Wednesday, February 1, 2023
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Ecuador on two wheels – A pleasant surprise

I was not prepared to love Ecuador as much as I did. For that matter, the continent of South America surprised me, even though I only got to two countries. 

After living in Southern California for 40 years and being next door to Mexico, I had no longer the desire to live there, and Latin America was not a major draw.

But, what kicked me into gear, was having an opportunity to ride some of the most amazing motorcycle roads I have ever been on while in Quito, Ecuador. 

I was lucky.

I have been a permanent nomad since 2019, have hit 25 countries since then, and the only part of South America that intrigued me was the western coast—the Andes mountains.

When my AirBNB host came home wearing a motorcycle suit I knew good times would come. Edison, at age 33, was half my age, but we hit it off immediately.

I told him that I was a rider, too, and said I would love to check out his neighborhood since he was a lifelong Ecuadorian.

I contacted a local tour company, asked about renting, and quickly dismissed it since it was over my budget.

But, the Motorcycle Gods were smiling and they agreed to loan me a Suzuki V-Strom for three days since I am a travel writer and asked if I would write about our journey, share their links, and allow them to use my piece.

DONE!

suzuki v-strom
My rental bike: Suzuki V-Strom

I have ridden motorcycles in Croatia; I have ridden in Romania, and now I have done the same in Ecuador.

Until now, Romania was at the top of my “best roads” and “most fun” list, but they were threatened by my journey through beautiful Ecuador. 

In all candor, I was not that thinking about South America when I started my nomadic journey three years ago, and I knew little about this country.

I naively thought Ecuador was “hot” since it lies on the equator, and I never knew I’d be spending most of my time over 9000 feet above sea level!

Our 573 km (356 mile) bike trip over three days allowed me to see some amazing things and enjoy some of the grandest roads I have ever ridden.

But there was a health hazard: my neck got sore from turning one direction to the next as every curve exposed more unique beauty.

My jaw hurt after so many jaw-dropping vistas, but it was the never-ending grin on my face that brought sublime pleasure as I realized I was riding through some amazing country, full of history and some of the most geologically active terrain I have ridden through in my life.

The smile was with me the whole time.

Norm Bour - permanent nomad since 2019 - motorcycle tour in ecuador
Here I am smiling

I was able to see this country unlike most visitors since they are usually in a tour bus or car.

But the elevation changes, from one minute to the next, pushed my Suzuki V-Strom to the limits and I reached the conclusion that that bike is ideal for me.

Between the size, weight, torque, and ease on the throttle, the V-Strom rocks! My rental company, Freedom, hooked me up with everything I needed, from protective (and warm) armored pants, to boots, gloves, and jacket, so I was comfy and warm. 

me and my new biker friends
Me and my new biker friends

The city of Quito, at 9000 feet elevation, is the second-highest capital city in the world, and as the day moved on, we arrived at the 12,000-foot elevation of Quilatoa Crater, a former volcanic caldera, by lunchtime. Two of Edison’s friends joined us on the road and the four of us were smiling and grinning the entire time.

An hour out of the city and traffic the great Cotopaxi volcano showed up on my left, and we had to stop for shots.

Often obscured by clouds, I find that mornings are usually best for clear viewing, and the almost 20,000-foot mountain was as spectacular close up as it was from Quito.

Fun fact: this volcano is the highest mountain in the world when measured from the earth’s core — taller than Mount Everest
Cotopaxi volcano emerges from the clouds
The Cotopaxi volcano emerging through the clouds

Soon we left the major highway and took a mostly backroad to the “city” of Sigchos, which was really nothing more than a road sign and a place to take a break.

But the route out was a biker’s dream as the twisties kept coming and we handled them all with finesse.

One of the great things about bikes is that signs like “road closed” do not always deter us. We asked some locals if the road was really closed, and they told us there was road work being done and we should give it a shot. 

Which we did, missing road and all!

Ecuador is a majestic country with grandesque mountains and carved-out valleys, and with that, you get erosion and road damage.

We had to slowly go through about 50 yards of narrow road full of rubble and saw the problem: half the road was gone – down the hill. But when we emerged the road opened up to a beautifully paved highway and I put the V-Strom through its’ paces as we went up one hill onto the next.

For an hour it was one continual smile that plastered my face. 

Since it sits just off the Ring of Fire, Ecuador is geologically quite active and gets its share of earthquakes and occasional volcanic activity. But most of the terrain was formed millions of years ago and the fact that they were able to carve roads through these mountains and valleys is impressive on its own.

Sometimes you can ride for 30 minutes to only go a few miles! Yes, that many twisties. 

Our first major stop was the city of Quilatoa, which is set off the main road, and to enter you actually pay a small fee! But it’s worth it as we rode to the end of one of the streets and saw the park on the right side.

I knew there was something over the rise, but I was not expecting a volcanic lake! Turquoise blue, shining in the sun, even with the howling wind, it was breathtaking. There are paths to follow all the way down, but time did not allow that luxury. 

We had a terrific lunch at a local hostel that my friends knew about, and I had amazing trout and shrimp for all of $8.50 USD.

But decisions needed to be made: do we stay there or carry on to the city of Banos, which we intended to hit on Day II.

I asked, “Is it warmer down there?” and with a YES answer, off we went. It was only about 80 km, but with roads like this, nothing is quick – except us on our bikes. 

Since it was about 2:30 when we headed off, Edison estimated arrival time into Banos about sunset, 6:30 or so, which worked for me. 

Over the next four hours, it was more amazing roads, and each corner revealed yet another magnificent view.

At 6:30, just as predicted, we rode down into the valley of Banos, just 5900 feet above sea level, and much warmer. It is also the entrance to the Amazon, and I noticed the different heat, humidity, and vegetation, which was every imaginable shade of green you could think of. 

We spent two nights in Banos, mostly visiting the local sites. On our bikes, it was 1000 percent more fun than if we’d had cars, and we climbed many mountains on our two-wheelers just to see the sights from up there.

As I said, Ecuador surprised me and I felt welcome there.

The people were terrific, the weather, though on the cold side due to higher elevation, is quite nice, and you have to be aware you are well over a mile above sea level in many places, so be prepared. 

I have been a bike rider since 1973, and as a young man never thought I would ride overseas. Never say never… 

That changed just six years ago when I visited Europe for the first time and made a decision to spend more time there, which I have.

I was typically “European focused,” but Ecuador gave me a new outlook and maybe changed my mind about motorcycle touring.

After all, it IS much closer to the US, easier and faster (and cheaper) to get to, and there are direct flights from many major cities. You could ride for months in South America on two wheels, put on thousands of miles, and probably have the time of your life.

https://freedombikerental.com is my tour company friend there.

-END-

Norm Bour
Norm Bourhttps://travelyounger.com/
Norm Bour left the USA permanently in February 2019 at the age of 64. His goal was to travel the world six weeks at a time, which he did, and wrote two books about his experiences. He visited 25 countries along with taking countless plane trips and many motorcycle trips, and is getting a BMW bike so will have wheels for the first time in years while he explores the country of Turkey. You can follow his journey at www.TravelYounger.com along with his Facebook blog by the same name.

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