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Stage 21


From Otavalo to Machal

Great Venture
Great Venture

It was raining on the morning of 26th Dec, and was very cold. I checked out from the hotel and before crossing the border into Ecuador, I took the opportunity to visit probably the most panoramic church in the world, Santurio Las Lajas. This beautiful church was about 8kms from Ipiales and the road to reach it was pretty steep and winding. Nevertheless, the church was beautiful and stunning and there were lots of visitors there as it was Saturday. I bumped into Bruce & Doug, my sailing mates on the ‘pirate’ boat. It was so nice to meet them again.

After that, I rode to the border. It’s easy to cross both country borders. It took me just 10mins to stamp my passport and cancel the permisso on the Colombian side, and about 40mins on the Ecuadorian side. For the first time in a Latin American country, I didn’t have to pay to enter a new country.

As in Colombia, Ecuador was mountainous and beautiful as well. The road on E35 was okay but there was some construction in parts and it’s no fun to ride on winding downhill gravel. I almost dropped the bike once. One time I had to stop due to a landslide. While waiting for the bulldozer to clear the road, more sand and rocks fell from above. The landslide happened due to the strong wind which moved the rocks on top.

I rode 196kms and reached Otavalo, a small town but very popular with its outdoor market. It was quite difficult to find a guest house here as I didn’t have any Ecuador maps installed in my GPS, so I was going round and round. I found one finally, and didn’t waste much time to explore the very interesting market where the Incas sold their merchandise. Inca guys are handsome.

Navigating my way in Ecuador was not too difficult even.

Ecuador has tolls for motorbikes but it’s only 20¢ per toll. This country does not have its own currency, but uses US$ for trade & business. Unlike its neighbouring Latin countries, I didn’t see a military presence here. 
I rode 320kms via route E35. It’s winding, climbing and windy all the time. I finally reached Riobamba, the 3rd largest city in Ecuador after riding for 5.30 hours. It’s very cold here as this city is surrounded with mountains.

The next day was a very beautiful but stressful ride for me. It started with a very nice, relaxing, pleasant and enjoyable ride. I purposely chose route 35 – 47 – 40 – 25, without knowing what to expect. After all, this was my adventure. Without knowing it, this route happened to run parallel to or above the famous Andes rail line which is an attraction for those who visit Riobamba. I’m glad I chose this route as the train doesn’t run every day, so I still managed to see the same awesome view, but on my bike. It was sooo lovely and I stopped too many times for pics. Then the view changed to pre-desert with bushes (wind was strong here) and later mountains again.

After ascending a mountain, I thought I had entered the clouds because when climbing, I could almost reach the low clouds. In the beginning, visibility was 20meters, then it reduced to 10meters, then 5meters and at times, I couldn’t see anything. I was going at only 10 – 20kmh. The white road lines were my only guide, but after a while, there no more lines to follow (it’s an Ecuador rural road). It was really scary when you had to descend or ascend without knowing where u were going, and I had to brave this for 35kms!!! To make matters worse, there was a road washed away that I had to cross and in the thick fog, I was chased by dogs 3 times.

I was very exhausted by the time I managed to get out from the thick fog zone. My earlier google map calculation was 306kms for today’s ride, but I don’t know how, when I thought there would be 30kms more to reach my destination, the sign board said that Machala was 120km more. Urghhhh!!! In the end, I reached Machala after riding 400kms in 9hrs and spent another hour trying to find a room suiting my budget.

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