Entering Ecuador

We had arrived in Ecuador, country number 10. It was around 7pm and dark. Despite the fact that we had read that the Ecuadorian border closed two hours ago, there was a steady stream of traffic passing by. I had resigned to a night spent sleeping in the small parking lot right by the main road, but now that we had managed to get our paperwork processed there was no need for that. The real question was where should we drive too?

There was the nearby town of Tulcan, where we could camp for free on the street. However, after a long day we were after a bit more peace and quiet. For that, we could try and camp at Laguna Salado, around an hour away but the last time we tried something like that it didn’t end well. We stuck to our ‘no wild camp spots after dark unless it’s a known spot’ rule. I didn’t want our first night in Ecuador to be stranded on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, especially as we had yet to sort a local sim card. So we decided in the end to head to Finca Sommerwind. A place recommended by a load of overlanders around two hours away. We had been told the roads in Ecuador were better and we knew that we’d be able to access this proper campsite without problems once we got there.

With the plan ready, we jumped in the van and went to leave the border. A border agent stopped all cars that passed by. He pointed us over to the aduana building, we told him we already went. This was apparently very good news, he quickly glanced at our paperwork and then, with an enormous grin, welcomed us into Ecuador. I like this place already.

And so, we were off. In a pleasant contrast to the majority of Colombia, the road here was a beautifully tarmacked dual carriageway. It even had street lighting. It made our decision to drive at night an easy one and the engine purred along as we made our way towards the city of Ibarra. No matter how good the roads are, slow trucks are still a thing and despite the fact that all we wanted to do was get there and settle down, we pulled over to let the engine cool. It wasn’t possible to overtake in the dense mountain fog and huge queue we had ended up in. It was a cool night though, we had barely dropped altitude since Colombia and so after five minutes we continued on, turning off the main road and down into the outskirts of the town.

Happily for us, the roads here were good too and when we arrived at the closed gates of the finca it wasn’t long before Hans, the German owner was there to open them and greet us. He waved us into the campsite. Here’s your spot he told us, and there, he pointed towards the back of the building, are the hot showers. Music to my ears. We let out the girls, set up the van and headed to reception to sign in. Then we grabbed ourselves a nice German beer out of the ridge and sat in the hammocks in the restaurant. I needed a moment to arrive and process the change of country before we could go to bed.

In the morning, after a very quiet night, it was possible to see just how many other vans were here. Some of them were being stored, some of them camping and one of them, a fellow kombi. While I still think it was a little on the pricey side, it’s always nice to have a good spot to get yourself together after a change in country. We met some of our fellow travellers and it wasn’t long before Matt and Cinta showed up. It was a popular place.

The finca has a nice area to make a campfire and we decided to do a pizza night the following day.
Along with having a nice time and relaxing with some other people, we also had a few jobs to do. Our headling had parted company with the roof sometime ago and now hung down in a big saggy mass. It had been on ‘to do list’ for sometime, but with the speedy exit of the country we had yet to address it. So, one sunny afternoon, despite really not wanting to, we attempted to fix that. It didn’t look too bad at the end, especially considering the fabric had stretched but we weren’t sure how long it would last.

Not only that, but we noticed that the tyre we had needed to re-inflate before leaving Colombia was now pancake flat again. Luckily, some other people had bought a huge amount of fish from the lake and we were having a mid-day barbecue, a welcome distraction from Ruby woes. We ate lunch with a mix of people, including Christof who we had met in Al Bosque. There were also some more Colombians and some more French. That included the couple in the other kombi who wanted our opinion on how to deal with some rust. I had a look around their incredibly solid van and one spot of rust and couldn’t help but be a little jealous. To them, this little rusty sill was a big deal. They look horrified when I said the best thing would be to just cut it out and weld a new one in. To make them feel better, I showed them around our train wreck of a VW. While pointing out all the places on our van where there was a distinct lack of metal, I noticed the reason for the flat tyre, the inside had completely split, exposing the plies and the canvas. This called for a change of plans.

We now needed to buy not only a new inverter, but also new tyres. It looked like November was going to be an expensive month. In the meantime, it was the weekend and also a national holiday which meant there was no point in heading to the capital yet. We walked into Ibarra in search of a local sim card instead. What we found instead was, a craft brewery. We did also manage to sort a sim card too, and then after going to a supermarket we grabbed a taxi back to the finca. Carrying the grocery shopping for 5 kilometres didn’t seem to appealing. Back at the finca, we waited out Monday before getting ready to go and spend all our money. Again.

There were a few points of interest between here and the capital, but as we were now driving on our spare which was a completely different size to our other tyres, we decided that we would come back to them later. On Tuesday morning, four days after crossing into Ecuador, we headed for the capital. I had already arranged our new tyres and also the inverter, it was just a case of going to pick them up. On the way, we suddenly realised we had crossed the equator, Ruby had officially made it to the southern hemisphere! Once again, we were driving in the land of volcanos.

We arrived into Quito, the second highest capital in the world, early afternoon and headed straight for the tyre shop. In a matter of moments, we had spent $400 on a set of new tyres. The best of our old set became the spare and Ruby was one step closer to looking like a bad ass monster truck. Not content with spending, we went to buy the inverter.

It seems to be common place here that when you pay in cash it 15% cheaper and when you pay on card it’s 5% more. When you start talking about hundreds of dollars, that’s pretty significant. We were still a little disorganised and my phone data had just expired but with only 20 minutes before the Victron dealer shut, we managed to move around money and sort out some cash, saving ourselves quite a chunk.

It was still $560 though and on that bombshell we headed for some free camping, the car park for a cable car just on the outskirts of the city. I’m not sure how many free nights camping we would need to make up for spending $1000 that day, but we’d better start now. At least in the morning, I could mourn our finances over a charged laptop and a cup of coffee again.

Considering that the parking lot for this cable car was only about ten minutes from the city, it was a lovely quiet night. That following day we were going to meet up with Alexander, someone who we had made contact with on Facebook and who said he could help us get hold of some parts. He said he needed to take his son to the doctors in the morning so we could either drive there with him or meet up later. As we didn’t want to spend long in Quito, we said we were happy to play taxi. We headed over to pick the pair of them up that morning, before driving around.

Although he was born here, Alexander grew up in California and it was nice to be able to speak to someone so easily in English. As we drove along he showed us local points of interest and told us some of the history behind some areas of Quito. We waited a little while for him in the doctor’s car park, before we headed back. Now we decided to go and get some lunch. We drove back into the city centre and he took us out, and very kindly paid for, some local food. I tried a rather good fish soup while Lee had some shrimp. It seemed that Ecuador had a bit more going for it in culinary terms compared to Colombia. It also seems to be a thing here to put popcorn in your soup, and weirdly enough it kind of works.

Now we were fed, we headed to Don Astu for some prices on parts. We received a very friendly welcome, as well as free hats, along with the prices for a new anti-roll bar and brake discs. While we wouldn’t buy them now, we would return in the near future. I was pleasantly surprised. We were quoted around $150 for a new bar in Colombia, here it was $45. That was more like it. We also picked up some new bump stops just like that, for $12. This seemed like the country to get spare parts in, I was glad we had waited rather than paying the ridiculous prices of Colombia.

Finally, we headed to the workshop where Alex was keeping his kombi. A solid looking cream Brazilian model. We had planned to ask the welder there for a quote on some of the parts of ours that needed attention but as he was at lunch we didn’t get a chance. The place was full of classic VWs though and it was nice to know that if we had problems here, it would be an easier fix. As knowing us, there will be problems.

That about summed up the day. We drove Alex back to his house and dropped him off. We would be coming back to Quito soon for some more planned maintenance, so this wasn’t goodbye. What we needed now though was a little holiday from our holiday. After two weeks in a garage in Chia, followed by bombing it to the coast and crossing the border, we were knackered. We had driven over 1000km in just over a week on some very bad roads and now it was time to slow down and take a break. A week or to at the beach was just what we needed.

It was late now, and so we decided to try our luck camping at what looked like a lovely spot in the park. After going to the wrong entrance, thanks to Google, we found our way in. We were flatly denied any kind of camping despite the fact we knew someone had stayed here only a few months ago. We gave up, and headed back across the city to old faithful, the teleferico car park. After all, the barriers had been up the last time and it had been free. One can’t complain.

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