Week 36 - Ecuador Finale!
We left Puerto Cayo by 10am and said goodbye to Ron and Janet, and all of the dogs we'd looked after for the past two and a bit weeks. If we'd been staying put we would have adopted Bobby, but the travel must continue.
We were a little sad to leave, although not having to get up at 7am would be nice. We fuelled up and rode out of Puerto Cayo, heading West to a town called Jipijapa (or hippy happa when you pronounce it, which we thought was quite a cool name). Our mission for the day was to get past Guyaquil, and we had no intention of stopping in the city as we'd been told it was quite an industrial city and not really the nicest place to be. We will never know for sure, but skipping a big city is always a bonus!
The weather was good and the scenery was beautiful, especially for the latter part of the journey. We made really good progress and nearly made it all the way to Cuenca, however it was cold and the light was starting to fade so we pulled up at a hotel about 20km outside Cuenca. Sadly they wanted $120 for a room, which was crazy, but they advised us there was another little place a km down the road. We headed there and negotiated a room for under $20 for the night. It was a small place and the accommodation was set back and up high off the road, above their little restaurant. We got to the room and changed into some warm clothes for the first time in quite a while, then headed down to the cozy little restaurant to have a bite to eat. On our return to the room it was super cold. We tried to light a fire in the little log burner but the wood they had given us was damp, so it was a big fat fail. I got under the covers in my merino bottoms, top and down jacket with the hood up! I didn't warm up for ages.
The next morning we set off on the last 20km to Cuenca, and we had found a really cheap hostal with parking. When we got there is was still early, but luckily they allowed us to check in once the room was tidy and we discovered why the room was so cheap; it was at street level and where there was once a doorway was now a piece of wood with a cupboard in front of it, so earplugs were definitely required. After we settled in we contacted our South African friends Michnus and Elsebie, and met up in a local coffee place. It was really lovely to see them again, plus we met Joseph Savant, who was also travelling the Americas on his BMW 1200. We discovered that Joseph's bike had an oil leak issue, however this was quite a serious one and meant riding further was ill-advised and the repair process entailed some serious dismantling of the bike. The next day, we were shocked at just how much dismantling had been done, so much so, his bike didn't look very bike shaped anymore. Luckily, things got better from this point on and the parts were shipped quickly from the USA and the mechanic was confident he could sort the bike out. Phew! I have to say, we've become quite used to the dreaded feeling of bike breakdowns and having to put your trip in the hands of a mechanic you don't know. It's not a great feeling.
In Cuenca they have a Panama hat museum, which was quite cool, and showed the history of the hats as well as how they make them. There were a few that I would have quite happily had, but when travelling on a bike, souvenirs and additional purchases isn't really an option unless it's bike related. We got to try on a few though and got a free tour, so it was worth a visit. We also stumbled upon a metal smith, or at least a guy who made a tonne of things out of different types of metal. Joseph was ushered in to try on a Viking helmet and Kelvin got to try the Roman style helmet. It was really interesting. In his little shop there was a tonne of things he had made, and the craftsmanship was superb. It's sad as a lot of this type of stuff is bulk made in the UK now, made by a machine and no uniqueness.
The other thing that we really enjoyed in Cuenca, which Michnus and Elsebie told us about, was the big market and what was on the top floor...lots of people selling Pork! Not just any pork, proper fresh pork, much of which was marinaded and it came with some semi fried mashed potato. It was delicious. We weren't overly hungry when we went however after one portion between us, we decided to buy another for later on because it tasted so damn good. If you are in Cuenca, it's something that's seriously worth checking out!
We also met a lovely Belgian / US couple in Cuenca called Caren and Jean Louis. Caren was from California in the USA and Jean Louis was from Belgium, and they were super nice, travelling in a van through the Americas.
We all met at a bar where there was meant to be some Jazz going on, but it failed to materialise, so after some food we headed off for an evening walk in the city. This turned out to be quite good as being near Christmas, there was an abundance of lights everywhere and all up the river, including a huge steel Christmas tree in one of the squares. We took far too many photos, most of which I have to say are useless, except those not taken by us (thank you Michnus and Joseph). We then managed to locate a Belgian bar with lots of proper beers...not my cup of tea but everyone else enjoyed a nice beer. Sadly, I hadn't slept much the previous night so I was beyond tired, and we called it a night.
Completely aside from bike issues, we decided to tackle another potential issue in Cuenca. The Yellow fever vaccine. So, when in the UK, if you have already had a yellow fever vaccine, it is now valid for life, regardless of when you had it. Excellent. Kelvin had his over 10 years ago and normally they are only valid for 10 years. So in the UK, we were assured by two travel nurses that we did not need to get Kelvin another vaccine as his was now valid. However, they would not write this on his previous card as it was 'not needed'. Ok, so this may be all well and good, however we have heard stories of people trying to explain this in Spanish at the border without much luck. It seems that not everyone is aware of this new piece of information by WHO, including border officials. Luckily for us, in Cuenca we were able to get Kelvin this vaccine for FREE, really easily at a local health centre. Michnus had his a few days before and we decided to go for it as trying to argue with border officials was not on my list of things I wanted to do. So, beware people, we may have updated info in the UK, but if the border official says no in some other country, it could mean one hell of a big detour!
After a lovely two days in Cuenca is was time to head South. We opted to meet Michnus and Elsebie in a petrol station South of the city to make life easier as we were staying in different places, plus Cuenca has a weird and wonderful one way system. When we got to the petrol station there was quite a few bikers there, waiting in the shade. After we filled up, a few of them came over and said hello. They were all meeting up to take Christmas presents to the kids in hospital, which was really lovely. A bit like our Santa runs in the UK. They also mentioned 'PikiPiki' our South African friends, and said they'd seen them on facebook...small world. They were all quite excited when we said that they were in fact meeting us here. It was quite funny because they asked us where we were going, and we replied that after Vilcabamba we would go to Peru. They asked which border and we said the one to the East in the mountains. They explained there were only two borders further west. I got out Maps.me on my phone and showed them La Balsa, to which they replied, "ah ok, there's three borders". You learn something new everyday! We had a few photos and then Michnus and Elsebie showed up. The bikers had to shoot off, but not before they'd greeted the infamous PikiPiki duo!
We headed down to a town called Vilcabamba, where we stayed another two nights. This town is famous for its inhabitants living a long time, however true or untrue this may be. It is definitely a hotspot for tourists as we found out when we got there, and many of the places in the town had their menus or wares written in English (always a bad sign that things will be more expensive). We found a nice little hostel outside of the main town, unfortunately minus a working fan, but complete with a large carpark and a super cute puppy! I fell in love with it immediately, despite it's poor bladder control. There was also a very lovely and relaxed cat, who didn't mind a quick cuddle. I was a very happy lady!
The Belgian couple also made it to Vilcabamba, so we met them for one last time at a restaurant, where I had the most amazing swordfish for dinner. I don't think I'd actually eaten swordfish before this point, however I won't forget it. I wasn't overly thrilled by the prices, however splashing out a little once in a while is probably a good thing and makes you appreciate the good stuff more. The town itself was quite pretty, and I can see its attraction. We didn't go to the nearby hot springs although apparently these are nice, but a bit too overpriced for us, and we were most definitely spoilt in Colombia at El Sifon by the natural and cheap hot springs there, not much else compares now.
On leaving Vilcabamba, we headed directly to the border at La Balsa as today was the day we'd go to Peru. Our second ever land border crossing! Again, the nerves were there, but they soon settled once I was on the bike and concentrating on the route, not on the border crossing. Sadly, the fuel station we had anticipated was in fact a roadside fill-up with just some huge fuel containers in a little shack and it was chucking it down with rain, however we were glad that there was any fuel at all, because if not then we'd have all run dry. Right, first roadside fill up here we go! Fortunately we all had in-tank fuel filters from Guglatech, which gives piece of mind and an umbrella, and before we knew it we were border bound once again.
The road was really good, all dirt road but nothing very challenging. Before we got to the border we stopped for a quick bite to eat at a tiny little roadside cafe, which in Britain you would have probably mistaken for a shack. It was good though and we also met another traveller on a bike from Belgium who had just crossed the border, thankfully with no issues. After our little rest, we cracked on and finally reached the border in the sun again at about 1.30pm. The last little bit on the hill down towards the border was the only bit of off-road I nearly screwed up on, but I managed not to! Woohoo, Peru here we come!