Having heard from those who crossed early in the day (5am at the border) of it taking up to 11 hours due to the exodus of Venezuelans heading south for better prospects we decided to try later in the day and reached Ipiales at 4.45pm as word on the street was that the Colombian aduana closed at 5pm…… leaving Colombia = 25 minutes – a new record! Not so good getting into Ecuador – we joined a queue of approx. 500 people that went round 3 sides of the immigration building. 6 hours later we eventually had our stamps and headed for a place to sleep – A ‘Love Hotel’ being the nearest and most cost effective option. There are many of these places throughout Central and South America but this was our first experience….honest! You can pay by the hour (here the max stay was 10hrs), you and your car are shut into a private garage and room which you have to request to be let out of, and they are really clean and modern and comfortable, so long as you ignore the plastic mattress and ‘helpful’ posters on the wall! 🙂
After a quiet night we headed on to Quito, via brief stops at; Otavalo famed for its market where we purchased gloves in readiness of the high altitudes to come, and the Equator.
Has is it really taken this amount of driving to get to the middle?? Quito is the usual combination of old city and modern high rises but a pleasant city to spend a few days, our priority being the booking of a trip to the Galapagos Islands. This proved harder than expected but was totally worth it in the end (see separate blog) and we did eventually get to see more of the city than just the inside of various travel agencies.
Next stop was Cotopaxi which we reached with 1 minute to spare before they closed the park gates and where we briefly managed to see the volcano (the only place with snow on the equator) before the cloud shrouded it. A fun night was had in the company of KP & Taylor of ‘RunningfromMonday’ and quite a bit of booze was consumed in the comfort of their pop-up camper. A dull start all round next morning and as the cloud looked set in we abandoned the idea of driving up the volcano to the refugio and headed on instead for the region of the Quilotoa loop. This is a series of villages and hikes that surround a beautiful emerald green caldera. We spent a lovely 2 days relaxing and hiking from Lulu Llama hostel before heading onto another ex-volcano, Chimborazo.
Chimborazo, when measured from the centre of the earth is higher than Everest (due to the bulge in the earths surface) and is an amazing sight – when the cloud lifts. We arrived in thick fog but decided we would risk trying to camp at the refugio at 4800m. Having settled in for the night we kept our fingers crossed it would clear in the morning. As it turned out we learnt a useful lesson – Richard suffers from altitude sickness and spent the night feeling like he had a bad hangover (sore head and insomnia) and Rachel was totally unaffected and slept like a log! By 6am the skies were clear and we were treated to amazing views and we set off to walk to the next refugio up at 5100m. Turns out Richard can hike at these altitudes but Rachel struggled and it took a lot longer than expected to cover 300m of elevation. Having pushed on to 5115m, the highest we could go without a guide and more serious equipment and it being valentines day there was only 1 thing left to do – Propose! Both of us were a little short of breath (I think Rachel thought I was taking a break when I got down on 1 knee!!) so it was short and sweet. 🙂
We fairly skipped down the hill and headed for a cheese factory in a nearby village (where else does one go to celebrate an engagement?) and treated ourselves to a pizza. To add to the day, we also learnt that Rachel had been offered a job at Marlborough, in Malaysia – our next adventure! Having informed family and friends from the comfort of a hotel we headed to Guyaquil in order to catch our flight the next day to Galapagos.
After an amazing ‘holiday’ on the islands we arrived back in Guyaquil to find that in our absence the interior of the car had got soaked (the solar wire running through the door makes an excellent conduit for gallons of rainwater apparently!) so we had no clean dry clothes and quite a mouldy car. Luckily we found a charming hostel in Cuenca where we could spread our kit out in the sun in safety and dry it and the car along with completing a number of chores. Having treated ourselves to a fondue (it’s amazing how much focus is given over to finding decent cheese, by us and so many others!)
We departed Cuenca for Vilcabamba where we were reunited with Overlanddiaries. Rochelle and Ioannis very kindly cooked us a delicious supper and a good evening was had by all. We departed late the next day , leaving R&I to their hang-overs and pushed on towards the border at La Balsa. The road was mostly dirt-track and single lane and very windy – a taste of things to come. Our last night was spent very pleasantly wild camping by a stream and the next day we said goodbye to Ecuador and crossed in quite possibly our easiest border crossing into Peru.
We would both admit to having known very little about Ecuador before we got here but it has left a big impression on us. Although not the biggest of country’s it packs quite a punch – it has huge variety, the people are friendly and welcoming and we would definitely return, we didn’t even get to the Amazon!