Around the Equator in Ecuador

Right after the border between Columbia and Ecuador, we left the Panamericana to drive along a secluded track through the Paramo, an area of high tropical vegetation in the northern Andes. Near the  nature reserve “El Angel“, there is extensive, dense growth of frailejones, unique plants with thick, soft and fuzzy leaves which we had already seen in the high areas of Columbia. A hardly used track led us through a bizarre landscape into the middle of this area. A short hike to a high viewpoint rewarded us with a terrific panorama of the Paramo and mountain lakes. We noticed here what unfortunately was to follow us the whole time –  it is the rainy season in Ecuador, and all the mountain peaks were shrouded in dark clouds most of the time.

In the evening, we reached our campsite “Sommerwind“ in Ibarra, which is managed beautifully by the German ex-pats Patricia and Hans-Jörg, along with their daughter. Here, we were able to take care of several things on the Bremach, had a new roof luggage rack (the old one was full of cracks) welded by Martin, a traveler from Argentina, and met more travelers. Hans-Jörg offers a tour through the hot, humid, mosquito-filled mangroves along the border to Columbia, a very poor and totally non-touristy region. Together with Natascha and Michi from Switzerland, we drove along the coast at a fast pace in Hans-Jörg’s pick-up and discovered remote fishing villages, coconut farms, and producers of panela, Central and South America’s golden sugar on a day-long tour in a small boat. A detour took us deep into a mangrove forest full of red crabs. No other animals could be seen; it is not easy for outsiders to survive on the locals’ menu. We nourished ourselves with the delicious fish dishes and came away with deep impressions of the hard life in this forsaken area.

The highway-like Panamericana then led us over the equator to Quito, where we wanted to give our Bremach a treat. Instead of looking over everything, the IVECO garage unfortunately overlooked things. Three hours later, they were unable to tell us whether they could get us air or oil filters. Since the oil had already been taken out, the old filter had to be put back in. Since this “treat” was also disproportionately expensive, we can only warn any traveler not to use this garage. All the street-side mechanics used so far have done better, more competent work.

We took up quarters in San Rafael since a good friend of Tanja’s had connected us up with the Pozo family, who plan to open a camp-site in the foreseeable future (more information on our list of camping sites). We were their first guests and gave them a few tips to help out with their plans. The large garden-like property with lots of fruit trees, a big pizza oven, and a good location near the bus stop have great potential, and we hope that the Pozos’ idea will be a big success. We were welcomed cordially by them, and they showed us around in and around Quito during the next few days. Among other things, we visited a Good Friday procession, saw Quito by day and night, went to the big Sunday market in Sangolqui, and visited  Fernando’s place of work, the distillery for the delicious “Mitad-del-Mundo“. In addition, we took advantage of the proximity to the city and upgraded our BREMACH with a powerful solar panel. We celebrated Carla’s fourth birthday with a big cake, and she was able to try out her new bike in the big yard right away. On Easter Sunday, we hid a few eggs for the children, and they looked all over around the Bremach for little gifts from the Easter Bunny. For our Easter dinner, we enjoyed the bunny’s colleague from the petting zoo, a delicately grilled guinea pig, a specialty of the region.

After a lovely week with the Pozo family, we reluctantly bade them a fond farewell and headed on to Cotopaxi to see a bit more of the high mountains. Unfortunately, it was cold, wet, and foggy up there; even an early-morning hike up the Rumihaui didn’t give me a better view. At about 15,420 feet (4700m), the thick fog, rain, and a storm forced me to turn around since I had no idea whether or not I was at the peak. In any case, from where I was standing, it was all downhill, and it felt like a peak. There wasn’t much else for us to do in the park. Cotopaxi is stongly glaciated and only climbable in a group outfitted with ropes. Unfortunately, since 2012, foreigners haven’t been allowed to just join this kind of group and may only climb to the peak accompanied by a mountain guide. The guides take advantage of this and feel comfortable charging alpine prices. The reason for the new regulation is that a few inexperienced Asian mountain climbers were up on Cayambe and walking around on the glacier when it suddenly showed its harsh side. Since the, the glaciers in Ecuador can only be accessed with a guide, whereby one of the guides whispered to me that ascents offside the normal ways are still outside of the area of control. When we drove into the park, I was instructed to leave all our glacier equipment with the guard. Of course, we had no equipment of this kind with us ;-) .

In continuous rain, we left the park and drove to the Chimborazo volcano, the highest mountain in Ecuador. Unfortunately, not much of the peak could be seen here, either, but there was a great volcanic landscape, and we set some new altitude records: the highest (and coldest) night at 14,436 feet (4400m) (with 39°F/4°C in the Bremach), the highest parking place at 15,896 feet (4845m), and our first family hike at an altitude of 16,430 feet (5008m). The only thing missing was a better view; otherwise, everything went well, and none of us had any problems with another tour at high altitudes. That is a good sign for our further way through die Andes. It is only our auxiliary vehicle heater that has trouble at altitudes above 12, 470 feet (3800m), but, luckily, our sleeping bags are warm enough.

Our farewell present from Chimborazo was a torn brake cable, which meant that our Bremach had to spend its first night in a garage, in the nearby city of Riobamba, where, to the children’s delight, we landed directly next to the fairgrounds (our loudest night so far). Anyway, the volcano briefly showed us its peak through the clouds on the drive there, so we saw its best side, and it is definitely a place we would like to return to on a later visit. With new brake cables, we are heading for our last destinations in Ecuador before driving on through the Peruvian Andes.

Our private pictures can be found here.

One Thought on “Around the Equator in Ecuador

  1. Andreas PEISSER on Monday May 12th, 2014 at 10:45 PM said:

    Den bildern nach koennte man nicht glauben, dass ihr auf die schnelle das weite gesucht habt, das wetter traegt sicher dazu bei. Ein sehr schoener bericht, weiter so.

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