Ecuador - the Early Days

May 14, 2002

Equador – so named because of its position in both hemispheres with the equator crossing it. We have found a good base for Satori about 30 miles south of the equator at Bahia de Caraquez at the mouth of the river Chone. On arrival we called the local navy to ask for a pilot to guide us through the silting delta into the bay. We are sure that we could have accomplished the entrance with the GPS coordinates of other previous cruisers, but prefer not to “buck” the establishment. The navy charges $40 for a round trip escort with one of their pilots and this gives them a bit of extra income to support their contention that cruisers will bring income to the economy. We don’t want to buck the navy because they offer super support once at anchor in Bahia. They provide shore access for dinghies and will keep a watchful eye on boats when the owners are absent. This means that we can leave Satori at anchor with no charges and feel secure about leaving for trips inland or back home. We have never known this security anywhere else in the world to this point – especially including the USA!

The town itself is large in area but small in population as it is a resort center for the wealthy of Ecuador and is busy only during their hotter months of January through March. There are restaurants here serving lunches for $1.50 (rice, salad, meat or fish) and dinners for about $3 including wonderful huge shrimp! The primary occupation in Bahia is fishing and shrimping. One of the photos shows the inexpensive method for repairing and repainting the bottom of the fishing boats. Wish we could do this safely with Satori but we need more than six hours at a time to work. The tide goes out and they quickly begin scraping the bottom, repairing the rotten strips of wood and then painting. When the tide comes back in the boat is rotated to rest on its opposite side with the tidal outflow. As soon as we felt comfortable about our anchoring situation, we decided to try a trip into the inner part of the country. Equador is a very diverse country in geography and cultures. The western third of the country is the relatively low land of the Pacific coast. There are five main ports from north to south with Bahia being the second from the north. About 2/3 of the way down the Pacific coast is the port of Guayaquil which is the largest city in Ecuador.

The middle section of Equador is covered with the Andes Mountains. At the northern end and almost directly on the Equator is the capital city of Quito. Following the Andes to the south are about five more relatively large cities. We began our trip at Latacunga, south of Quito.

The eastern third of Ecuador rolls down into the Amazon River Rain Forest. After our short experience in Costa Rica with its humidity and its heat, we are fairly certain that we should not even try the Amazon Rain Forest. It just is not to our liking.

Leaving Satori at anchor in Bahia we took local buses to make a circle east to the mountains, then south along the mountain chain and back to the western lowlands and the city of Guayaquil. The buses are subsidized by the government with charges equaling about $1 for each hour of travel. Because the roads are very basic here those travel times between cities are long – usually about 3-5 hours. Our wallets did very well on this trip – our backsides did not! Our hotels were basic but clean and sufficient. The hotel costs were between $10-$15/night. The hotels of the cities in the lowlands also included air conditioning. Jane caught an AC cold the first night out and snuffled for the whole week. The first part of the trip brought us miles and miles of rice fields, banana plantations and African Palms from which they extract an oil with whopping big cholesterol levels. You better believe that a lot of that oil is used for the food of the poorer people here too!

We spent 10 hours on the bus during our second day out. The trip was touted to be one of the most spectacular in Ecuador, but also one of the roughest. As the bus climbed through the cloud layer on a dirt road, we experienced our first bus mishap, a blown tire. There were about 12 of us on the bus at the time. The bus driver hailed down the next passing road truck to borrow a jack. Silly not to have their own, but we were lucky that the truck came by. The truck pulled onto the opposite side of the road beyond the bus causing the next truck to have to pull way over into the same spot where we had blown the tire. You guessed it! This poor truck blew his tire too. With a little inspection Jane found (what she thought was) the culprit…a rock with a very sharp point sticking straight up. Now we have two vehicles pulled over to the sides in this cloud mist with guys crawling around in the mud beneath to change tires. This adventure slowed our trip by about an hour so we arrived at the crest of the mountain – 11,340’ - just as the sun was setting. This was a scene different from any other that either of us had ever experienced. We sit here now on Satori trying to find words to describe this sight and find it a humbling experience. We were, of course, well above the tree level and above the clouds. We looked back toward the west and saw the sun setting on top of the cloud level, almost an apparition. Although it was cold and bitterly barren there were people, the Quichua Indians of Inca descent. They were herding their animals, primarily sheep and alpacas. There were villages too. All of this at the top of the world, it seemed. We continued for another 2 hours on into the dark of the night seeing lights from villages all around. The bus would pass the Quichua walking on the road in the pitch dark. The women wear skirts, made of wool or of velvet. The men and women wear ponchos or scarves of brilliant colors, red is the favorite but also purple, bright pink, emerald green, orange and yellow. Not only do they usually have a smile, but they seem to be laughing at something most of the time. Amazing!

We had come to Latacunga in order to visit a local market on Thursday morning in the town of Saquisili (pronounced Saw-key-see-LEE). We left Latacunga early on Thursday to visit the market. The whole town of Saquisili fills with eight different markets. One of our photos shows a Quichua couple at the market. I was very lucky to get the photo because they are tremendously shy and do not like to have their photo taken. It was taken using the telephoto and shows quite well the lively colors of their dress. You also can see the felt porkpie hats that are popular with the men and women of this culture.

We especially enjoyed the animal market where we saw sheep, cows (mostly Holsteins for you cow-lovers), pigs, burros and alpacas being sold. An Alpaca will cost you $70 if you are interested. The women seemed to take care of the animals most of the time. They also accepted the burdens of carrying the 100# sacks of produce on their backs. You need to realize that these Quichua Indians are all small and very compact.

They rarely are over 5’ in height. It is quite a sight to watch the women lean over, hoist the big sack on their back, adjust the straps that steady the weight and then run wherever they are going. They always seem to be moving at a very fast pace. I guess it makes sense that they want to be rid of that weight as soon as possible. So what do the men do? We saw one of them selling women’s underwear and one of them doing the laundry. Another occupation for the men is sewing. Strangely, we seldom saw a woman behind an old Singer but there were lots of men. The Quichua could buy very inexpensive second-hand clothing there at the market. If it did not fit, they went to the part of the market where several men sat outside behind their old black Singer machines using a hand wheel or foot treadle. A few minutes later the adjustments would be finished and the clothing was perfect. We think it is great to see these different cultures.

Another interesting product used old truck tires turned inside out and clinched with nails. These became round containers that could be used to hold various things – water, soil, plants – whatever. The cost was about $1.

We pushed on to Riobamba to the south. The name of this town sounds like an old 50’s Richie Vallie rock and roll song, doesn’t it? From Riobamba we wanted to take a train ride on one of the few lines left in Ecuador. Usually the train would leave Riobamba and journey south to the town of Alausi (pronounced ah-louse-Y) at an elevation of 8,450’. There the passengers are transferred to a special line for a ride called La Nariz del Diablo (The nose of the Devil) which takes about 1.5 hours. The tracks were out of commission from Riobamba south so we were transferred along with approximately 35 other young backpackers from the USA, Germany, Holland etc. in the usual manner of Equador – the bus. Once there, we were loaded onto a very strange looking train car. It consisted of two sets of railroad axles with wheels, topped by a chopped off bus, guided by a narrow gauge track and propelled by a diesel engine. If this description sounds strange, it was!

The ride took us on a descent down the mountainside with gorgeous views. We felt very lucky to have sunny warm weather for the ride and got some fantastic photos. From the top of the coach we had unlimited views around us so it was difficult to decide just which photo to include. Some of the ride brought us to such steep areas that switchbacks needed to be used. It was a fantastic ride and we loved it – such marvelous memories.

The last part of our trip took us down to seaside elevations once again to the city of Guayaquil, population 2 million+. We had two missions in Guayaquil, to find an intelligent travel agent and to journey west to Puerto Lucia where we plan to haul Satori later in the year. It may be difficult to believe that we needed to travel all the way to Guayaquil to find a travel agent, but we can assure you that we tried to find one in every city along our trip. Even in Guayaquil it is difficult to find an agent who speaks English. We felt lucky to find George, born in Ecuador but loves Holland so much that he lives there six months out of every year. We had to wait until Monday morning because we had arrived on the weekend, but we thought it would take the usual 30 minutes to pay for the tickets and have them in hand – not so! Once the tickets were paid for it still took TWO HOURS for a messenger to go somewhere out there to actually get the tickets to deliver to us. We both feel that we have finally passed the test for patience in dealing with the systems of third world countries.

We arrived back in Bahia one week after we left and found Satori in perfect shape. It’s always so good to get back home, isn’t it? And now we can tell you our approximate schedule for the future.

We have round trip tickets on LanChile to come back to the states from June 21 thru August 20 and hope to see many of you during that time. Jane will spend her time in Maine helping her folks figure out what to do with all of the treasures accumulated over the years. Sander will travel to IL and will see lots of friends there.

When we return to Ecuador we will spend a month with Satori on the hard in Puerto Lucia to do many needed projects. After the haul-out we will return to Bahia in order to do some more land travel. We hope to spend up to a month traveling in Peru including a visit to Machu Pichu. It seems there will be plenty to keep us busy and challenged.

Please forgive this extra long message. After a trip like the one we have just finished, it is a very difficult job to sift through the many experiences and try to choose a few that will interest you. There were so many.

As always, we would love to hear from you. Please write to us at our ham radio address which is ****. Blessings to all of you. We miss you.

Jane and Sander