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Small But Diverse Ecuador

Ecuador is the smallest country I have cycled through on my trip, but nevertheless very diverse and rich in nature. Almost immediately after crossing the Peruvian border, the dry coastal climate changed to become more tropical and the humidity hit me by surprise. Banana plantations and fields of cacao stretched all the way to the horizon.

Banana plantations

I reached Guayaquil, the biggest town in Ecuador, after two days. There I met up with some people from CouchSurfing that gave me a guided tour in the centre. I stayed for a couple of days and enjoyed the city and its atmosphere. It reminded me a bit of Rio de Janeiro, with a malecón (esplanade along the river) and a neighborhood called Las Peñas, which is the oldest part of Guayaquil located on a hill with 456 stairs and lined with small bars and cafés. I randomly bumped into Carlos and Sonia, a Spanish couple cycling the same route as me that I met in Salta in Argentina.

Guayaquil

Parque Seminario

My plan for Ecuador was to go to the famous Galápagos Islands, but I decided to skip it due to lack of time, and it’s also very expensive to go there. Anyway, I now have a good reason to come back someday!

Instead, I continued west towards the coast and visited Montañita, a cozy hippie town popular among backpackers and surfers. Next up was Puerto López, famous for whale watching and Isla de la Plata, a kind of poor man’s version of the Galápagos Islands. Every year, a great amount of humpback whales gather here to breed before starting their return journey to Antarctica. I was here by the end of the season, but was still lucky to see some! The adults measure 12-16 meters and weigh about 36 tons, so it was very impressive to see these giants only 10 meters from the boat!

Humpback whale

Humpback whale

The tour included a stop at Isla de la Plata. We saw turtles and a lot of colorful fish next to the beach before starting a small hike around the island. There is a big colony of blue-footed boobie birds here. These completely unafraid and funny birds live in pairs, talking to each other and “discussing”/fighting with others about their territories. The neon blue color of their feet is almost surreal!

Blue-footed boobie

Frigatebird

When we came back from the tour we were told that the president had declared a state of emergency in the country after a coup attempt had taken place! There were no buses, no police working and the borders had closed. People had started to rob banks and empty stores, particularly in Guayaquil, when there was no one there to arrest them. I went back to the hostel to watch a movie with some beer and snacks that night, but watching this whole spectacle LIVE on the news served as entertainment. What actually happened was this:

The president had made a change in the law reducing the bonuses and perks for the police. They responded by striking and in a riot the president was sprayed with some tear gas and fled to the hospital. There, he held a speech from the window and screamed “If you want to kill me, kill me!”, whereby later the police went wild and tried to take him out. The military managed to rescue him (under gunfire) and brought him back to the presidential palace where he held a second speech and thanked the people for their support. Soaked in sweat after a long and eventful day, he rounded off by singing the national anthem.

The situation was still very tense the following day and some people advised me to stay inside, but I continued since the countryside was rather unaffected by the events. I spotted a few whales from the road when I cycled along the coast! Later that day, I crossed the 10,000 km limit, good work!

10,000 km!

I was thinking about heading north to Esmeraldas and then take a boat to Colombia, but when I heard that the zone was rather unsafe to travel in I let go the idea and went for the mountains instead. The scenic climb up to the capital Quito took me to 3,200 m, with very lush and green valleys on the way.

Green mountains

In the capital I didn’t do much more than chilling out at the hostel and chatting to backpackers. Two girls that just had arrived to start their trip got robbed on their first day on the street by people throwing poo on them from behind, and then offering a towel to wipe it off with. Disgusting, but probably very effective in their opinion…

After leaving Quito, I eventually approached latitude 0° and crossed the equator! Goodbye southern hemisphere, hello northern hemisphere!

Crossing the equator

From Cayambe, I took the old road and cycled 25 km downhill on a cobblestoned street. The constant shaking gave me a wryneck and also broke the cone and bearings inside my rear wheel, but I found a bike shop that had the right spare parts and could fix it for me. I found it very interesting to cycle from the cold mountains through indigenous villages where people are a bit timid and careful, and then in the same day dropping down 1,500 m to the warm Valle del Chota with Afro-Ecuadorian villages where people just love to come up and talk to you. Ecuador is a country small to its size, not only diverse in nature, but also culture!