. We stopped at the Three Crosses lookout to have breakie but it wasn’t worth walking up to the lookout in the fog. We stopped again at the visitors centre at the lake where we had hoped to do a hike but the temp was now 4C/41F and still foggy with misty rain so not great conditions and we passed (it’s also over 4000m/13100’ up here!). This park has a lot of ponds, lakes and mountains. We recalled seeing a lot of llamas when we were here before and did see a small group of 8.

We got to Cuenca about 10:30 am to Cabañas Yanuncay right in the city. They take overlanders and there were three rigs already there, including Sam & Don! We said hello, met Umberto the owner, agreed on a rate for a week and got settled. This place offers power, water, internet and one very clean bathroom with a hot shower that is a little far from the camping area but it’s better than no bathroom.

The temperatures here are around 22C/74F, overcast skies with sun trying to come out.

Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city and has one of best preserved colonial cities on the continent. It sits at about 2700m/8800’. The Incas established a city here called Tomebamba (which is the name of main river here in city) but it was destroyed in an Inca civil war. The Spanish founded the present day city of Cuenca in 1557 and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. The name means “basin”. The city has four rivers running through it and they have developed lovely walking trails along them. We are parked across the street from the Rio Yanuncay.

Back in 2011 we spent two weeks here in a homestay while taking Spanish lessons and quite liked the city, hence the decision to spend some time here. There is a rather large expat community here as well and English is more commonly spoken than in other places we’ve been.

That night we met the Aussie couple that is here travelling in a rig they designed and built.

Bob & Anne are travelling north and will be leaving tomorrow but we spent some time swamping recommendations. There is one other overlander here: an American from Alabama travelling in a van. Al is looking for a new place to call home and has gone as far south as Peru before heading north again. He already has residency in Mexico but is unsure if that’s where he wants to settle.

Friday we did chores, walked and had happy hour with Sam & Don and made plans for the next day weather permitting.

Doug is continuing to struggle with our grounding issue with not much resolution in sight. This morning he tried unplugging us and we turned on the gennie and we get no shocks so the problem seems not to be within Tigger so it must be the power source not being grounded which is not unusual in Latin America.

As you know, we carry our spare tire on the front and it’s attached by two lug nuts only which so far as been fine (other than that incident we had in Labrador caused by the Quebec tire shop) but it’s been wiggling a lot more lately. This morning Doug drilled a third hole to fit in another lug nut and that should secure it better. They are locking lug nuts so we don’t feel that tire is at risk of being stolen but falling off is another story!

The day started out with a drizzly rain but it stopped by 9:30ish and by ten the sun was making an appearance so we decided to go into town with Sam & Don and take the Hop On Hop Off bus to get a tour of Cuenca. Turned out there was no “hopping on or off” but there was a stop midway at a spot above the city for a twenty minute break and a free drink – a shot of a cane liquor that was cinnamon and orange flavoured and nice and warm. After the tour we walked towards the river and found a place to have lunch with them before walking back to the campground to “rest” and meet up again for happy hour.

Sunday was sunny and quite warm. A French man, Jean Claude, arrived for the night – he had driven up from the south and was picking up his wife at the airport in Guayaquil to continue their journey north.

Monday was a lovely quite warm day. A German couple travelling north arrived at our camping area: Thomas & Caroline. They said they’d only stay one night but after walking around they decided to stay longer. We understand completely.

Tuesday Doug went off to find a tinsmith to be a cover over the cover on our bathroom vent; it leaks some (always has!) and he was back by lunch with the finished product. Fingers crossed.

We said “hasta luego” to Sam and Don as they are heading to Montañita for a while. They have until Feb 15th in Ecuador and wanted some beach time.

Fran dropped off the laundry and all the floor mats at a laundry place then did some shopping. We enjoyed happy hour with Thomas and Caroline.

Wednesday, we did a few chores around the rig getting ready to leave tomorrow and for our upcoming border crossing into Peru. We then walked into town to check out the cinemas to see if anything was in English or with English subtitles but all in Spanish except one that did not show until after nine – too late for us old folks! We then went across the river into El Centro to check out the Panama Hat Museum (no, panama hats do NOT come from Panama but from Ecuador!) As today is the fourth anniversary of moving into Tigger, we decided to celebrate and we each bought a hat. Now they didn’t fit quite right and they didn’t have Doug’s size (and we wanted under the chin straps on them) so they told us to come back in a half hour – lo and behold they had made Doug’s hat, adjusted Fran’s and put chin straps on them both. They offered us a free drink in their café upstairs and we added some nice bakery items to that treat. Here we met a nice couple from MN, Todd & Kate and we chatted with them for a while.

Enroute back to the rig, we stopped at a barber and Doug got a hair cut.

By the time we returned to the camper in the early afternoon, Jean Claude had returned with his wife Margarita, then a couple of hours later, a Swiss couple, Marco & Gabriella and two minutes later, a German couple, whom we only spoke to briefly; then another Swiss couple: Bernadette and w\Heinz.  All four of these couples are headed north. Unfortunate to hear but both Swiss couples said their vehicles had been broken into in Peru! We have been contemplating what else we can do to avoid this and have a few ideas to put in place.

We had a nice happy hour with three of these couples. Marco, one of the Swiss gentlemen mentioned he had a Peru sim card and some cash he’d like to sell so we suggested switching sims and buying his cash. As his sim card had a lot of money still on it, we negotiated a price for it and his cash. One less headache after crossing the border (assuming it all works out).

Thursday morning we packed up and went in search of a mechanic to help us add hasps to the truck doors to enable us to put locks on the doors such that even if a thief manages to unlock the truck, they cannot open the doors as they’ll be locked together at the opening. We did not have any luck so we’ll try further down the road. After stocking up on food, we hit the road and made out way about 10km from the Peruvian border for the night. It is HOT here and HUMID again. Yuck!

Prior to stopping for the night we wanted to fill up on our gas tank and jerry cans with the $1.48 a gallon Ecuadorian gas BUT it seems the gas stations near the border either sell to only motorcycles or don’t allow you to fill more than one jerry can or only have premium gasoline. After stopping at different ones, we managed to accomplish it all.

We had a quiet night at the nature reserve with power strong enough to run our AC – thank goodness.

We were up and at ‘em by 7:30ish and hit the road towards Peru!

So after 2154 miles/3467km, four new brake pads, installing a new power converter and a power transformer, hiking on volcanoes with snow! on the equator and spending some nice time on the Pacific, we leave Ecuador with wonderful memories.

 

 

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