Moving on

For our first new camping spot of 2023, Ruby reluctantly dragged us up the hills that rise behind the town of Otavalo. We opted to stay in the nice garden of a hostel for the night, where we could park on their nicely kept lawn and enjoy the view out over the town. 

I was glad It was a lovely afternoon, we could sit outside watching the chickens scratching around the flower borders and try and get used to camping again. Although we had been living in the camper all along, we had got out of the habit of packing away and it took a minute to get back into the swing of organising all our stuff. It was a welcome distraction though from the slightly emptier camper, but despite the fact we were both sad to have officially left without Liz, we couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. Living by the laguna had been trying at the end. Aimee enjoyed her first new spot too.

While we enjoyed a peaceful afternoon, the night was another matter. Despite the fact that carnival had been the previous weekend, the celebrations continued on into this one. The stadium directly below hosted a rave until 3am, which earplugs did little to block out. then the chickens took over, before a lady with a megaphone shouting about covid rounded off a horrible 8 hours. The owners assured us it was only one night and it was all over now, although we knew better than to believe sentiments like that. They were packing everything away though and so we decided we would stay one more night and take the day to go into Otavalo. Neither of us were in the mood for a stressful drive to Quito yet. 

Since we had bought a ‘lucky llama’ (actually an alpaca) souvenir from the market for secret Santa at the finca, I had wanted one myself. I figured we could use some luck. We headed into the town centre to Plaza del Ponchos market.

We had visited before when the market was only limited to the small square, but now at the weekend it stretched several blocks down every street in every direction. We wandered around, enjoying another sunny day in the hustle and bustle of the traders. Before the market had mainly been clothes, but now there was more of a range of products; jewellery stalls, instruments and fresh produce now interspersed into the mix. In between it all, people sold their random bags of bulk goods in any free space. Baby wipes, tuna or the one person trying aimless to shift 100 of face masks. In the ever shifting crowd, some other walked around with their wares, including one man who was hell bent on selling a ginormous rug that he had hoisted over his shoulder, an seemingly unlikely business venture. Little food carts moved around, selling all different sorts of fruit or street food, I picked up a cup of shredded mango in salt and lime, one of my favourites. 

In the chaos, we did indeed get a our own lucky llama, and naturally he was named Luke. With Luke the lucky llama in tow, we also got a fridge magnet for Ecuador, continuing our tradition of buying a new one for every country we visited. To round of our pleasant afternoon we got a craft beer at one of the only local bars that seemed to be open, before heading back up the steep hill to our van. 

We had noticed the previous evening that the campsite had a huge pizza oven with a large stack of wood next to it, and so we decided to take advantage. Who doesn’t like a proper wood fired pizza after all. Lee was in charge of the burning, while I did toppings. It was a smoky affair, as the oven didn’t have a chimney, but the pizza didn’t disappoint. After our lack of sleep the night before, we headed to bed for an early night. And just as we were drifting off, the music started. 

With the weekend ending, it was time to make a move. We needed to get on with our serious job list at the garage.  This would be Ruby’s final big drive before she got a good load of attention and we hoped we would make it. The gearbox noise was getting worse with every drive and made a horrid whining noise if driven above 3,000rpm. Unfortunately, this is often necessary due to the hills of the road. At least our stop in Otavalo had knocked a little time of the drive as it was on the way and we were also planning on stopping at Alex’s for a couple of days which was nearer our current position being on the north end of the city. 

I was relieved when we pulled up outside his gates again. Now if it broke, at least help was easily available. As ever, Alex welcomed us in to park up on his lawn and take advantage of both the shower and the washing machine. I had tried to shower at the campsite in Otavalo, but once again my electric shower head nemesis had struck. Just as I put in the shampoo, the fuse board tripped and the shower ran cold. Freezing cold. Luckily, the owners had realised that this was an issue and had put the fuse board right there in the shower, leaving me to gingerly poke at it while freezing cold and soaking wet, until after several tries it let me reset it. After that experience, I was looking forward to a proper, hot shower. We also had a proper walk around Ruby’s many rust issues an kept up with entertaining Aimee.

We decided we would spend a day or two here, as we had a few bits we wanted to sort out first. The first evening, we took them out for a drink at Road Brew, it sounded like a nice craft brewery and we wanted to say thank you for them letting us stay so many time. Unfortunately after a week of carnival, there was a very limited menu, including just two options. Still, it was nice to get out for a few social hours with some other people, something that had been rather lacking in our lives recently.

In terms of things to sort before the garage, we wanted to visit the VW garage who appeared to be the best option to repair the gearbox. While it would be hard to say the parts that were needed without taking it apart, we at least hoped to get an idea of the labour cost. We had toyed with the idea of going there first, but decided we would rather go to the garage in Machachi and get to work on Ruby. Then, the gearbox could be fixed in the meantime, this would be better if we needed to order in parts with a long wait time. Experience had taught us to prepare for the worst case scenario. The other garage had also said there was some kind of room we could use, rather than the VW garage who were happy for us to live in Ruby but this wasn’t so good if we needed to rip apart her interior. The only disadvantage was that it was a good hour drive from the gearbox garage, there’s always a compromise somewhere though. 

Alex wanted to drive over to the VW garage anyway, as his kombi wasn’t running very nicely, and we hopped in for a ride. It didn’t take the guy long to give his valves a quick adjustment, which seemed to improve the idle significantly. We then spoke about the gearbox, he told us it would cost $120 in labour, then we would obviously need to pay for the parts, whatever they were. This seemed like a pretty reasonable price, I was glad he didn’t want hundreds of dollars, considering the bearings would probably cost a bit too. We also checked out the two kombis in his workshop, part of us still wanted to try and find new doors. Unfortunately, he wanted to sell them complete. Which I can understand, if we took the doors then he’d be left with something far harder to sell. He didn’t want much, $1000 dollars for the whole car, but then we’d be left with 80% of a kombi at the end, so I didn’t really work for us either. Changing all the doors, would mean a full respray too, another cost. While our doors weren’t great, they weren’t beyond repair and we decided that if we went forward with respraying all the red, then we’d just work with what we had.

Heading to from the mechanics, in Alex’s now running properly bus, we headed to the Santa Clara market for some lunch. Alex walked us around this relatively small market, crammed with fruit and veg stalls. Half of the space was dedicated to food stalls, while the rest piled their produce from floor to ceiling. We opted to try some of the local food, I played it safe with a fig and goats cheese sandwich and a colada morada to drink. Supposedly, this a seasonal thing normally served at halloween. A spiced berry drink that’s thickened with cornflour into a nearly syrupy consistency. It definitely had a ‘winter warmer’ feeling to it. Lee went more out there, he ended up eating a bowl of lamb entrails and a drink that featured alfalfa and raw egg. 

After our lunch, we headed around to the fruit stall. I wanted to try some more of the local fruits, we had never heard off. At the stall we bought one of everything I didn’t recognise, with Alex’s guidance. Later, we would have a fruit lesson. In the meantime, we picked up some potatoes, one of apparently over 300 hundred varieties available in Ecuador. Then it as time to head back to Alex’s house, grabbing a cone of espumilla on the way. This looks like an ice cream and is served in an ice cream cone, but it isn’t cold and is actually more like a very soft marshmallow instead. We had tried it all today.

Back at his house, we decide that tomorrow was the final day and that we would leave for the garage and dive in. Before that though, we needed to try all our fruit. We must have spent a good while working our way through them all, and by the end I definitely had a few new ones that I liked, as well as some I wouldn’t buy again. 

After a large fruit breakfast, we packed up and got ready to set off. We did have one final stop before the garage, and that was to discuss our new roof rack. We went to visit a guy who had built Alex a rather nice metal cabinet. They had already been talking and had given us a price of $215 for a new custom rack. This didn’t seem too bad to us, but we wanted to speak in person and also drop of our roof shower so that the new rack could be built to fit it. We turned up and ended up waiting an hour for the guy to come back from wherever he was. Finally, we discussed what we wanted, dropped off the old rack and headed for Machachi to begin our garage stint. We hoped to return in a few weeks to a beautiful new roof rack

“This is the last big drive!” I whispered to the gearbox for the hundredth time, as we set off. 

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