We love the Colombian countryside. The southern jungle was just as good as the mountains (almost, if it weren’t for that darned mosquito ridden humidity). We headed towards the eastern most Ecuadorian border town and spent the night just north of the border outside of a town called Macoa. The roads there were beautiful winding jungle roads in quite good condition, with the occasional exception, like this landslide, where instead of removing the landslide from the road, they just built a new path around it.
Just outside of Macoa there was an eco-lodge we found that I can’t remember the name of because my mind has mentally blocked out the terrible experience. It’s an eco-lodge so there’s no AC and we are in the jungle… but I can deal with that. There are giant spiders, but they’re only spiders, they don’t bite. I think. But the proprietors blasting reggae through the thin walls until the middle of the night AND starting up again at 7am was the real issue. The only benefit was the ambient temperature water that aggressively fell out of the “shower head”.
But the following day we left bright and early, thanks to the reggae alarm clock, and headed out on a road that soon turned to dirt, gravel, and large rocks. It was kind of fun, although it was quite dusty from the giant trucks who were the only other vehicles on the road. After a while Chris pulled over because his GPS was vibrating so much he couldn’t see it. He took off his fairing and realized that while the Touratech mount was perfectly fine, where it attached, the Rally Raid aluminum fairing stay, had snapped on both sides.
Zip ties work wonders, and we continued on. We got to the border after a couple hours, and it was a pleasant ghost town. We strolled up to the Immigration desk and looked around for a moment before someone came running over to help us.
I was processed out of Colombia in seconds, and I headed over to the customs desk on the other side of the empty building. The Ecuadorian customs guy was sitting at his desk, but the Colombian guy wasn’t. I asked the Ecuadorian guy what was up and he told me the Colombian guy was at lunch, in the cafeteria across the hallway from the desk. Okay, lunch. It’s 1:30 and I hoped maybe we had missed the lunch run, but it’s not a big deal, we can wait for dude to have lunch. After a few minutes of waiting I headed back over to Chris at Immigration because he was still standing there. He reiterated the conversation he had with the Immigration officer moments before:
Immigration Officer: “Where’s your visa?”
Chris: “I don’t need a visa.”
“Uganda. De Uganda. Necessitas una visa.”
“Do I look like I’m from Uganda,” Chris says, pointing to his face. “I’m not from Uganda, I’m from United States. See, it’s written here on my passport, and here, and here.”
This took a while to convey with the language barrier. But eventually we all realized that the immigration officer on the entry side in Cartagena had scrolled down the drop down menu of countries and accidentally hit Uganda, which sits nicely above United States. After many phone conversations and keyboard button pushing, the officer at this end managed to be able to process Chris out of Colombia, presumably as a US Citizen (but who knows?). We head back over to the customs desk and Colombia is still not back from lunch. We get some water, sit around a while, and wait. And wait. And wait. An hour and a half later, he finally shows up. He looks at our paperwork, presses a button on the computer and that’s it, we are done. No stamps, no papers to give to Ecuador, nothing. So now we are ready to take one step to our left and deal with the Ecuadorian customs officer. While he is processing our paperwork I start chatting to the guy next to me who asks me how to say “cerveza” in English (it’s beer). He then points to the three cases of beer behind the customs desk and tells me he was trying to enter Ecuador with it and it was confiscated. Bummer! Behind the customs desk is not only his three cases of beer, but dozens more sitting next to piles of cigarette cartons. Those lucky, thieving customs bastards!
But within moments we were done and on our way again. It took a little while longer because of Colombian custom’s extensive lunch, and the fact that Chris is from Uganda, but overall it was a super easy, mellow border, which is always a relief. We continued on into Ecuador and stayed at the first town we came to, Nueva Loja. It was a hot, humid, unappealing in every way, town. But our hotel lobby looked kind of like a shady nightclub, so that was fun.
The following day we started to climb in elevation and the humidity disappeared. We remained in a sort of cloud forest, with some water on the roads, in the air and everywhere, but we were high enough that the temperature was pleasant, as was the scenery. There were tons of brightly colored birds flitting across the road in front of us, and giant leaves hanging off the sides of the mountains. It was all very picturesque and enjoyable, but soon enough we climbed higher and higher, through a pass at about 15,000 feet, where it was freezing, and left the jungle behind us. Descending from that pass the road was like a race track: super smooth, fresh asphalt and large sweeping turns that could be taken at 120kph. It was fun. It was also noticeable how much safer and calmer the drivers were in Ecuador compared to Colombia. There are far fewer motorcycles, and people seem to generally obey the rules. It was quite nice.
Our destination was outside of Ibarra, in a town called Urcuqui, home of Jason Litzenberg, who runs the English department at Universidad Yachay. Jason is the older brother of Kevin, Chris’ childhood pal and current best bud. We didn’t quite make it to Jason’s that night, and instead we stopped at a hostel at the base of a mountain, called Casa Eden. We got dinner, breakfast and a bed for $18. It was a pretty good deal. Apparently a couple days before they had been full, but now we were the only people there. It was nice, and quiet, and the lovely owner, Eden, was a very interesting woman, and a great cook. Over our delicious dinner she told us how she came to purchase the building we were sitting in, and how in the 70s the hippies came and slept on her floor and helped her clean the place out, and told her she should turn it into a hostel, which she did. It was a delightful place and we wished we could have stayed there longer, and possibly hiked the mountain that we saw out of our window for about three minutes when the fog cleared. But alas, we had a friend to see.
So we drove to Jason’s campus and he settled us into his sweet little apartment. We got to park our bikes right outside the door! He has a little glassed in patio that gets toasty warm from the sun, and then a nice one bedroom with, most importantly, hot, hot water, and fast, fast internet!
That evening we went out for drinks in Ibarra and found a bar with a Jenga set. It was a lot funnier at the time than I can possibly explain, so all I will say is that we are awesome at Jenga, especially with the confidence of a few beers.
The following day Jason introduced us to a colleague of his and we all made plans to go on a bicycle ride after work. Jason told us it was a nice tourist thing to do and we happily agreed. He did not tell us that it was uphill both ways on a cobblestone road. But we managed to have fun and avoid getting attacked by dogs.
We had a few more days at Jason’s to relax before our upcoming Galapagos vacation, so we went on a nearby hike that had hot springs at the start and a waterfall at the end. We figured we would do the hike, then get back to the hot springs as a reward. The hike was very pretty and mildly challenging, with a steady uphill. We were the only people out there and it was very quiet and beautiful.
When we got back down and entered the hot springs they were a huge disappointment. Two pools were cool, and this pool had hot water coming out of the PVC pipe into the pool, but the six inches of stagnant, murky liquid in the pool was not enticing enough to be worth it. I wanted so badly to be in a hot spring so I stood under the PVC shower for a while until Chris got bored and convinced me to head back to Jason’s for an awesome hot shower and some delightfully quick internet.
Pretty soon it was the time you’ve all been waiting for: Galapagos time! So we bid Jason goodbye, said thank you so much for being such an awesome host, and headed to Quito to ditch our bikes at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental and get on a plane to the coolest place in the world.