backroadsredyellowgradient
backroadsredyellowgradient

Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure

backroadsredyellowgradient
FEATURE STORY
backroadsredyellowgradient

Motorcycle TourMagazine

EcuadorCover

Ecuador0FreedomOfficewords: Brian Rathjen • images: Brian Rathjen, Raphael Erhard and Andrew Walcott

I have always been of the thought that most motorcycle adventures begin when you strap on your helmet and hit the starter button. Occasionally it seems to start even earlier than this.

We had planned our return trip to Ecuador for nearly a year now and had a number of readers and friends joining us for a 10-day tour in the land of the Inca and Shuar – but, with less than a week to go, a series of storms battered the northeast; the first one packing big winds and the second packing big snow. Although it has two wheels, handlebars and an engine, the snow blower is not the same as a motorcycle.

Days without power, a magazine to produce and delayed flights south to the equator all piled up to start this escapade days before we even landed in Quito. It was midnight before our jet vectored through the peaks of the Andes Mountains and nearly 3am before we got to close our eyes.

Day returned and here we were, in the capital of Ecuador.

We made a stop at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental, the operators who would be handling the logistic for this journey, before spending the next two days playing tourist before we were travellers.

Both Shira and I had been here a few years back and fancied everything about this South American country. We were happy to explore the capital again, this time with some friends along for the ride – columnist Mark Byers and wife Betsy riding pillion and others that have been part of the Backroads fabric for many years. Helene and Kristen (proud Siren members), Laurie who rode with us in the Canary Islands last year and beau John, along with Ed, Gary and Mike - longtime amigos and a new friend - Ron from Arizona.Ecuador0Cucuchuro

Our time in Quito before picking up the bikes and heading out were spent doing the touristo thing while taking in the sites: the Botanical Gardens, the Basilica, a wonderful lunch off Independence Plaza at the Plaza Grande Hotel, complete with Shira getting served ice cream steaming with smoke served by a Cucurucho. Although to Americans his purple getup might seem a little too familiar (and not in a good way), they are really purple shrouded religious icons who come to the forefront in Quito every Good Friday when the city celebrates Christ’s final days. The cones are a sign of humility and the purple is the color of penitence. In this hotel the Cucurucho serve Helados de Paila the rest of the year in a grand style.

The major domo of the restaurant, Dino, saw that we were riders and he, being one too, brought us to the roof of the Plaza Grande Hotel, the oldest in Quito, that offered a stupendous view.

This was only out done by the vista from the top of the cable car, one of the highest in the world, that brought us up Pichincha Volcano to a level of 13,000. They even had an oxygen bar on top as well. O2 for everybody!

Ecuador0QuitoPano

Quito to Valle Hermoso

We got an early start as we had to pick-up and sign off on the bikes. Most of them were fairly modern bikes, but like horses, you have those you ride on the weekend (maybe) and there are those that work for a living.

These machines were not show bikes and were set-up to earn their keep.

Suzukis, a few BMWs, a KTM and two Honda Africa Twins made up our little fleet. I was on a fairly new Africa Twin (DCT) and Shira on a BMW G650GS, which had seen a bit of miles.

On this trip we’d have two guides from Freedom Tours with us – Andy, a young Canadian spending the last few years here in South America and Raphael, who is the chief mechanic for the company and whom we had met before. Both men would be invaluable throughout the tour.Ecuador1Hummer

Ecuador1RafEquatorDancerAlso along for the ride was Chapparo – Raph’s dog and head of security.

We did our best to follow Raphael’s lead out of the long city. Quito is nearly 40 miles long and 5 miles wide and getting out, even on Sunday, was daunting.

Our first stop would be the beginning of many highlights as we spent some time at the Equator. Like Jimmy Buffett’s plane – the Hemisphere Dancer – we took some time to skip back and forth between northern and southern hemispheres. Unlike the marker we would cross later in the trip this place was a bit touristy for my tastes, but fun nonetheless.

We did a bit of the cultural thing and then headed west along Andean roads that began their ever warming descent down from the heights with roads that mixed wide sweepers and humble towns that you would blow though in a second if not for mountainside vistas.

Overlooking one wide and verdant valley we stopped for lunch.

Fresh trout served in an open-air restaurant with dozens of Ecuadorian hummingbirds of all sizes, shapes and colors gracefully darting about.Ecuador1TroutLunch

Did you know Ecuador has over 120 species of these birds alone? We did not but, after this lunch, we can believe it.

Ecuador1WaterfallGroupLate afternoon found our group arriving a bit more worn than we thought we’d be on our first day on the road – but were all quickly revived by the absolute magic that was our hotel for the night called Kashama.

A steep stroll down the hill and steps brought us to the very large rooms that spread along the Rio Blanco that flowed west into the setting sun in an almost fairytale fashion.

Impressive waterfalls cascaded down in deep pools that had a siren’s call to many of us, while the others enjoyed a cold cerveza on the wide tile deck.

Floating along the tarn, lit by a deepening sun the storms, the power outages and wintery stress of the previous days melted away into the warm waters heading towards the Pacific.

We would be following west come morning.

Valle Hermoso to Canoa

After a typical Ecuadorian breakfast of eggs or fruit and yogurt we got ready for a soggy start. Although nestled across the Equator, Ecuador is said to still have two seasons – the dry and the rainy. Mid-March was the rainy season and that was in full force come morning with a heavy rain rumbling through the region. After breakfast we suited up in the humid showers and continued our descent toward the Pacific coast many miles to the west. Even in the wet season the rains did not last for long and by the time we reached the coast the sun was breaking through and the region was heavy with heat and moisture.Ecuador2BeachHorse

This part of Ecuador had been hit terribly hard on April 18, 2016 when a monster 7.8 earthquake crushed the towns along the coast and points inland. The Ecuadorians have done a good job since in repairing and replacing road ways and the many building that were heavily damaged, yet remnants of this quake could still be found all along our route south on the coast.

Ecuador2PerdenalesBeachWe stopped along the beach to take it all in and watched as two boy on horse back took the sudden appearance of the bikes and gringos to urge the horse into full gallop along the waves; the kid’s equestrian version of a show-off wheelie.

We took lunch in the coastal town of Pedernales, just a few miles north of the Equator. This town once had been beautiful, but was just now slowly coming back - with the torn up roads still being mended and new construction to be seen all about as we rode through the potholed and dusty town streets. When this happened the crew at Freedom Bike Rentals brought much needed supplies and equipment to the region again and again from Quito. Good men they are.

Heading out of the town we found the roads were still wavy and buckled and we could feel the bikes rising and dropping along parts of the pavement that got a bit twisted during the upheaval. I can’t imagine the fear these people had with this quake and the dire threat of a giant wave possibly to follow. It did not.

Ecuador2RafBrianShrimp 

Ecuador2CanoaGroup

Ecuador2CanoaChapSunsetEcuador2CanoaWelcome 

Shrimp is a huge export of Ecuador and we vectored along dozens of shrimp farms that can be found along the part of the Ecuadorian Pacific coast.

Our troop would be on this part of the coast for two nights staying at a very cool beachside hotel owned by an ex-pat Kentuckian just south of the town of Canoa, with the wide Pacific and a splendid sunset before us.

As we walked in and stripped off sweaty hot gear we were handed ice cold beers and soda. The Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 Rock & Roll songs were playing throughout the open-air bar and pool with water pouring Tiki god and cauldron. Like the tee shirt says –“Life is Good!”

Free Day in Canoa

For the most part riders took the day off – walking the mile or so down the beach to the actual town – also in the middle of a rebuild.

There were whole square blocks that had been leveled and cleared and where once businesses thrived and homes stood were empty lots and foundations with nothing to hold. Ecuador2CanoaSignGod damn. But the Ecuadorians were past this and doing what needed to be done. For me I would spend money freely in this town.

The beautiful stone paved roadways stopped half way down the hill, running into dusty streets to the sand. Everywhere there was construction going on, but in the Ecuadorian fashion that said it didn’t have to get done in a hurry – just right.

We did a little browsing and took lunch on the beach before meandering back for an easy afternoon at the Canoa Beach Hotel - body surfing (well, attempting) in the warm equatorial Pacific, catching up on a good book or being seduced by the evils of social media.Ecuador2CanoaShots

Along one stretch of sand our friends Laurie and John came across a sea turtle washed ashore. It had swum to the great beyond some days back, but this morning was a feast for the crabs that scurried in, around and under its carcass - the circle of life.

Later, while checking the bikes, Shira spied a Pacific Pygmy Owl perched right above the bikes – as if his job was to keep watch on them.

Later in the afternoon, while John tackled the beach with the KTM, I rode the Africa Twin back into town and found a young slender barber, maybe 19, who happily and very slowly and skillfully stripped away my winter’s growth of facial hair. I looked up to see the door filled with curious faces as this scene drew a bit of a crowd…. with the big Honda parked outside and a large American, with patchwork sunburn, seated in the barber’s single chair.

It took an hour as he shaved with a single “finger-held” razor blade and did a most excellent job. It appears that getting unshorn and cleaned up in foreign lands has become a habit with me.

Price…just four dollars. I handed him a Hamilton.

It seemed that while I was away the mice found the tequila. A festive bunch they were. This was only made better by another magnificent sunset and a great meal along the beach.

Ecuador2CanoaPano

Ecuador3SnackStopCanoa to VincesEcuador3EatingBananas

Our day started along the coast on the road south crossing Los Caras Bridge, the largest bridge in Ecuador, over to San Vicente and making a mid-morning stop in a town called San Jacinto – where squid, plantains and fresh juices were taken on a cabana deck above the waves. The hammocks worked for a while as this would be our last stretch along the Pacific and we wanted to make it last. The route then headed east back towards the farmlands of Los Ríos Province, known for its myriads of rivers and for its miles of banana, rice and cacao.

Although the coast was pleasant and cool we quickly discovered the interior was stifling, with high temps and even higher humidity. Who knew you could over 100%?! We had come to Ecuador and we got what we asked for - but here hydration was key.

We rode through the provincial capital, where the traffic went from interesting to manic, as cars, trucks and riders jockeyed for spots and positions. It became a game of a controlled chaos only made more interesting when I got a hard brush along the side by another passing motorcyclist. That he was National Police did not seem to matter – he got ahead. In fact here passing the police was a given and vis-à-vis.

There was still much quake damage to get around and one road was simply twisted and ripped, while other roads have been newly paved and concreted. It is all a work in progress and we even had a small, yet slippery, water crossing tossed into the mix as well. - all part of the adventure.

Along the countryside we spied many hawks high on the wires, searching for a meal – smaller than our Red-tails – they were still formidable looking raptors. There was even another pygmy owl perched high above as well.Ecuador3DryingRice

In this region you will find Ecuador’s agriculture heartland as we passed through cacao farms and dozens of rice patties. Here the farmers will harvest the rice and simply spread it along the side of the road to let the crop dry in the blaring Equatorial sun – which is very, very strong.

In the large town of Vinces, that has been called Little Paris for its French influences, there is even a small Eiffel Tower along the riverfront that was choked with humanity when we arrived in the late afternoon. As happens we were the center of attention, which can be both good and bad. As my friend Ed said later his Spidey-Sense was tingling.

Ecuador3RafEiffelI knew what he meant. It is best to always to be on your guard on trips like this.

This part of the nation is known for its bananas and famous for arriba chocolate – claimed to be the best in the world.

It was a short jaunt along a few miles that ran through deep green banana trees that closed in on the roadway. Large bunches of the fruit hung from the tree, protected by blue plastic bags.

Our hotel for the night was a bit rustic, but the pool was wet, the food was good and the beer cold.

So far we had seen plenty of wildlife but were not prepared for the knot of toads that surrounded our hotel. Hundreds of these large toads were out in force and we have never seen anything like this.

Vinces to Cuenca

Today’s journey would be a bit further than the previous – which mostly hung in the 150-range. Not big miles, but plenty of smiles, as we took many stops and were here to see Ecuador, not just ride through it.

First we did a walk around the cacao farm. It is amazing to see where all this chocolaty goodness has it beginnings. But, be forewarned, as some might call it a “rain forest” - the word jungle came to mind as marauding and thirsty bugs had their way with us the short time we were in amongst the trees.Ecuador4CacaoJungle

Still, well worth the blood sacrifice.

We left the same way we came in, through a tunnel of banana tree, with their giant leaves and hanging fruit, and made time for a tour of a local banana farm which was both interesting and beautiful as it seemed to go on forever.

By this time the early morning mist had morphed into an early morning rain that would be our companion to the top of the Andes.

A typical Ecuadorian lunch was to be had at a street-side restaurant, filled with locals and National Police. Soups, and rice with your choice of beef, shrimp or tripe. It was hard to go wrong and we just soaked in the local color as the rain banged off the metal roof – sounding more dire than it actually was.

Continuing west the start of the Andes Mountains was not an easy affair as the rocky giants seems to stand abrupt and defiant against the Pacific to the west. The road wound around the mountains and disappeared into a white cloud that enveloped the tops and then quickly cloaked us.

What started as a hearty charge up the peaks slowed to a white cane, four-way flasher scenario that wound ever and ever higher. Around 10,000 feet we broke through the clouds on the far side and as we entered Cajas National Park the brilliant sun of Middle Earth made its return. The stop at 13,000 feet was nothing less than breath taking, and so was the air here. Just a brisk walk to the baño made you slow down as the air was so thin.

Ecuador4TopOfAndesPano

Ecuador4CuencaTableIt was phenomenal to take this all in and all agreed that this day’s ride was the best so far. Remarkably the riding would only get better from here.

We rode down to the colonial city of Cuenca, fighting the tough late afternoon city traffic but eventually found ourselves at the palatial Mansion Alcazar. This was once the presidential mansion and easily one of the nicest places we have ever stayed on any tour we have ridden. Rose petals placed around the rooms, deep, hot and strong double showers and NSA quality Wi-Fi.

This day was Shira’s and our riding companion Ron’s birthday and the lovely redhead had arranged a six-course dinner at a private chef’s home on the other side of Cuenca. We took a bunch of cabs over and got to celebrate two important days in a wonderful style. Chef Yasu moved to Cuenca from NYC some 20 years ago and, after having a traditional restaurant, started serving friends and family in his home. This developed into a weekly fusion menu open to the public and served in the warm and intimate setting of his home. The dishes were creative, innovative and delicious – with many ingredients unknown or served in ways other than we had seen. A sincerely outstanding evening.Ecuador5CuencaOverlook

That night, crawling into bed, we felt a warmth near our feet – as a hot water bottle had been added to the beds and a wonderful chocolate birthday cake had been left for a nighttime snack.

We had started the day at a very “rustic” old cacao plantation and ended up at the high-end of society. We could get used to this.

Cuenca to Macas

Ecuador5RutaGuitarrasCuenca is a very neat city and well worth spending a day or two strolling around, but we had what would turn out to be our longest day yet and had many miles to cover.

But, before leaving the city we followed Raphael’s lead through the center of town, past the flower market and then up to the high vista at the Mirador de Turi, offering a broad and panoramic view of the town below.

The route then headed back into the mountains and along the Ruta De las Guitarras, a region of Ecuador famed for its handmade guitars, mandolins and ukuleles created from the wonderful hardwoods of this tropical nation.Ecuador5Guitarparts

We stopped by one shop and the owner proudly showed us how he created some of these stunning instruments. A mandolin made from an armadillo’s shell was particularly enticing.

If yesterday’s ride through the Andes was fun, this day’s jaunt through the many passes would be spectacular! You can say Alps all you want but the easy and graceful way the roads run up, along and through the Andes in Ecuador make for a far more pleasurable ride than the hairpin, switchback and labor intensive mountains of Europe on any day. Both regions can be technical but one is more techno-lite and just more of a fast paced fun.

All along this ride we had wide variations in temperatures and humidity, all which would be taking a toll on us. Many rode with Camelbaks, but others overlooked the need to hydrate and one rider paid for this, becoming severely dehydrated and was of grave concern for a while as she lay in the shade looking a bit like the turtle on the beach. Chilled Gatorades and ZipFizz to the rescue; we watched her for the rest of the day.

Ecuador5WaterfallMarkThe road wound through deep valleys, ringed by tall peaks. Dozens of waterfalls poured down, some just trickles others would try to charge you to see in the States.Ecuador5PouringEcuador5GiantSnail

One large waterfall ran right through some heavy machinery and pipes diverting the water onto conveyor belts that seemed far out of placed in the surreal mountains. My thought was gold or copper mining; and that was confirmed at breakfast the next day by a South African mineralogist who told me that mineral extraction has been a longtime political flashpoint in this country, especially with the indigenous peoples who feel their land its being bartered away by the government to foreign interests, particularly China.

On a more positive note it seemed Ecuador is very proud of their new hydroelectric system. The plan is that 80 percent of electricity production is to come from hydroelectricity in just a few short years, which was evident by the large dam and massive power lines snaking over the passes.Ecuador5HeleneBug

Although this day’s route was shorter by nearly 80 miles than the previous day we still began to run out of daylight and then there was the blackness that came crawling over the mountains to spread down through the valley.

I looked to the northwest and had that “Ruh Roh” feeling. Although we still had an hour of light suddenly it was like riding through an eclipse. Headlights shone on the rough macadam and the gauges were suddenly brighter. The little green “ping” from my SPOT GPS Tracker began to catch my eye.

Then the winds bent the trees and the rains swallowed us like a tsunami. We got very wet as we rode the last 30 miles into Macas and our warm and dry beds for the night.

It seemed that each day we would run across the “critters of the day” – this day was beetle and snail day. One gas stop was infested with these large beetles that seemed to all be dying, splayed on their backs and kicking their segmented legs. Little monsters they were – but all easily topped by the softball-size snail Shira and Ed found that night outside our room. They once called this side of the Andes a jungle, and with good reason.

Ecuador6BikeMtnValleyMacas to BañosEcuador6RafRiobamba

A hard rain was pounding the region when we were getting ready to leave this day and what is true in the United States is true in South America as well. Getting caught in the rain is a drag; starting in the rain sucks everywhere around the world.

That being said we gave the tempest a half hour to wear itself out.

What I can say about today’s ride was best summed up at breakfast when I stated, “Left, right, left, right, no pavement, rocks, pavement back, rains begin, rains end, sun comes out, right, left, right, left, crazed dog, happy dog, stunning waterfall, waving child, deep valley, hot & humid…Ecuador’s Andes!”

We rode up and into the Sangay Park with its rainforests, three volcanoes and many lakes known for the birds that inexplicably kill themselves by diving deep into the waters.

Here at around 11,000 feet the rains, that had come back to follow us on our journey, made for a chilly ride and we were happy to drop down lower to the relative balminess of 8,000 feet.

After dealing with the chilling rains, we were happy to pull into the gated parking area and enter a pretty swanky restaurant. The other patrons may have given us sideways glances,Ecuador5RafMoscaBW but many just looked and smiled as we made our dripping way to a private dining room. We had another superb lunch of hot sopa, magnificent shrimp and assorted other equally delicious items in the town of Riobamba, which was a giant open street bazaar with merchants and sellers hawking everything you can imagine along the streets and from the shops.

Controlled capitalistic chaos it was.

A few of us were having some…err…gastronomical issues, so I stopped to buy a six-roll pack of toilet paper for a buck - as a memento for them. The teenage girl who I bought them from quickly became the star hawker and Ecuador7RafBanoshad her 15-minutes of fame for selling to one of the unknown riders passing through the town. Shira told me later it was such a deal and that I should have bought a hundred and had them shipped home. I wouldn’t know.

We then motored along some spectacular tiny and tight roads heading to Baños de Agua Santa, passing under the shadow of Tungurahua. At 16, 480 feet, it is the most active volcano in the country, erupting as recently as 2014. This day she was a slumbering giant, but reading about what happened during the last eruption we were glad she was sleeping soundly.

The town has a number of public baths, with the hot springs fueled by the same fires as Tungurahua, and we did a quick soak (could have gone without this) before taking dinner at the hotel and then strolling the town that was hopping on this Saturday night.

Picture an Ecuadorian mountain town version of Key West. In truth a trip around the town is highly recommended - more than going to the crowded public baths.

Our hotel this night was run by two Ex-pat Americans from Alabama, by way of Chicago. They epitomized Steve Goodman’s song Banana Republic in every way and manner.

Making small talk I asked… ‘Cubs or White Socks?’ I then got a pontification of the evils of professional sports and the inequality of Barbie dolls and actual human females. Yup, yup, Ecuador7BanosBriefingyup…. This is why there are so many ex-pat bars in some of these towns.

On a better note, we had a great surprise as Court and Sylvain, the owners of Freedom Tours, joined us here for the next few days.

Tomorrow we would have a shorter day, as we would ditch the bikes in the afternoon for a canoe to head to our next destination, the headwaters of the Amazon.Ecuador7RafZiplineRoad

Baños to the Ahuano – the beginnings of the Amazon

Baños is a town that refuses to let you sleep in. As the first bit of light clears the mountains the town, seeming to party way into the night, begins to awaken with barking dogs, trucks rolling by and the occasional loud 2-stroke scooter with someone heading to work, even on a Sunday.

Time to go.

If the last few days had been a thrilling two-wheel adventure this day would get the adrenaline going in a different way.

Ecuador7Zipline1Near Baños, the Rio Pastaza and her gorges have become a mecca for adventure-tourism and, like the last time we were riding in Ecuador, we would get a chance to soar with the condors as Freedom treated us to a zip-line run across the deep gorge with the Pastaza’s rocky rapids waiting below.

All but a few took to the skies… but there was a catch. There is always a catch, isn’t there?Ecuador7OLifeShot

There was no ride back, but a walk across the Ecuadorian Bridge of Death, consisting of a number of swaying steel cables and various tiny planks, boards, tires, steel grate and lots and lots of open air.

I was half expecting the “old man from scene 24” to ask me five…no three…questions before allowing me to cross the Gorge of Eternal Peril.

As we were not given much choice we took it as a Team Backroads building exercise. About two hundred feet down and a ¼ mile in length and swaying at each step, it had a wide range of chemicals reaching parts of my body that haven’t been touch since the first time a pretty woman let her dress drop to the floor in front of me.

Thank you, Court and Sylvain, for arranging this. Really… thank you and remember, mi amigos, that revenge is sweet and I am patient.

Ecuador7RafBridgeHeading to the rivers that make up the Andean beginnings of the Amazon the route followed along that now typical riding nirvana, with a number of tunnels added into the exciting mix.

So far, other than the occasional tip over and light gravity storm, we had had no real incident on the tour, but this suddenly changed when, on a pass of one bus that ferries the locals from town to town, one of our riders was run off the road and into the rain gulley that runs along the side by the unseeing or uncaring bus driver.

A bit of skill and a whole bunch of luck had him ride down into the culvert and then back out. The riders behind him had quite the show and, in truth, this rider and our group dodged a bad bullet on this one as this could have gone terribly bad.

Yet a reminder to us all that motorcycling anywhere, especially the mountains of Ecuador, is best taken seriously and with a bit of riding talent. Ever diligent. Ever aware.

We made an odd stop before lunch at a place O’Life would have loved – this stop had a cave with supposed bats (who could tell inEcuador7OnTheBoat the Stygian darkness), a tile-lined pool found deep in the rock and a hundred foot tree house with a view of the jungle canopy stretching east to the Amazon and west to the Andes. From here the rain forest (frackin’ jungle!) would stretch hundreds of miles to the Atlantic Ocean.

The chilly and wet air from the previous day had been replaced with hot and steamy and by late afternoon we rode to the Rio Napo where we stowed the bikes and loaded two powered canoes with our gear, motoring downriver to a sprawling “eco-style” hotel along the river that stood out in bold indifference next to the humble river town right next door.

We have found you can build anything… anywhere…if you can work the word “eco” into it.

Ecuador7RafAmazonBy this time I was done – over heated and drained from the day. The pool beckoned and I simply stripped down to my ExOfficio unmentionables and dove in.

Sunset found us on a large deck overlooking the vista downstream with a few beers and more than a few smiles and a horde of ravenous no-see-ums.

While folks prepared for dinner, properly deet’ed up, I sat with a cold drink looking into the mountains where an impressive lightning storm painted the sky miles to the south and hungry bats buzzed around the pool grabbing dinner.Ecuador8RafCat

It might have still been winter back in the northeast but here was something else. Something very, very exceptional.

Ahuano to Papallacta

Shira and I are usually awoken each morn at daybreak by Spenser T. Cat walking over our heads signaling the day has arrived.

Ecuador8ChildrenThis day it was far more tranquil, as tropical songbirds chirped and our day commenced with the sun pushing through the mists along the Rio Napo.

We had a free morning that would start with a canoe trek up river to a jungle compound that helped rehab wounded and hurt animals before release back into the wild, but our real reason for this ride up river was something that Ecuador Freedom Tours calls “Pack for a Purpose.”

The idea being to bring some much needed supplies for local Ecuadorian schools that struggle mightily for the simple things we Americans and our children take for granted.

Before we all left the states our group was told of this excellent program Sylvain and Court participate in and we all brought school supplies, toys and some sporting gear as well down from the USA.

The children were fun, smiling and very into all of us as we spent some time with them. They sang songs for us and then played with us in the yard. The football and baseball were quickly brought into play. Simply wonderful and, on a trip that had had so many highlights so far, was a stellar moment of the tour!

So – we had two boats, a large supply of truck inner tubes atop the canopy and a briskly flowing part of the Amazon. With the mid-day heat starting to build we spent Ecuador8GaryCLASSa bit of time floating down the river in the tubes before we headed back to the hotel, had lunch and loaded our gear back into the powered canoes for the motor back to the bikes miles upstream.Ecuador8Monkey

The afternoon’s ride from the Amazon into the Andes was the typical splendid jaunt with which we had all gotten just a bit too spoiled.

Along the way we made a point to stop in Misahualli, upriver along the Napo, where the monkeys absolutely rule the town. Pepe was in his glory, but stayed tucked in the tank bag because, as cute as they are, you cannot trust the monkeys, as they will steal anything that catches their fancy and will use you as a springboard to get to the trees.

Still, they were fun to watch, especially one who spent the entire time we were there washing its hands furiously in the town drinking fountain.

All was going along swimmingly until we ran into the Antinarcoticos Police. We were stopped for a short bit, Raphael handling all the questions asked by very seriously armed police, but then told to go on our way only to be stopped again by another cadre’ of weaponized constabulary five miles down the road.

Busy day for the local Narcs.

By evening we were again at 11,000 feet and pulling into the mountainside Termas de Papallacta, with naturally fed hot spring pools right outside our cabin doors. As hot springs go this was more like it!

We heard another Nor’easter was most likely going to play havoc with our flights in just a couple of days – but right then we really did not care.

Papallacta to Quito to USA

Ecuador8ThermalBathsToday would be our last day as we all had late night flights back to the USA. But, before returning to Quito we had two stops to make, both special in their own way. The first was to another school to drop off the last of our supplies and say hello to the children. The second was about as cool as it gets in Ecuador; standing on the Equator, zero latitude, at the exact moment of the Vernal Equinox – the instant when, in the northern hemisphere winter turns to spring and, in the southern summer, turns to fall.Ecuador9RafKristinKids

I parked the Africa Twin straddling the line of the Equator and, true to what we had been told, our shadows disappeared when the magical change of seasons occurred. Truly, an amazing thing to experience here at the middle of the Earth.

We took our last lunch on the road and, before long we were fighting the afternoon traffic of Quito and rolling into the gated court yard of Ecuador Freedom and the end of this remarkable adventure.

Or, was it?

Ecuador9AtTheLineWell, the flights back to the United States – Florida in this case - were a go. But from there anything to the northeast was iffy at best.

Mark and wife Betsy ended up renting a car and driving back from Fort Lauderdale to Maryland. Everyone else got home by air, eventually, right into the teeth of the fourth hard storm to belt the region that March.

We started in a snowstorm and ended this tour the same way. But….what an adventure!Ecuador9RafLastLunch

EcuadorRafCrossingBridge

From the journey’s beginnings in Quito to the Pacific at sunset, to the cacao and banana plantations to the opulence of the Presidential Mansion in Cuenca.

Experiencing the adrenaline rush of the gorge to watching our shadows fade away at the cusp of spring where the hemispheres meet.

From the high and misty majesty that is the Andes Mountains to watching the smiling children of a budding school along part of the Amazon – Freedom’s Backroads of Ecuador came through in everyway!

But especially with the riding. That was stupendous! For me everything else was a delicious and sweet icing on the cake, as each day had hours and hours of the most amazing roads. Little traffic, a great mix of decent pavement interspersed with, well, not.

It all made for a spectacular 10 days.

We all were experienced riders and our guide Raphael set a wonderful brisk pace that always kept the grins on our faces and never had us riding beyond any of our limits. Believe me, a slower paced tour would have caused an insurrection.

Ecuador’s police have a practical approach to traffic and motorcycles; as long as you ride with a brain you will be tolerated – act the fool and you will pay. No revenue generation here, just an appreciated horse sense approach.

Raphael and Andy were a constant help and made everything work as smoothly as it can in a place as diverse as Ecuador. They handled every dumb request promptly and each issue efficiently - and with a smile.

Well, Andy is young and Canadian and has not yet been jaded by the world so there is that.

You take all these things into consideration and the fact that, other than the occasional beer or trinket, you never had to touch your wallet the entire time and you can see the value of this tour, which run from $5,100 to $6,600 depending on your choice of machine. Passenger charge is a lofty $3,500, which we know held a few couples back.

All that being said Ecuador Freedom Tours Bike Rentals offer many amazing options for the rider looking to truly escape from the ordinary and journey into a unique and exciting adventure… and this was the reason we chose to return to the middle of the Earth.

You can find out more at freedombikerental.com. Amamos Ecuador!

On