The plan was simple and hardly ambitious. Get an early start and take in the monument that marks the equator. Known as the Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world), I figured why not spend a couple minutes in the Northern Hemisphere and then see how the Southern Hemisphere feels. I could even straddle the equatorial line and be in two Hemispheres at once.
So the day started to plan. I was up at 6-am and out of the hotel on my way to the Mitad del Mundo by 7. Turns out the Mitad del Mundo is closed and doesn’t open until 9:30-am. There’s no way I’m waiting until 9:30 to put my foot on some line that marks the equator. Being here is good enough. I watch security guards enter the park that surrounds the monument through a locked gate. Catching the attention of one of the handsomely uniformed staff, I try to talk my way in explaining my WorldRider journey and my eagerness to get out of the city before traffic and Quito confusion gets unbearable. Nothing works and I’m instantly shut down. Then I pull my camera out and start snapping photos through the chain link fence. I must have looked desperate because moments later a security guard comes running down the path and lets me in. The motorcycle must stay outside but he agrees to watch it. I relish in the quiet tranquility of the Mitad del Mundo and imagine that during open hours the site packed with tourists making photographs challenging. The place looks touristy. But this is the equator and I rode here.
Trying to get out of Quito is challenging. At least from Mitad del Mundo. I just followed my compass south and kept asking directions. No one could really tell me clearly how to find the Pan American Highway South. But soon I was on my way. — at just about the time the Mitad del Mundo was opening. I had hoped to be out of the city by 8 with a plan to get to Loja by nightfall. But with a bit of a push e I figured I could still make it by 5 or 6pm.
For the past couple days big puffy, low and dark cumulous rain clouds hung over Quito obscuring the mountain peaks and volcanoes that create such a dramatic setting for the capital of Ecuador. But for an adventure motorcycle rider these clouds can be boon or bane. In those heated days of crossing tropical zones or dry deserts clouds are a welcome relief from the beating sun. But those heavy, looming and ominous dark clouds could spell unwelcomed precipitation and even lightning. I had dealt with a couple days of rain in Colombia and was eagerly looking for dry weather so I could experience and ride through the highest mountains in Ecuador.
So with Quito in my rearview and the Andean mountain peaks barely piercing the grey hued clouds to the east, I winded my way through fertile valleys passing seemingly dozens of tiny villages to Latacunga and Ambato. As the clock ticked and miles racked skies grew darker unfortunately obscuring the magnificent peaks of 9 of Ecuador’s highest mountains and volcanoes including Chimborazo (Ecuador’s highest) and Cotopaxi. Passing small agricultural communities with large farms, I always attract attention riding slowly through these towns. Local people tend to cattle, sheep, goats or walk along the streets pushing carts full of produce or flowers. Others lead donkeys or mules loaded with firewood for their kitchen and cooking. Women in colorful woven wool garments all sport brown or dark sage colored fedoras, many complete with a tiny feather and balanced precariously on the tops of their heads. Even the young girls sport similar hats. Traffic circles in many of the communities traffic circles were brightened by large sculptures of the corn, tomatoes or the animals that served the livelihood of these towns.
Soon I was climbing past 11,000 feet and then descended into highlands through another valley sitting at 10,000 feet. The landscapes and distances between tiny towns grew greater. Just past Riobamba not far from Chimborazo it started raining lightly. My chants and prayers for relief fell on deaf ears as the sky grew darker and opened up with fierce and powerful pouring rain. Rolling into the tiny town of Guamote, I felt lucky to find shelter in just ten minutes after the sheets of water made vision and navigation practically impossible. I was riding without rain gear and wearing my light summer gloves and getting soaked, This was certainly the hardest rain I’ve experienced on my journey. But then again, the last two weeks since arriving in South America I’ve had more rain than the 5 months combined. So I took refuge under the overhang of the PS gas station in Guamote. Taking advantage of the shelter and a chance to beef up the layering of my jacket and add the gore tex liner to keep from getting wet. Not usually a quick operation, so I usually hold out hoping the rain is short and sweet rather than gearing up for a lengthy rainstorm. But this one looked to stay. After filling Doc’s tank with 95 octane gas, I changed into my foul weather gear. Half-dressed and layering up, four young local indigenous boys stepped into the bathroom. The sight of me in my motorcycle garb them a scare as they let out a scream and ran away back toward the little store next to the gas station.
As I finished suiting up my Westone MH-1 custom ear-molds (dual purpose for music and noise isolation), through which I was listening to great music while riding through these magnificent Ecuadorian highlands must have fallen from the collar of my jacket onto the floor. I remembered draping them over the jacket when zipping in my GoreTex liner. So by the time I got to my bike I realized the ear-molds were still in the bathroom with my group of boys shuffling in as the coast was no clear. Barely a minute later my search through the bathroom yielded nothing. One or all of those boys found my ear-molds and pocketed them.
I’ve left things behind in various places in the past. Sometimes in hotels. Sometimes on the counter of a store or gas station. Sometimes things might just fall out of a pocket. Things happen. In a dozen or more cases such as these over the last six months and 20,000 miles I’ve had them returned to me. So when I asked the crowd of children gathered for my ear-molds explaining that these were for protecting my ears from wind noise, nobody came forward with the goods. Meanwhile children were picked up and dropped off and I lost track of the few that used the bathroom in the 3 minutes I had left. I pulled a $5 bill from my pocket and flashed it at the blank faces of boys and girls aging from 7-12 years. Nothing. I sat there and emptied everything out of my motorcycle looking for these ear molds. I knew they were in the bathroom and my display of frantic searching must have been quite a show. And that was my intention. The women who ran the store was no help. The gas attendants were no help. I was pissed. For the first time in my journey I was duly angry at the local people. These ear-molds would do nobody any good. They were specially made for my ears. I burned an hour and a half at the gas station asking politely for my property. Then I made my speech. In front o the children, bus drivers, local people coming in and out of the store and gas station. I explained than I’d traveled all over the world and never once had anything stolen. And that why would this cute tiny town of Guamote earn the honor of being a bad place in my eyes.
It was futile and my speech was only a shallow attempt at trying to make myself feel better. I left the gas station without music. Pissed.
For the next hundred miles winding through poorly maintained roads lined with children holding their hands out and often holding string or rope across the road hoping to get vehicles to stop. The strings drop usually by the time they realize I’m not stopping. But one time passing in pelting rain, the children were too slow and pulling over later I found string wound around my rear hub and caught on the bottom of my kick-stand.
Several sections of the road were washed out. Others had been diverted where massive rock slides littered the original road. No sense clearing the rocks, just build another road. As the road twisted around Alausi and Chunchi more children, mothers braving the chilling rain and freezing temperature looking for handouts. More women in colorful garb sporting the unusual fedoras. I had hoped to make it to Loja this evening. But the rain and my run-in with the child criminals in Guamote meant switching plans and aiming for Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador.
But the evening fell upon me quick and combined with the dark storm clouds I was losing light fast. Approaching Azogues, only 15km north of Cuenca, I decide I better get off the road. So pulling off the legendary PanAmerican I prepared to pass under a bridge toward the center of this sleepy and nondescript town in Southern Ecuador. Just as I was preparing to make a left turn under the bridge a truck passed under making me swing a bit wider and forcing me to take a line closer to the curb in the right lane. Not a problem. I just swung around and headed under the bridge.
Then I crashed.
It happened so quick. Next thing I remember was my front wheel sliding out from under me and then I found myself standing up and the bike was sliding down the curb. I could hear the Jesse bag scraping loud as the bike slid to a stop. Shaking and wet I quickly surveyed the scene, shut the bike off and flagged down the next car to help me lift the bike. Dark, gloomy and drizzling I spotted my handlebar end weight in the mud next to the sidewalk. The bike appeared okay. A few more scratches and a ding on the Jesse bag combined with a few gouges in the right hand-guards and it appeared that I lost the bolt that held the hand-guard and handlebar weight to the bike. Mud everywhere I was pissed. The road sloped gradually toward the curb where I crashed. Rains over the last two weeks had washed dirt which collected and turned into a fine mouse like texture of mud that I couldn’t see in the twilight as I rode under the bridge. After the truck had passed I must have slowly turned my wheel left toward the middle of the lane when it lost traction and sent the bike on its ride down the curb. I was going barely 15 miles per hour. Good thing. No injuries to me and a few scratches to Doc.
Cold, beaten and mad, Ecuador and I just weren’t getting along.
Photos: (1) Quito skyline with Basilica commanding presence; (2) The sentiment of Ecuador I guess, so I’ll leave; (3)an indigenous women beggar on streets of Quito; (4 & 5) The middle of the world – the equator in Quito; (6 & 7) traffic circles in small villages in the Ecuador highlands south of Quito; (8) The good kids in Guamote, but they knew who had my earphones? (9, 10 & 11) the muddy roads of Ecuador central and southern highlands and the children trying to collect tolls, laying string/rope across the road and one of those ropes tangled in the hub of my rear wheel; (12) The mystic scene of rain, fog and mist in the Andes north of Cuenca, Ecuador; (13 & 14) The scene of the crash in Azogules, Ecuador