”Oops, forgot to watch the GPS and drove right by the equator 10 miles ago”.
After an hour trying to get to the park at the equator, we arrive just as the day is winding down. We take some obligatory photos wobbling on the line painted on the ground and decline the offer to spend 10 bucks to go up a couple of stories to see the line from above.
“Hey, let’s go flush the toilet and see which way the water goes.” So we do. “Hmmm… I don’t remember which way it goes at home.” Our big experiment in gravity, physics and snake oil is a bust. Stefan furthers the bust by saying “Well it depends how the toilet is made anyway so it’s not the right experiment”.
It’s getting dark so it’s time to find a place to stay. The place to stay ends up being a wonderful little hotel 30 feet from the equator and staffed with a great collection of little old ladies who are so friendly they can’t stop hugging us and getting lipstick all over the place.
Ecuador has been an interesting place so far. We visited Otavalo – a town made famous by its handicraft market. It must be in every guidebook. Tourists outnumber locals and all of the locals magically know enough English to try to sell us something. We emerged unscathed and wandered into the local food market.
The food market was just preparing to open. The stall keepers were having breakfast. After some charades I convinced a lady to make me some breakfast. She returns with what turns out to be the best meal of the trip so far. I received a plate filled with potatoes blended with a collection of roasted vegetables, beans and topped with roasted ‘corn nuts’. The flavours were fresh and vibrant and the combination was a perfect way to start the day. Oh, and Stefan (the disbeliever) goes and orders up some horrific deep fried gristle, perfect for teasing dogs, not so good for eating. Good thing they have roast chicken next door to the inn where we are staying.
As we leave Otavalo and Quito behind, Ecuador continues to be a treat to drive through. The roads are good and the terrain is constantly changing. We wind along country lanes and minutes later find ourselves at the bottom of rocky valleys. The high mountain passes are as dramatic as any we have seen.
When we pull over for lunch in Ambato, a passenger in a truck hops out and waves us down. He starts waving a cell phone at us and saying “Here, you must speak to my friend”. Soon we are in a conversation with his English-speaking friend, Julio, who is on the other end of the line. Julio Velastegui (www.juliovelastegui.com) is another motorbike traveler and when his friend saw us, he knew that we had to meet. After getting our location, Julio quickly heads down to join us. We once again learn how small our world is when Julio shares the story of meeting another fellow motorbike traveler, Sherri Jo Wilkins (www.sherrijowilkins.com ), while he was on the road in Canada earlier in the year. Coincidentally, we also spent time with Sherri Jo earlier in the year, both in Canada and in England.
South of Cuenca we arrive in a small mountain-top village named Catacocha, where every road is being worked on at the same time. After navigating what looks like a war zone, we find a hotel that turns out to be a very clean and very affordable home. We like it enough to stay an extra day.
Tracey’s birthday happens while we are here and we enjoy a night out on the town. Literally, a night out on the town. While a woman is making us a one-pot dinner, we sit on lawn chairs in the middle of the street with a bare light bulb swinging precariously overhead, the bare wires threatening to electrocute any one of us at any moment.
We use our time in Catacocha to do some maintenance and take care of our trusty steeds. It is during this time that I become part of a scene which will occupy my thoughts forever. An old man is trying to move along the street. He is missing one eye, has a club foot and is barely able to move. He can only shuffle sideways and it takes him a full ten minutes to make a step. After four hours the man has progressed about 100 feet. I don’t know where he is going, but it will clearly take a long time.
The man is proud.
He does not ask for money.
He does not beg.
He does not look for help.
The rest of the people pass by him and go about the day, seemingly unaware of his presence. The sidecar would be a perfect way to get him where he is going but our ability to communicate the desire to help him fails. We leave him to his lonely shuffle and I can’t help but think of how excessive our own world is in comparison. We drive 15,000km with less effort than a stroll in the sun for this man.
I have learned another lesson today.
The image of this man’s trek will stay with me forever.
I use the word trek. For him, simply getting to the end of the block would be an all-day task.