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Successfully across the border, we rolled into the first town of El Tulcan to purchase our phone SIM card and stock up on supplies. We stopped at a little tienda that had a Claro sign out front, but ended up purchasing a SIM card that was too big to fit our iPhone. We have purchased several SIM cards that have needed a manual “haircut” before they will fit in our phone, so we naively assumed that would work for this card, but no dice. We hopped back in Sweetcakes and headed down the main drag to the Claro customer service center. A friendly employee greeted us at the store and after we explained the situation, informed us that we needed to wait 10 minutes for our SIM to activate, then they would give us a new SIM. Ok, great! No problem. So we waited, and waited, and finally after an hour he told us that he was still waiting on the SIM card to activate, and that it shouldn’t be much longer. I was going stir-crazy, so we left the SIM card with the employee and headed for the town’s market, which Ike had found during the reconnaissance mission on which I had sent him.
We ducked through the entryway and found ourselves in a beautiful, clean, non-chaotic market, the likes of which we had not seen thus far on our trip. Bathrooms! Prepared food! Order and organization, hallelujah! We promptly noticed that a dozen or so people were scarfing down something in a yellow bag that must be delicious is fveryone else is eating it. It took us all of 20 seconds to locate the source of this deliciousness, and we hopped in line behind a couple of others. When we got to the front I asked one of the 2 elderly women working the stand how much these unknown delectibles cost. “50 centavitos, nina,” she responded. “Just 50 little cents, girl.” Except “nina” was used endearingly. The food was something like Ecuador’s version of a walking taco, with grilled liver, giant kernels of white corn, beans, and crispy roasted yellow corn kernels all mixed together. I about died and went to heaven. We followed this up with a glass of mora (blackberry) juice that came with (possibly unlimited) free refills. I observed the other juice stand patrons chugging down their glass of juice and handing it back to the women to be refilled. After we downed our first glass, I walked over to the stand and sheepishly handed back the glass, figuring I would follow her lead. If she plopped it in the sink to be washed, no big deal, I hadn’t purchased the unlimited refills option; if she filled it up with more juice, excelente! Much to my delight, it was the latter. We continued to wander around the market, buying groceries for our meal that evening. The woman running the last shop we popped into curiously asked where we were from. Upon hearing that we were from the US, she was happy to find out that we were cooking for ourselves and using local ingredients. We love when locals express interest in our trip. Kind people and cheap, delicious food. I think we will like it here!

I prefer Ecuador’s version of the walking taco to America’s. Who knew liver, beans, and corn could taste so good?
On the way out of town, I asked to swing by a little store: our rum and beer supplies were dangerously low! I told Bethany she could wait with the car and I would get what we needed. I went inside and a woman working there came out and asked me what I needed when she saw me looking around. Naturally, I started ticking off our grocery list to her: milk, beer, coca-cola. All was going well until I got to potato chips. Uh…what’s the word for that again? ‘Doritoes?’ I ventured. Bingo! “Rum for Ecuador?” I asked, meaning instead to say ‘Ron de Ecuador’ instead of para. She figured out what I was asking about though, and we checked out. The woman handling the register made sure to run over the list loudly for me [and everyone else] and I have to say, it was pretty American: milk, rum, coca-cola, chips, beer. Feels good man. Felt even better when we realized the rum cost only $3!
All our stocks replenished, we rolled out of town and onto the pristine Ecuadorian highways. Seriously, some of the best roads we’ve seen since the US! It doesn’t hurt when the highway is flocked by beautiful scenery on either side: lush, green rolling hills, with cultivated land going incredibly high up the mountains. Our first destination in the country was El Angel Nature Reserve, located up in the highlands just south of the Colombian border. We typically plan our route by reading blogs from previous overlanders, but this place was recommended to us by Juan, one of Ike’s acquaintances from his study abroad in Japan that happens to be a Quito native. We drove out to El Angel town in search of the park’s tourism office, but arrived to see it closed down. We weren’t entirely sure that we could camp at the place we were heading, but figured there would be someone at the park entrance to give us some more information. We zig zagged our way out of the little town and over some bumpy gravel roads, eventually making it to the park entrance. The small building there had broken windows with no one inside. Unsure of what we were getting ourselves into, we soldiered on. The 15 kilometer drive over a one-lane rocky road was a bit hard on my spinal column, but gave us beautiful panoramas overlooking the mountainous highlands and the towns in the valley below.

How could you  not fall in love with this landscape?

We didn’t mind waiting for this badass abuela to cross the road. Does your grandma wear her baseball cap backwards?
El Angel is the only place in Ecuador where the frailejon (which, according to google, is called the “espeletia” in English, and is related to the sunflower) plant is found. Frailejones are also found in Colombia, and we saw a ton of them during our visit to El Cocuy National Park. But there were even more here in El Angel! They covered the mountainside, as far as we could see in nearly every direction. It was cloudy and cold up in the mountains, which gave this desolate, yet beautiful landscape somewhat of an eerie feeling. We pulled up to the Voladero Lake area and were surprised to find a nice, new visitor’s lodge and a parking lot. Even more surprisingly, a woman appeared from the lodge and asked us to register. We wrote down our names and passport numbers and got out the wallet to pay the park entrance fee, but were told it was free. Being mid afternoon and with nothing else to do, we decided to set off on the 2.5 km hike through the nature reserve that had views of the nearby lakes. The path started off easy, with gradual inclines and more stunning views of the frailejon-covered mountains and the valley below. We soon rounded a corner and were greeted with views of the nearby lakes. The trail continued on, but with warning signs indicating it was for “strong hearts only,” because it steeply climbed up to the top of the peak, where a mirador provided beautiful 360 degree views of the area. We huffed and puffed (we were around 3600 meters, after all!) and eventually made it to the top. Totally worth it!
Most of our 15k drive out to the lake was on a bumpy road like this.
Sweetcakes amidst the frailejones.

Eep, don’t mess with this plant!

Ike loves when I make him take a selfie with me.

I see resemblance to the sunflower.

Posing on the mirador at the peak of our hike.
We descended to the parking lot and set out to make agua de panela, the sweet sugar cane drink we had come to love in Colombia, when the park employee came out to stare at us and our car, clearly curious. We told her about our trip and she was flabbergasted that we were able to drive from the US to Ecuador. “How long have you been traveling?” she asked. We’ve been south of the border about 4 months now, we responded. Soon 2 other companions appeared, and she told them about our journey. The younger woman just couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around why we would be crazy enough to live out of our car. She finally asked, “Aren’t you scared to camp out here so far away from everyone?” To which my initial reaction was, should we be scared? You guys are the only ones near us, after all! But I wisely kept that to myself, and instead explained that we liked camping outside of towns to enjoy the nature and it was less noisy. Once their curiosity was satisfied, the 2 workers wandered away, while the first woman stayed and simply stared at us as we went about organizing the car and preparing the agua de panela. Eventually Ike asked me to swap tasks with him as he was starting to feel creeped out by the woman silently standing there. I made small talk with her and offered her some agua de panela, but she politely declined because “we have water here that we boil and can drink,” then she also wandered away.

We were excited to see a couple of semi-tame foxes hanging out near the park lodge. They were beautiful!
The next morning we packed up and made our way down out of the mountains. We were stopped twice by police at random check points, asking to see our documentation. Neither time did they ask for our insurance, which was good because we decided not to buy any since it wasn’t required by law. We eventually arrived at Finca Somerwind, a ranch owned by a German couple. Hot showers, internet, nice grassy lawn. A perfect place to relax and enjoy the sunshine for the day. Ike cleaned the car and did some light maintenance, while I hopped in the sprinter van with Nikki (also staying at the Finca for a couple of days) and headed to a nearby town that is known for its leather goods. We wandered the streets for a couple of hours, looking at all the boots, jackets, purses, belts, wallets, etc. but didn’t find anything we absolutely had to have. [I think this was the first time we’d been apart for longer than an hour in months. It was a nice little break; I drank beer and watched a 30 for 30 while eating french fries and a hamburger after the chores. Felt very masculine.]
The next morning we stopped at a car wash on our way out of town. Sweetcakes was pretty dirty due to all the gravel roads we had traversed in Colombia. The old man in charge of the car wash shop was immediately intrigued by us. “Where are you from? Where are the license plates from? Did you drive all the way from the US? You DID!?! How long did it take? How much do you spend? How much is the trip costing in total? Will you drive the car back to the US? No!? You will sell it? How much do you want for it? I WILL BUY IT RIGHT NOW! I will give you cash!” We told him that we still had to drive to Argentina and that we would be selling the car there. He insisted no fewer than 4 times that we sell the car to him on the spot. He finally relented and told us that we should finish our trip in Ecuador and he would buy it from us then. “We’ll think about it,” we said, as we handed him one of our blog cards and rolled out onto the highway, Sweetcakes sparkling in the late morning sun.

Sweetcakes bath 1 of 2 that week. You can see the prospective buyer in the very back.
We had read in several other overlanders’ blogs about a craft market in Otavalo, so we decided to visit and try to find some warm alpaca-made gifts to send home with my folks during their upcoming visit. Unfortunately the market was a bit of a bust for us. Most of the goods seemed to be mass produced, and I didn’t see many items that I thought were worth buying. We settled on a tiny pullover for our new nephew, a butterfly bracelet for our niece, and a pair of mittens for Ike’s mom. We left with significantly more cash in our wallets than I had anticipated.

I couldn’t resist a tiny pullover for our new nephew, Wyatt.
Driving a bit further south we reached the equator! New hemisphere? Check! The highway passed a small tourist stop that was a giant sun dial. We pulled over, snapped a few pictures with Sweetcakes, but declined to take the $1 tour from a local guide since we were planning to visit another equator attraction that afternoon. Back on the road, we sped towards Quito. We caught our first glimpses of the giant, sprawling city wedged between two mountain ranges. Because the city is locked between the mountain ranges, all growth is forced to be in the northern and southern directions. As a result, Quito is something like 80 kilometers in length! We skirted around the edge of the city and made our way north to the Mitad del Mundo, or middle of the world. This tourist stop turned out to be a complete bust. A giant monument, a couple of museums, and a bunch of expensive restaurants and souvenir shops. You had to pay $3.50 each just to get into the area and see the monument. Apparently the monument is not even located at the true equator. We snapped a few of the obligatory pictures of us straddling the yellow painted equator line, tried some fritada (pork shoulder?) on our way out, and made our way into the city center to meet Juan.

In the parking lot at the equatorial solar clock.
Straddling the (incorrect) equator line at the touristy Mitad del Mundo.
Juan met us at his apartment and opened the gate for us to pull into his parking space. Sweetcakes looked gigantic as Ike maneuvered into the space, eventually parking diagonally and with only a couple inches to spare. Juan and his girlfriend Andrea have a gigantic apartment located in a central part of the city, and on top of that they were extremely hospitable to us during our visit. We hope we can repay the favor at some time in the future. We spent the afternoon chatting about our trip and catching up on the 8 years it had been since Juan and Ike had met back in Japan during study abroad. That evening we were in for a real treat, an evening food tour and some sightseeing downtown.

She barely fit!

A little hard to see, but Ecuador has sliced off the face of this mountain to create a highway, and plastered the whole thing with cement. 
When we rolled in to Quito, we had no idea that our friend Juan had a culinary adventure in store for us! We started things off on the right foot: street food! Or more specifically, a famous street food area that was visited by Anthony Bourdain on his show No Reservations. Juan started by walking us by each of the dozen or so food stalls, explaining what each dish was. When asked: “Where do you want to start?” the answer was simple: “At the beginning!”

We pre-gamed for our food tour with granadilla. The shell is crisp and hard and to open it you crack it like an egg. Inside you find the pulp which looks and feels like snot, but tastes delicious!
We started off with an empanada de viento (wind), called so because they are usually so large and airy, stuffed with morocho, a type of white corn, and a heavy dusting of sugar on top. Oops, maybe we should have saved that one for desert. We also sampled a cup of morochoin beverage form; reminded us of a tasty oatmeal drink. No pictures of this because we inhaled it! Next up was a bowl ‘o hababeans (just looked this up on google and turns out they are fava beans. Who knew?) and more white corn. Hearty and a good base for what came next.

A giant bowl of menudo, or cow’s stomach soup, topped with nom-tastic chorizo (sausage). The stomach was definitely chewy, but the broth was killer. It had a kind of sweet spice to it that rocked our socks off.

We then tried the tripa mishqui, or tripe (intestine), served over a bowl of more haba beans and white corn. The seasoning on the tripa was out of this world! But make sure you chew fast. Once the tripa cools down, it becomes even more rubbery and difficult to swallow. Juan told us this is known as “poor man’s bubblegum” because you can chew it for hours. Peruanos eat tripato help with heartburn because it coats the inside of your stomach. I noticed that it also coated my lips, natural lip balm! Juan and Andrea were impressed by our willingness to try “gross” (by American standards) foods. We said “Bring it on!” We will try anything at least once… if you don’t try it, how will you know whether you love it or hate it? So far in our travels, 99%+ of foods fall in the “love it!” category.

It was time to move on to the next food barrio (neighborhood). We hopped in a cab (love the cabs in Quito! $2 will get you a long ways in that fabulous city) and headed for La Ronda. Juan told us this neighborhood used to be very sketchy just 10 years ago, with several whore houses in the area. Thanks to a city campaign to clean up the area, it’s now turned into a chic hangout, with bars, food stalls, and tons of shops. We went straight to a famous empanada stand to have more empanadas de morocho. These ones were divine, especially topped with a special peanut sauce! The 3 woman that run the stand do everything by hand, down to peeling the peanuts. Juan told us they make some absurd number (3000+?) of empanadas every day. We can see why!

Juan and Ike walking the streets of La Ronda.
It was time to treat my sweet tooth. We headed to a shop that sold helado de paila, a special type of ice cream made from fruit juice that was stirred and frozen. Ike tried the mora (blackberry) and I had the pajaro azul (literally: blue bird). Neither of us were disappointed.

We ended the evening with a pitcher of canelazo, a warm alcoholic drink made with cinnamon, naranjilla(a type of fruit), and aguardiente, a local sugar cane liquor. A perfect way to end the evening.

The next morning we were back at it! We hopped on a bus and Juan took us to Fruteria Monserate, a cafe famous for their breakfast and lunch menu. We tried rosero quiteño, a sweet fruit drink also made with morocho (white corn). Imagine a fruit cocktail, but in beverage form. This, too, disappeared before we could snap a picture, along with the fruit juices and empanadas.
We interrupted our sightseeing for a quick lunch of pernil (pork loin) sandwiches at a little restaurant located at one of the many stalls built in to the base of one of Quito’s cathedrals, on the Plaza Grande. Juan told us this restaurant has occupied that stall since the cathedral was built, and has always been known for its scrumptions pernil. Sorry, it disappeared before we could snap a pic!
Saturday morning started off with a bang. We made a mountain of banana pancakes and sampled a ton of local dishes, including tomate de arbol (literally: tree tomato) juice, Peru’s version of string cheese, bolos, humitos (similar to Mexican tomales, but exclusively stuffed with cheese), and fruit salad.

Saturday afternoon Juan took us to Cevicheria El Portoviejo, which according to him makes the best ceviche in all of Quito! We can see why. We tried zango (a thick soup made from green plantains; delicious and very rich), “viagra” or estofado marinero(a flavorful seafood soup created by the restaurant owner), and cebiche de jipjijapa (a cold soup with shrimp… Ike’s fav!). All three were top notch. We waddled back to Juan’s place, thoroughly defeated, and wishing we had more time in Quito to continue our culinary tour.

That first evening in between stuffing our faces, we walked around and saw some of the beautiful architecture in the city. At night the buildings were lit up and were absolutely stunning. We kept running into a party bus and wandering why we weren’t on it! 

Ike couldn’t help but dance to the music!
La Compania cathedral

Juan told us that during construction, this building was way behind schedule. So the rock sculptor made a deal with the devil that he would trade his soul to have the building complete on time. Miraculously the stone facade was completed on time, well, nearly. One stone was missing, so the sculpture didn’t have to follow through with his end of the bargain, and got to keep his soul.

This statue is known as the “dancing virgin.” The woman is stepping on a snake, symbolizing the demolition of evil, but the artist liked to push boundaries and made the woman to look like she was actually dancing.

The next morning, after breakfast of course, we took Sweetcakes to a shop run by one of Juan’s high school classmates with hopes of repairing our tailpipe (it broke away from the muffler in Colombia). We dropped off the car with instructions for the repair and also asking them to wash the underside of the car (at the car wash the day before they did not do the underside, and it really needed it!). We hopped on a taxi and headed downtown for more sightseeing. We walked past the same area that we had seen the previous evening, contrasting the buildings as seen in daylight compared to in the evening. Juan informed us that Quito is the only city (in S. America?) to have 2 cathedrals. It was allowed to build a second cathedral after one of the portraits of Mary shed some tears. Construction of La Compania church began in 1605 and was completed in 1765. It is full of 23-carat gold leaf and hand carved stone and woodwork. It was absolutely beautiful! You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the cathedral, but Ike secretively took one anyway. It still doesn’t do the décor justice. After lunch we walked up a steep hill to the second cathedral, which was done in gothic style. We paid the entrance fee and climbed up the towers of the cathedral, which yielded an amazing view of the city. [Just going to mention here that much of the climbing was in the staircases inside the cathedral, but a not insignificant amount was outside. Much of the outside climbing was done on scaffolding that was built when they did a renovation years ago. I pride myself on being able to keep a firm handle on my aversion of heights in check, particularly when it’s on sturdily built ladders, but when you’re on some steep steps on the outer edge of a cathedral buttress, with a clear view under your feet of the several hundred feet down it is, your palms get a little sweaty.]

The cathedral from the outside
La Compania church from the inside. Dat gold!

Cathedral #2

Eep! Hang on tight! Climbing on the exterior staircase around the cathedral towers.

View from cathedral #2 of the historic part of Quito.

Beautiful stained glass inside the Gothic style cathedral.
View of the sanctuary inside the Gothic style cathedral.
We hopped on another bus and headed back to the mechanic’s place to pick up the car. Rafael, Juan’s old classmate, informed us that it had been easy to repair the tail pipe. They welded a new piece of metal on. What was more difficult was washing the car! They were in the process of washing it when we returned. We stared open-mouthed as we saw chunks of mud fall from beneath the car. Some of that mud must have been from Canada! We watched over the next half hour as the shop guys finished rinsing, washing, rinsing again, then drying, and detailing the car. She truly looked beautiful now! Once they were all finished, one of the employees hopped in the car to reverse Sweetcakes off of the ramp. “They’re going to move that other car, right!?” I asked Juan & Ike. “Haha, of course!” they responded. 5 seconds later and Sweetcakes is crumpling the front passenger door of the car that was pulled in behind Sweetcakes. The driver must not have checked his rearview mirror and none of the others had thought to inform him until it was too late. For the record, that is the 2nd time that Sweetcakes has been in an accident, and both where while a mechanic was at the wheel! I quickly checked that the rear swingout was still functioning and intact (it was), but the other car’s door would not open. That’s a shame, really it is. We are just glad that my dad & grandpa used the ¾ inch iron when building the rear swingout! [Recalling when they first built it for us, I remember Bethany’s dad turning to us after it was done and saying, “Probably should have used aluminum, would have been lighter.” “Ah, it’s fine!” I replied, “We need the extra weight for traction! And it’s stronger too!” bum bum BAHHH: Foreshadowing!!!]

View of our broken tail pipe before the fix. Ike’s wiring job actually held it in place so well that the mechanic’s asked why we wanted to fix it.
Were we supposed to report all that fine Canadian mud on our customs form?
Sweetcakes in beast mode. The rear swing-out is undefeated at 2-0!
We returned to Juan’s place and parked our sparkling beauty safely inside the cramped parking space, glad to make it back with out any further incidents. That night we tagged along with Juan & Andrea to a fancy Italian restaurant for one of their friend’s birthday. I had some delicious truffle gnocci and Ike had some chicken lasagna. Bellies full of pasta and vino, and with the restaurant full of hot air from the pizza oven, we began to fall asleep at the table! We asked for the check, but waited around for nearly 45 minutes. Juan informed us that the tax system is very complicated in Ecuador. When you purchase certain items, including food at a restaurant, you can deduct it from the amount of tax you owe. That makes paying at these establishments extremely complicated because they need to record all of the tax information. Ecuador was in the middle of updating its tax reporting requirements, so the process was taking even longer than usual. And we thought the IRS was bad… Once the check finally arrived, we paid our share and asked Juan for his keys. We didn’t have the stamina to make it to the after party at the friend’s place.
The next morning after our breakfast feast we took a funicular up one of the volcanoes on the edge of Quito, Guagua Pichincha. The funicular took us above 4000 meters! What is with these crazy high mountains in South America? We enjoyed the panoramic views of the city, and tried to stay warm despite the cold wind whipping up the side of the mountain. A dark cloud was threatening rain, so after hiking around for a bit, we headed back down the mountain. It had been nearly 5 hours since we had last eaten, so naturally we were overdue for more food! Juan took us to the famous cevicheria, and then it was game over. We returned to his place totally stuffed!

Riding the funicular to 4000+ meters.

View of Quito from Guagua Pichincha Volcano.

After stuffing our tummies at Cevicheria El Portoviejo, Juan’s friends entertained their 3 year old during the walk back by playing the Conejito (little bunny) counting game. He couldn’t get enough of it. This was probably the tenth time they did this, hence his spaghetti legs at the end. :) We will never forget how to say bunny.
Sunday morning we loaded all of our worldly belongings into Sweetcakes and set off southbound, heading towards the border with Peru. There were tons of interesting and beautiful places in Southern Ecuado we would have loved to explore, but we thought our limited time remaining before meeting my parents in Lima would be better spent exploring northern Peru. We drove a long day and made it to the colonial city of Cuenca just before sunset. We found our campsite and set off to find some cascaritas, a dish that was famous in a nearby village, and apparently it’s pork where the skin is crisped with a blow torch. Yes please! Unfortunately we didn’t find a restaurant that served this, so settled for some standard grilled meats instead.

Sunset over the town of Cuenca. 
The next morning we walked into downtown Cuenca to enjoy the architecture and purchase some fruits. We stumbled upon a gigantic cathedral and were blown away by its sheer size! We also stumbled upon the town’s market. We meandered through the prepared food stalls, and eventually came upon what we think was a cascaritas mecca! An entire room, with half a dozen stalls, all with a whole roasted hog out in front! We chose the senora that we thought looked the most pork-fed, and approached her to buy some of that delicious pig. (It was 9:30am!) She plunged her fingers into the side of the pig and pulled out a couple of morsels of tender pork for us to try. Yup, that’s the stuff! We feasted on tender pork and crispy pork skin, a breakfast fit for kings! We made some other purchases (8 mangoes for a dollar, 4 avocados for a dollar… are you kidding me? We’ll buy the whole damn market!), and then returned to the car and set off for Loja. 

Nothing like a delicious whole hog to get your day started off on the right foot.
Blow-torched pig skin = way better than potato chips!

South Americans are all about their legumes, grains, seeds, and corn varieties. Here is a small sample of what was available at the market.
I love the bright colors of the traditional women’s clothing here. Also note the cute “Panama” hat, part of the traditional outfit.

One of Cuenca’s many beautiful churches.

Cuenca flower market, located right outside the cathedral.

Cuenca’s massive cathedral. Too big to fit in the frame!

Cuenca’s massive cathedral, view from the front.
Inside Cuenca’s cathedral.

Inside Cuenca’s cathedral.

Inside Cuenca’s cathedral. “It looks like it was decorated by your mom! The color palate is the same as their home.” — Ike

The massive main entrance to the cathedral.
We spent the night camping at a nice hostel/resort, and hit the road early the next morning with plans to cross the border to Peru that day.

Beautiful rainbow as seen from the hostel.

And then suddenly it was a double rainbow!

The mountain roads had other plans for us. We drove about an hour and then started seeing drivers flashing their lights at us and a few waving their hands. Uh oh, that’s not good. Eventually one nice gentleman pulled over and told us in broken english that there was a mudslide and it was not possible to pass… maybe tomorrow. He said the mudslide was only 5 minutes down the road, so we decided to go see for ourselves. Around a few more bends, and we came upon a dozen or so vehicles parked along the side of the road. We parked Sweetcakes and set out down the road to investigate the situation. A man told us he thought they would have the road cleared by noon. It was 10am, so we decided to wait it out instead of backtracking and heading towards an entirely different border crossing. So we sat in the car, out of the nasty drizzle and wind, and waited and waited. Soon 12:30 rolled around and there was obviously still a lot of mud, rock, and debris to be moved before we were going anywhere. Just as I was about to break out the cheese and crackers for a makeshift lunch, we see many people gathering around a few women up near the mudslide. A few walk back towards their trucks carrying plastic bowls. Lunch!? Yes, Ecuadorian women are very resourceful and mudslides are a common occurrence in the mountains during rainy season. These women had tramped over the mud pile carrying large picnic baskets full of individually packed chicken, rice, & corn meals for us. At $2 each, we were more than happy to pay up for some delicious hot food, delivered right to our… mudslide!

Not happy campers. The mudslide took 7 hours to clear!
We waited some more and eventually broke out the laptop to watch an episode of 30 for 30, then around 4pm a lane cleared up and we could motor on. We continued another hour and pulled over in the next town to buy some pollo asado (roasted chicken) to take with us. We assumed we would have to wild camp along the side of the road that night. Another 30 minutes down the road and we all had to stop due to another mudslide. This one was almost cleared, and 20 minutes later we were back on the road, slipping and sliding through the mountains on the muddy sections. [This was the gnarliest bit: one lane, all mud, freshly cleared, no guardrails. Once or twice the rear end started to slip towards the edge and my heart lept to my throat, but we were fine. Loving that 4×4!!] 

Lunch ladies to the rescue!

That time the backhoe was helping bus passengers cross the mud pile on foot.

Yup. Still mud.

Danger: Mudslides. That’s reassuring!

Now imagine this in the dark. Ike earned his beer that evening!

Night approached and it grew increasingly dark. Our number one rule is we don’t drive at night, but we wanted to make it to the town of Zumba, one of the last before the border. There weren’t many good places to pull off the mountain road, especially considering the high risk of mudslides. We made it into town and asked the military guys if we could park near their complex, which happened to be on the town square. Sure thing! Exhausted from a long day of waiting, and then stressful mountain driving, we went to bed early that night. [We also met some other travelers heading north. They too were trying to find a place to spend the night: the local hotel was pretty rough and the woman wouldn’t let them see the rooms before paying, but there wasn’t a place for them to set up their tent, and their car was too small to sleep in. Later that night, out reading in the square next to the church, I heard, “Oh look, someone who looks like us!” I chatted with Martin from Vienna and Antrect from Hungary. Antrect was living in Lima, working at his brother’s cell phone battery shop. Martin was heading north. The short of the conversation was: drink lots of pisco sours, eat lots of meat in Argentina.]

The next morning we woke up early, determined to finally make it into Peru. It took us an hour and a half to go 27 kilometers to the border, but we made it to what must be one of the lowest key border crossings we will encounter during this trip. Hardly anyone around, let alone any pesky “helpers.” The immigration officials stamped our passports out of the country, our car was cleared to leave Ecuador, and we drove across the bridge separating the two countries. A gate was blocking our way into Peru, so we killed Sweetcakes and headed over to the customs office. They asked for a set of photocopies and asked us to go to immigration and then come back to import the car. No problem. We waited in a couple of chairs in the immigration office while the one official rocked out to loud Peruvian jams while processing a couple of hippy backpackers. Our kind of border crossing! We had to visit a creepy shack with chickens pecking around to have the policeman enter our information into a spreadsheet and stamp our immigration forms. All cleared, now back to the customs office. They clearly hadn’t started processing our car, despite having all the documents. “Just a few minutes while we enter your information into the system.” “Sure, no problem!” 45 minutes later they finally handed us our document. I gave it a cursory review, and noticed that they had Sweetcakes down as being yellow. In our dreams! We handed back the form and they painstakingly re-entered all of the information. 10 minutes later we had our correct form and were cleared to enter Peru, land of the Incas!

Driving through the clouds, somewhere in southern Ecuador. Look at the women’s brightly colored clothing!

Ecuador budget recap:
Ecuador is a beautiful, friendly, delicious, and cheap country! We can’t wait to revisit and more thoroughly explore all it has to offer. This trip we indulged in Quito’s culinary delights while staying with a friend, and took a break from cooking. Over half of our expenses in Ecuador were on food, but it was totally worth it. Food was so cheap and delicious that we couldn’t convince ourselves to cook. 

We loved using the dollar coins in Ecuador!

Expected days in country: 14
Actual days spent in country: 8
We had to speed up in order to meet Bethany’s folks in Lima. Ecuador is a wonderful country and currently sits at #2 for countries we want to re-visit (Mexico being #1). We stayed exclusively in Ecuador’s mountain region, totally skipping the coast (and the Galapagos) and the Amazon (not the right season to visit). Ecuador, we will be back and take the time to properly explore you!

Daily budget: $49
Actual expenses: $52 (excluding car repairs)
Difference: +$3 (+6.8%)

This is entirely due to us eating out so much, but we have NO REGRETS! We track our major car expenses against a separate budget, but for the record we spent $45 on repairing our tail pipe, which broke en route to the Tatacoa Desert in Colombia.

Average price for gas: $1.65/gallon ($1.48/gallon for regular octane [87] or $2+ for super octane [92+])

We filled up with super the first time, and then settled for regular on our other 2 fill-ups after reading that high altitudes require lower octane, due to incomplete combustion from lack of oxygen. Do you have advice for when to use higher octane fuel? We’d love to hear it. Online info is (of course) conflicting.

Everyone else is posting pictures of the crazy low gas prices in the US, so here’s our version. $1.48 for regular gas? Deal.

Expected miles driven: 700
Actual miles driven: 707
Difference: +1%

Again, if we had had more time in Ecuador, we would have driven to the coast and into the Amazon, which would have added significant mileage.

Average gas mileage: 19

Average miles driven per day: 88

Ugh, this number is creeping back up! We had several long driving days in Ecuador… wish we had more time, but we are hoping to get to Ushuaia in early April before it is too cold, so we need to keep pushing South. We are both looking forward to slowing down a bit after Ushuaia.

Biggest daily expenses ($/day):
#1:Food ($27.29) – We only cooked twice in Ecuador and enjoyed delicious, local food the rest of the time. Food here is generally cheap, and apparently we wanted a break from our culinary duties. Like I said previously, NO REGRETS! After seeing the food pics, do you blame us?
#2: Gas ($8.66) – Gas was by far the cheapest we have seen so far on this trip. We took advantage and filled up our jerry can before crossing into Peru. That, combined with several long driving days, means that gas was our #2 expense.

#3: Entertainment ($4.38) – We visited many of the sites in Quito, but all were well worth the entrance fee.
What’s missing from the top 3? Lodging! We were lucky to spend our 3 days in Quito with a friend and wild camped a couple of times, which kept our lodging expenses down.