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Sat Mar 22 2014: Knockin' on Ecua-Door

We're entering a new country today! It's been over 5 months since we've done a border crossing and I'm a bit rusty on the procedure that we had developed and streamlined in Central America. Ah yes, I stay with the bikes while Neda cancels the Temporary Vehicle Import Permit. That was relatively painless - just hand in the form and leave. Wow, what a difference from the triple-photocopy-stamp-everything-wait-forever dance in Central America!

Oh yeah, I have to show my face to get stamped out of Colombia

New country! So excited!

We've done no research about Ecuador. We don't know anything about it, so we really don't know what to expect. As we get our import papers to enter the country, a group of young Ecuadorians ask to take our picture with the bikes. Now *this* is familiar. They are very interested in our journey, so I read from the mental cheat sheet as they ask, "Where are you from?", "Where are you going?", "How long is your trip", "How much do the bikes cost? How fast do they go?" etc.

Paparazzi stop at the border

We stop by the SOAT booth to buy our insurance for the month, but there is a power failure and the computer is down. We've got a bit of a ride ahead of us and it's a bit late in the day, so Neda wanted to find another SOAT place further on down the road. I was a bit hesitant about riding without insurance, but I also didn't want to ride in the dark, so we pressed on, careful to stay under the speed limit so we wouldn't get stopped by the police. We're told that speed enforcement is very strict in Ecuador.

Nice roads

The first thing that struck me while riding in this country was how nice the roads were. At our hostel in Cali, we met some Ecuadorian tourists and they told us that the government had spent a whole lot of money recently on upgrading the pavement all over the country, so we knew beforehand, but riding on the smooth twisting asphalt around the Andes was such a noticeable change coming from Colombia.

But then the honeymoon ended. No more free Peaje! Government has to pay for all these new roads.

We're not used to paying for tolls, so Neda is fumbling around for change. 20 cents per motorcycle! Time to load up the tankbag with loose change. We no longer gleefully yell, "Pee-Ah-HAY!" when we approach the tolls now. :(

As we entered Tulcan, the first town just a few kms south of the border, we stopped by a store that advertised insurance. Unfortunately, they didn't sell "extranjero" (foreign) insurance. They told us that we wouldn't be able to get the kind of insurance we needed anywhere in town, but we would probably be able to buy the coverage for our imported vehicles in the next major city of Ibarra. It was a long way to go without proper papers, and I was a bit nervous.

Neda is missing vegetables in our Latin American diet

There were a couple of police checkpoints on the road headed south. Everytime we approached one, we nervously slowed down but thankfully, we got waved through as they were only checking cars and trucks instead. About half-way to Ibarra, my fears were realized. The policeman working the checkpoint looked at my face through my visor and decided to pull us over. Oh no. Nononono. What kind of trouble are we going to get into without proper insurance? Fines? Impoundment? Would we have to bribe him?

Neda is the designated Spanish-speaker, so as I pulled over, Neda stopped beside the cop to figure out what the problem was.

The cop didn't even look at her. His gaze went past her, and his eyebrows furrowed as he stared directly at me. Had I gone too fast? Broken some kind of traffic law that I didn't know about?

Then he indicated to me and asked Neda, "Chino? Japones? Coreano?"

HAHAHAHA!!! I've never been so happy to play Punchbuggy Chino in my life! At that moment, I knew we were okay, so Neda explained that I was Malaysian, and the policeman was very impressed with that since he'd never met a Malaysian person before. We chatted for a while about our trip and our motorcycles (he was a rider too) and then he let us go on our way.

We're developing quite the arsenal of tactics to avoid tickets in Latin America: "Throw Gene under the bus" and "Punchbuggy Chino". Awesome!

The view from our hostel in Otavalo

We rode through Ibarra but by the time we arrived, all the stores were closed, so we would have to come back the next day to shop for insurance. Ecuador has really impressed me with how modern and clean everything is, very different from Central America and Colombia.

Instead of staying in Ibarra, we found a hostel in Otavalo, a pretty town which is about 15 minutes away from the city. We opted to make our base here for the next few days because we've heard that there is a large indigenous population and we wanted to stay till the weekend because of their famous outdoor market that they set up every Saturday morning.

Neda, the friendly giant

My favorite part of our trip so far is seeing the local culture that's been preserved as a snapshot of history. Walking around town, we saw this woman in a traditional dress. The last time I saw this many indigenous people was back in Guatemala and my head (and camera) was snapping back and forth trying to take it all in.

Early morning in the historic centre of Otavalo

No, no, do what you did before!

I was taking a picture of this mural above because I thought it looked cool. As I was focusing, in the viewfinder I saw this guy walk past me and photobomb my shot, grinning mischievously and putting up the rabbit ears with both hands. Unfortunately, I was too slow with the shutter. As he walked away, I called out to him. He turned around expecting me to be mad at him, but instead, was surprised when I asked him to pose in front of the mural. Alas, he got camera shy and gave me this serious-smile instead. I wanted to see the grin and the rabbit ears again - it would have went perfect with the mural's stare! LOL!

Vendors setting up their stall

We had read that the best time to see the Otavalo Market was early in the morning when the vendors were setting up. That was terrible advice. Not only was it boring watching people put up stands and tents, but I missed two hours of sleep. We walked around town for an hour or two looking for a good breakfast spot.

This guy had many towels on him. Still wondering what they're for?

LOL! I didn't even notice this little girl giving me the evil eye until I went through my pictures later!

We found a stall that served breakfast right in the middle of the market, Neda has her usual caldo (soup)

As we ate breakfast, we watched as the hustle and bustle in the market picked up

Just a reminder of where we are

This little piggy wore a hat. Keeps him warm on those chilly Otavalo mornings

Walking back from a morning filled with shopping

In a field on the outskirts of town was the Otavalo Animal Market

All sorts of livestock were for sale. You could pick up a pig (and then find them a hat in town later on)

If only I had more room in my topcase, ole Foghorn here would have made many a tasty lunch on the ride south!

I had to hide Neda's wallet, she was this close to emptying her tankbag
full of loose change and seashells to fit this little guy in!

Somebody needs a haircut. Me. I'm talking about me.

Otavalo was a really picturesque town, and it made a really good first impression of Ecuador on us. The country seems to be very prosperous and safe. I had a read that this was one of the top recommended places in Latin America for ex-pats looking for a new home, and now seeing it first hand, I can understand why.

At night, everything is lit up with pretty coloured lights

Two kids in the fountain, too fast for my shutter-speed to catch

We're loving Ecuador so far!

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