A week past my planned arrival in Quito, I make unenthusiastic preparations to leave Lobitos. My friends plan to head south, to Piura, and they prod me to come along and keep the family together. Adam's Cheshire cat grin is particularly potent in this regard, having already convinced me once to postpone Ecuador when we were in Máncora, but I have looming appointment in Quito that can't be rescheduled as well as a concerning grumble coming from the bike's engine that I can't ignore. After many hugs and kisses, I find I'm still just as sappy as ever with goodbyes. Afterwards it's a long ride north through the desert as memories of the past couple of weeks shuffle around in my mind. The only thing to do is put miles between myself and my friends to convince myself the fun is over. By evening I make it to Tumbes, the last town before the border.
After a tranquil Sunday morning ride I roll up to yet another one of the arbitrary lines on the map known as a "national border". This makes the ninth time on this trip I've found myself straddling such an invisible wall, where man-made signs insist that I observe the differences between the two sides. Next to the road I scan the hills, the clouds, the leaves on the trees for any indication that the earth has made itself aware of the supposed distinctions. It seems that, once again, nature has failed to patriate itself to man-made sides.
Nevertheless, on this day I find myself still subject to the laws of man. I anticipate the now-familiar difficulties of getting a motorcycle across national lines, and am certain not to spend another day arguing with customs agents like I did getting into Perú. After paying a few dollars to the border office's "document processing department" (i.e. a five-year-old girl sitting next to a copier on a stool on the sidewalk), I confidently present the bike's registration, now with my name on it thanks to the magic of Photoshop and few carefully-placed creases. Unfortunately there is only one guy working the Sunday shift at the customs desk, and he is unimpressed. He tells me that the bike came by this exact office a few months earlier with her previous owner, so he's not letting me through until I can give him something more convincing than a copy of the registration. After a few meek attempts to subtly suggest paying my way through the problem, I can tell he is unfazed. My heart sinks.
For some unknown reason, the Ecuadorian customs desk at the actual border is empty, and the working office is a small brick office sitting on the side of the highway a few miles inside Ecuadorian territory. A small town called Huaquillas sits between the border and the customs shack, so after my unsuccessful customs confrontation I slink back to Huaquillas to consider my options.
The next morning I emerge with a "renewed registration" from the department of motor vehicles' "website". I make glossy photocopies of every page of every document I have with me, hoping to overwhelm the customs agent this time with my sheer preparedness. I arrive to a pleasant surprise: my shrewd friend from the Sunday shift is nowhere to be seen. Behind the glass is a woman who looks to be in her late twenties, and it takes no time for me to form a new plan.
I saunter up to the window with the rugged charisma of Indiana Jones and nonchalantly slide the papers through the slot in the glass, chatting with her all the while and making sure to say something particularly funny whenever I see her scrutinizing one of the fake documents. A minutes later she walks out to the parking lot to take a picture of the bike, and suddenly waves over a police officer. My heart explodes in my chest, and I feel the sweat condense on my forehead as he walks over. Then she hands her camera to him, grabs my hand, places it around her waist, and asks me to pose for a picture with her.
A moment later I'm handed my import permit for the bike. Before I complete my getaway into Ecuador, I meet David and Paula from Cali, Colombia. They're on their way south to Máncora on David's Kawasaki Ninja, which makes for a very different kind of trip than, say, a KLR. (I'd find out why once I got to Colombia)
The first thing a motorcyclist realizes when entering Ecuador from Perú are the great roads and the cheap gas. Based on my experience riding in Perú, I had figured at least four or five days to get to Quito from the border. Thanks to the sudden spike in the quality and wideness of the roads, I find myself roaring past mile after mile of banana plantations, cruising through El Oro and Guayas provinces before the afternoon. By nightfall, I've climbed into the Andes north of Cuenca. The ascent from the scorching coastal lowlands back into the cloud-covered mountains is so sudden that I hadn't thought to dig my jacket out of the bottom of my bag, so I end the day's ride cold and wet.
The next afternoon I catch up with a group of riders on DRs, KLRs, and GSs; a dead giveaway that this crew is not Ecuatorian. I introduce myself to the group's leader at the next stop, and it turns out we already sort of know each other. Court Rand is the American owner of Freedom Bike Rental in Quito, and I've been prodding him via email for tips about riding in Ecuador for the past few months.
Thanks to my dumb luck, I stick with Court's group the rest of the afternoon. We follow him along backroads while he navigates around Ambato's rush hour traffic and volcano-induced road closures on our way to Baños, Ecuador's mainland tourist hotspot (the Galapagos Islands obviously hold the top position). I make sure to take an early-morning dip in the town's namesake hot springs at the foot of the Cascada de la Virgen, along with about a hundred old people.
That afternoon, I meet up with Diego, owner of Mariscal Motos and Freedom Bike Rental's go-to mechanic. He guides me along the back roads out of Baños on our way to the capital, making for a fun, traffic-free ride. It's made all the more enjoyable by the fact that I've forgotten to buy the mandatory liability insurance when I entered the country, so I don't mind skipping the police checkpoints on the main roads.
At Diego's shop in downtown Quito, I give him a rundown of To-Do's on the bike, and after a thorough washing we put her in the garage to hibernate. In my opinion, a happy bike--like a happy dog--is a dirty one, so the only baths the bike has received since Patagonia were on rainy days. After a thorough soaking with the power-washer, I'm reminded that, underneath nearly ten-thousand miles' worth of dirt and grease, the bike is actually black and red.
I have a plane to catch in a few days, but without a bike I'm at a loss as to how to fill the time. I spend my first day wandering Quito's historic town center, chosen by UNESCO as the first World Heritage site thanks to the unaltered condition of its colonial architecture.
The town offers no shortage of sights, but if I'm to survive another day of it I would need to find new footwear. Flip flops don't do the trick when walking in the rain, and I had lost my trusty Keen's somewhere on the road north of Lobitos thanks to a poorly-fastened bungee cord. My Alpinestar riding boots weigh about seven pounds each, so after a day hiking around with those I'm determined to find something lighter. I come to realize that a cheap pair of sneakers in Quito presents a challenge to anyone with big feet or discriminating tastes.
In the end, thee is literally one pair of shoes that I can find in my size. Since I can't help the size of my feet, so I put personal preferences and pride away and walk away with these sweet kicks.
Yes, I really did buy them.
Once I have more comfortable--if much less-flattering--zapatos, I pass my days taking in Quito's sights and ducking into bakeries to avoid the hourly rainstorms.
I have the next point on the map that I know I'll be arriving at next; Puyo. It sits just below of the foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes' eastern slope, where the Amazon Rainforest begins. From there, that broad blanket of green spans all the way to the other end of the continent, covering over two-million square miles of South America before it meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Diego calls one afternoon and tells me the bike is ready, and I leave Quito the next Saturday. The only thing clearer than the blue sky are the roads, and I wear a grin all the way through the Valle de Tumbaco and past the cloud forests near Papallacta before my cheeks finally give up. Just beyond Baeza the fog lifts and the steep mountainsides become rolling hills, eventually giving way to a soft sea of green that stretches to the eastern horizon.