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Crossing The Equator

Crossing the equator

My time in “scary” country Colombia comes to an end and it is time for my first border crossing of South America. I’ve heard rumors that sounded too good to be true. No copies, no payments, short queues. Just to be sure I arrived early at the border as always. The part that took the longest to get out of Colombia was finding a spot to park. The passport stamp had a 5 min queue and the cancelling of the vehicle permit was just a window without queue that took my form and said everything was OK. At the Ecuador side finding a parking spot was difficult too. The passport queue was a bit longer (30 min) but I did not need to pay, give finger prints, photos or answer stupid questions. Getting the vehicle import permit took a bit longer but that was mostly due to the fact that I met a Swiss and a Italian guy with their own car (a 35  year old Colombian Lada) and we were too busy exchanging travel stories to notice we were at the wrong window (twice). When we finally found the right window it was pretty quick. No copies, no payments, no nothing. We didn’t even have to (or were able to) buy insurance. We were both planning to stay at the famous Finca Sommerwind in Ibarra that night so we decided to drive together. It was a funny convoy both cars clearly having a hard time driving up the steep mountains with only some 30km/h. We made a stop at the cemetery of Tulcan which is famous for its hedges trimmed in shapes of animals and pre-Colombian statues. Another quick stop at a shopping area. Time to buy some stuff to work on the van and a local SIM card. Ecuador is extremely modern and you can buy the SIM card from an ATM like machine, which is very fast. Sadly it is still South America and after you bought the card you need to stand in a queue for half an hour to get to a counter where you can activate the card (but you couldn’t buy the SIM card at that counter) and then another half an hour wait until the SIM card is activated so that you can put money on it (with the fast ATM machine again). So many points for the idea, minus a gazillion points for actual realization. After that stop it was time to head to Finca Sommerwind, a German owned campsite an hour drive from the border. Sommerwind is known among the overlanders because it is an actual campsite with plenty of space, good power (even 220V), WiFi and very hot showers and is pretty cheap. Loads of the people that travel for 5 years or more end up staying here for more than a month. When we get there there are at least 10 other campers parked there. I already know four of them from earlier stops on the way. Except for a Canadian couple, the Italian guy and myself everyone is German or Swiss.

Tulcan cemetery

I spend the next two full days at the Finca. It’s sunny and dry so I can work on and clean inside the van. With all the other travelers it’s time to tell good stories, catch up at what happened since last time and discussing what’s next. The last topic mostly concerns the flooded roads in Peru. One couple actually was heading south and decided it wasn’t worth it and now drove back up to Ecuador to wait a bit longer.

Large camper at Finca Sommerwind

Time to go explore Ecuador. Once I manage to say goodbye to everyone I drive all the way to Otovalo (which is about an hour away). I’m not here for the famous crafts market but for the nearby mountain with pretty lake and great hikes. I could camp at the lake but that’s at the end of a steep cobblestone road at 3900m. So instead I only go halfway up this steep cobblestone road to a nice hostel where I can park in the parking lot and have a craft beer (flavor!) and pizza (more flavor!) with some of the other guests. The views are nice up here but it is pretty cold so I’m very happy with the fire place in the living room.

Hiking near Otovalo

I can’t leave early for the hike because this place has breakfast included! But after that I head out with my ambitious plans of finally reaching the 4000m line. The hostel is at a bit less than 3000 meter so it will be a good climb. After 11km and some 900 height meters I finally reach the laguna. It’s pretty with some really nice peaks around it but sadly it’s getting cloudy very quickly. I start walking along the lake and up the peak on the other side when it starts raining. A bit later a thunderstorm gets closer and it starts pouring. I have my rain jacket but forgot my rain pants. With all the clouds and rain the views aren’t getting any better so I decide to turn around at some 3900m. No 4000 today. On the way back along the laguna it gets dry and sunny again. I stop for lunch at a spot where I can see some idiots that decided to drive their cars up here and are now at the lowest point between muddy slopes and very much stuck. When I start the 11km decent to the hostel it starts pouring again and this time a lot. After about 5km, a very full very tiny car stops and offers me a ride down to the hostel. I like my hikes, but I’m not going to say no to this. Time for a hot shower, hot tea and early sleep.

Hiking near Otovalo

The next morning it’s foggy and rainy again. So I head down and towards my goal for today: the equator! Almost exactly 9 months ago I was at the Arctic circle in Canada and now I’m at the equator! Funnily enough the Arctic circle was sunny and warm. The equator is rainy and cold. No reason to stop at the monument and pay entrance to listen to a compulsory guide in the rain. That night I camp a few hundred meters from the equator at what is basically a family’s garden. They have a nice field to park in and if I need a toilet or a shower I can use the bathroom in their house, which is in their living room behind a too small shower curtain. The kids are very excited about the visitor and want to know everything and see everything in my van. Later I get invited to eat corn cobs with them in their kitchen. After it got dark, when it’s raining, again they come by my van with some fresh herbal tea from their own garden.

The next morning it’s sunny and I get a quick tour from the family of their land with a nice view over the valley where they’re building a large insect house to help the local stick insect population recover. Of course I can’t leave before saying goodbye to everyone and getting some fresh avocados from their garden. From the equator it’s only a short drive to the world’s highest capital: Quito. But before I get to see the colonial city I first need to visit a mechanic. As always I have many things that could use some work, but I first only give them some easy stuff. Depending on how they work I give them more stuff to do or continue my trip. These guys were highly recommended and the other overlanders who have been living at this mechanic for over a month say they’re really good (these guys have been travelling for seven months but are already on engine replacement number three, I guess I’m quite lucky). These mechanics might be good but they’re not quick. They keep telling me they’re starting on my van soon but it takes them until late in the afternoon to start. They need a new belt, which I have to go buy together with them. Turns out they got the wrong one so they have to change it. When they’re finally done it’s too late to go look for a place to stay. I can stay in their parking lot for free. It’s gated, has a toilet and WiFi. Not that bad and in more than one year the first time I need to stay at a mechanic overnight. Not because the problem was big, but that doesn’t matter.

Quito church rooftop

After the mechanic I head to Quito where a hostel let’s you park in their parking lot and has everything I need. Excited to see the city after a day of hanging around in the mechanics workshop I head to the old city. When I’m almost there it starts pouring rain. And I mean pouring. The streets all turn into 15cm deep rivers. I hide in a shop and wait for it to get dryer. My rain plan is to head to the National Museum across the park. Problem 1: even when it’s almost dry the streets are still filled with water. Result: very wet feet. Problem 2: the National Museum is closed/abandoned for what looks like a longer period of time and it doesn’t look like it will open any time soon. I guess I’ll head back to the hostel for dry clothes and wait for tomorrow.

Bad weather coming up in Quito

The weather logic I have found is that here in the Andes in Ecuador the weather is great from early morning until about 2 in the afternoon when it starts raining. So I head into Quito early. As an UNESCO city it is filled with beautiful old colonial buildings and churches. In one of the churches you can climb the towers. But there is a warning sign that this is not for old people and people who are afraid of heights. After climbing to roof level inside the towers you need to cross the roof over some unstable looking wooden planks. Than you climb up to the top of the tower on the outside over a steep, narrow ladder. Also not to stable looking. But the views over the city are great. I notice that the clocks on both bell towers are differently wrong and not working. I find an information sign explaining the problem. The clock mechanism was built in 1987 but already stopped working in 1993… There was an attempt in 2013 to fix the mechanism but it failed. This does not really speak for the engineering quality of this building, I hope the clock people did not design the ladders too. I zigzag some more through the city slowly heading back when the sky is turning dark. Today’s rainy time plan is the modern art museum. At least that’s the plan. This building is open and there is someone there to let me in but only one room has any art in it. I guess I don’t have much luck with museums in this town. I just make it back to the van when it starts raining again. This time plan works pretty well. Tomorrow I’ll start using it in the mountains!

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