Cobbles and Cloud Forests
Rolling onto the throttle I felt the rear wheel spin just slightly as fist sized rocks skittered out from under my tires. I adjusted my balance and accelerated back up to speed, my motorcycle straining to find power. If I had to guess, this was hairpin turn number one hundred, and I had no reason to believe there wouldn’t be one hundred more. We had been ascending for well over an hour, the air getting thinner by the minute. Once well below the clouds, we were now rising high above them as a voice crackled over my helmet radio, “We’re at 13,000 feet.” I entered another hairpin, made the hard turn, and once again climbed skyward.
For my friend Justin and I, it was our third day in Ecuador with Freedom Bike Rentals and the route had started to get interesting. It was why we had come to Ecuador, to ride the backroads of the high Andes Mountains. As the route finally reached the high point, we stopped and dismounted our bikes to take in the view. Far below us to the east was a thick layer of billowy white, a carpet of clouds at least a thousand feet below. To the south we could see the faint outlines of fields and villages, all flanked by jungled forest. These were airplane views, and not the last of which we would enjoy during the coming days.
Having never been to Ecuador, I cannot imaging visiting it again by any other means than adventure motorcycle. It is a magical landscape, varied in its extremes and home to some of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met. Being atop two wheels simply amplified the experience in an unfiltered way only a motorcyclist could fully appreciate. Adding to the authenticity of our journey were resident guides Court and Sylvan, the founders of Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental. Standing atop our high mountain perch, it was apparent how much these two love what they do. They were drinking in the moment every bit as much as we were.
Our ride had began two days prior at the Freedom Bike Rental office nestled in the heart of the sprawling capital city of Quito. Because my luggage was late to arrive, our departure was delayed by several hours, time we quickly regained with a brisk exit of the city as we sped to the Colombian border. Our plan was to shoot north, then slowly wind our way southward over the course of six days back to Quito. The four of us must have been eager to get rolling as it wasn’t long before we were in Colombia and at our first sight-seeing opportunity, the cathedral Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales. Arriving under the darkness of night we had the place to ourselves.
The next day we ventured deeper into the more remote corners of the region where few tourists, if any, ever tread. The highlight of the morning was a relaxing soak in a sulfur hot springs, the restorative effects of which are impossible to describe. The older I get the more complaints my joints and bones give, but after just thirty minutes in the warm waters, I was a new man. Hard as it was to believe, as the day progressed things just kept getting better and better.
Turning onto yet another tiny dirt road, the clouds enveloping us in a misty drizzle, I could have never expected what was to come. After what must have been a solid hour of riding through dense foliage on a dirt road, we came to a sharp right turn onto a steep driveway. Passing under a tall gate, we parked our bikes, unloaded our gear, and climbed a set of steps. With my jaw slacked in amazement, I gazed up at what I can only describe as our very own jungle palace complete with a pool overlooking lush mountains filled with coffee plants and banana trees. Paradise found, I quickly located a warm shower, a cold beer, and a comfortable chair. Had I not such a keen sense of loyalty to my life at home, I might still be sitting there right now.
As the days rolled on, I found a rhythm to our travels, one I could have easily adopted as the norm. After a restful night's sleep, we'd meet for breakfast on a veranda, the local coffee perfuming the air and helping to peel my eyes open. The fresh juice that accompanied every breakfast paired perfectly to the huevos fritos I routinely requested. Rejuvenated and ready to ride, we'd mount our luggage, zip into our gear, and trundle down yet another bumpy road, the promise of adventure never left to disappoint.
Befitting a proper motorcycle adventure, not everything went as planned. There was the occasional flat tire and unexpected construction project that caused delays. Such setbacks only served to add authenticity to the trip. At one stop as the road was literally being built in front of us, a pair of local moonshiners let us taste their latest batch. Even the construction foreman got in on the sampling. Such liberties seemed harmless, yet so foreign to what we are accustomed to at home.
The last two days of our trip were no less exciting than the first. As we worked our way up and over more high peaks, we took time to visit the mountain town of Salinas where the locals have learned to make cheese, woolen yarn, and even soccer balls, all within rarified air at over 12,000 feet. The final day arrived bringing with it a dramatic skyline filled with heavy clouds. Climbing once again to over 13,000 feet on the flanks of the iconic volcano of Cotopaxi, the temperature dropped to near freezing. After an idillic cruise through more canyons and rolling hills, we threaded our way back into the busied streets of Quito. The rain added somber weight to the last few miles, our suits soaked and heavy. Pulling into the shop and switching off the bikes, it was hard to not to want to turn around and do it all over again.
I can say with certainty, that not only will I go back to Ecuador, I will most certainly go there to ride. Having experienced just a portion of what the country, and our two new guides turned friends have to offer, I will ride again with Court and Sylvan. For Justin and I, riding Ecuador was an experience of a lifetime, memories never to forget.
How lucky we are.