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Old 10-15-2012, 01:24 PM #211
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We hit the highway once again from San Agustin. Looking at the map we are so close to Ecuador we could taste it.

There are 2 routes from San Agustin towards the border. One involves a bit of back-tracking north to catch another highway back south again. I hate going backwards. The other route led us straight down to Ecuador but our friends at fromAtoB.org warned us of poor road conditions. Apparently the route between Mocoa and Pasto was very rough, rugged, and dangerous with lots of wash-outs, large trucks, and little clearance between you and a sheer cliff drop-off.

Being the kind of people who usually hear good advice and then completely disregard it, we of course chose to take the hard route.

It started off easy enough from San Agustin. We were on smooth well-maintained highway. After about an hour I started to wonder what the hell AtoB was talking about...

We were in some pretty remote country, apparently popular with Colombian FARC and guerrillas. The military presence was strong along the highway. We passed a few of these bad-ass truck TANKS.


We hit the town of Mocoa and the pavement ran out. We were driving on a very poor rubble road. I checked the maps and GPS a few times to confirm we were on the right track. Guess this must be the rough part they were talking about?

The poor road started to wind up into the side of the mountain. This road is the most direct route between the border and the interior of Colombia's Amazon jungle. It is primarily used by hardcore semi-trucks hauling logs/goods and the occasional lost gringo.


The road was chopped out of the side of the mountain. You could see many wash-outs where it completely had fallen away and road crews dug deeper into the side of the mountain to keep on truckin. The drive was actually quite beautiful. We were inside a mix of cloudforest and rugged mountains. We had to drive through tons of waterfalls and rivers which were slowly eroding into a muddy soup which made traction diffucult.

Eroding Cliff roads+No traction+No guardrails=Sketchy


In many parts you would have to stop before a blind corner and listen for a giant truck coming and sounding his horn. If you hear the horn you better back up and get the hell out of the way before you get run off the cliffs.


We plied this unpaved mountain route for most of the day. I think in total the route was less than 100 miles but it took us around 7 hours or so to cross. When we finally reached pavement I got out and kissed it.

Sweet sweet tarmac!


We pushed on spent a night at a hostel in Pasto near the Ecuador border. Next morning we were up and headed to the border.

One last stop before we cross though. Ever since I first saw a picture of the Las Lajas church I knew we had to visit it. The pictures made it same like a surreal castle nestled in a magnificent valley, the whole place looks unreal.


The inspiration for the church's creation was a result of a miraculous event in 1754 when an Amerindian named Maria Mueces and her deaf-mute daughter Rosa were caught in a very strong storm. The two sought refuge between the gigantic Lajas (Stone walls), when to Maria Mueces's surprise, her mute daughter, Rosa exclaimed "the mestiza is calling me..." and pointed to the lightning-illuminated silhouette over the laja. This apparition of the Virgin Mary caused pilgrimage to this location, with occasional miraculous cases of healing reported. The image on the stone is still visible today.

Ever since then the area has been blessed, the church was built between 1915 and 1949 with donations from the local churchgoers.


The intricate patterns and level of detail on the church is quite impressive.


In the parking lot, We saw our first BBQ'd Cuy (Guinea Pig) on a stick! Looks delicious!



5 minutes down the road, we hit the border for Ecuador. Stood in line for about 15 minutes to get stamped out of Colombia and into Ecuador. Then walked down the street to get our car permit. All in all it was less than 20 minutes and best of all COMPLETELY free! I am loving South America borders.

WELCOME TO ECUADOR!
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Old 10-26-2012, 01:29 PM #212
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After completing the worlds easiest border crossing we headed on down the highway into Ecuador.

We had technically been traveling in the Andes mountains for about a month now, but we never seem to get tired of the views.



Our first Llamas! Or Alpacas? I dont know the difference yet.


I had heard about the cheap gas in Ecuador. But man I was shocked when I finally saw it on the board. $1.45 USD/gallon. Insane! I pulled over giddy with delight and gave the man a $20. Fill her up!


The man gave me a confused look, gave me $10 change back immediatly and started pumping our gas.

Apparently within 50 miles or so of the border all the gas stations are limited at $10 per car to keep Colombians/Peruvians from coming across the borders and filling up. The gas station attendants are equipped with radios and are supposed to report to other stations in the area who has filled up already.

We got our $10, headed to the next town, and topped off the tank. No one bothered with the radio.

Our first stop in Ecuador is a popular town by the name of Otavalo. Otavalo is home to the biggest craft market in Ecuador. Locals travel from the surrounding areas to sell their goods here in the large open-air market.


Lauren tracked down a pair of Alpaca gloves, a Alpaca hat, and a kick-ass pair of ninja slippers. All for $7 USD. Crazy.

We camped for the night nearby and checked out some of the beautiful mountains surrounding Otavalo.


Cruising down the PanAm I knew we were supposed to eventually cross the equator (Protip: the word ECUADOR is spanish for EQUATOR) but I did not know exactly when. We ended up driving right by the damn thing without realizing it. Luckily we doubled-back trying to find a campsite and saw the GIGANTIC YELLOW TOWER LABELED EQUATOR. Not sure how we missed it the first time....



The lines in the concrete line up with the shadow of the tower to create a giant sundial.



It has always been a dream of mine to drink a beer on the equator. Well not really, but we had some in the truck so what the hell. Equator beers!


We ended up making friends with the tour-guy there who gave us a cool lesson on the equator itself and explained the many ancient monuments that surround the area. Pre-Columbian ancient civilizations have been using this particular area to accurately tell time, forecast future seasons/weather, and observe the cosmos for thousands of years. None of that water drains backwards, balance an egg, hoaky fake equator B.S. here. Sorry to disappoint guys.


Our new Equator/Ecuador friend said he was getting off in 30 minutes and asked if we would like to camp on his fathers farm just up the street for free? Why yes we would! We spent a wonderful night hanging out with our new friend, his father, and some amazing stars. The father even hooked up the water in his cabin for us if we were interested in taking freezing cold showers. We passed but appreciated the gesture! This was the first of many encounters with Ecuadorian locals, we found them all to be friendly and accommodating.



Check out Laurens new hat. 2 Happy campers.


Read the rest of the story and more pics on the blog at Home on the Highway crosses the Equator! | Home on the Highway
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Old 10-26-2012, 10:08 PM #213
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So much for "The Simpson's did it."?



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Old 10-26-2012, 11:14 PM #214
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What an awesome looking trip.
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Old 11-02-2012, 03:45 PM #215
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Getting out to the deep amazon jungle on your own is a bit difficult. The primary form of travel in the Amazon is via the millions of rivers and water ways that wind through the jungle. There are very few roads and access via automobile is rare. We always regret not installing deploy-able Pontoons on the 4runner in situations like this...

I looked at our map of Ecuador and found the Cuyabeno National Park which appeared to be the most remote Amazon jungle area that we could actually drive to. Well you could not really drive INTO the park but you could get damn close. At the end of the road we would have to hitch a ride in a motorized canoe to actually make inside the parks boundary.

We hooked up with a cheap jungle lodge company in Quito that would agree to let us drive to the jungle ourselves. We had less than 24 hours to make it all the way across Ecuador to a random bridge in the jungle where there would (hopefully) be a canoe waiting to pick us up.

No big deal.

We hauled ass from Quito that afternoon. We crossed up and over the Andes mountains into a thick fog. We broke through the fog to see the low-lying Amazon jungle below us as far as the eye could see.


We dropped down from the mountains into the hot misty jungle. By this time night was falling, we found a spot to post up the night in front of an old clapboard house on stilts. This construction was typical of the area, reminded us of the homes seen along the Caribbean coasts of Central America.


Up in the morning and back on the road. We were zooming past miles and miles of oil pipelines and drilling rigs.



I usually try keep my personal politics off the blog but feel this needs to be shared. Ecuador is home to one of the largest oil reserves in the Americas. For over 25 years Texaco/Chevron and PetroEcuador have been pumping the hell out of the rainforest to the tune of 1.5+ billion barrels. Great for gas prices but absolutely devastating to the environment. The oil companies have been leaving behind their drilling waste products in large open pits in the rainforest. These pits overflow in the rainy season causing widespread contamination to the water table, soil, and farms of the local communities. There has been ongoing litigation in Ecuador between the 30,000+ locals effected in the rainforest and the oil companies who have exploited it. There is a great documentary called "CRUDE" which goes into much more detail on this situation. The movie is available streaming on Netflix. You can watch the trailer HERE on youtube. HERE is a short 60-minutes piece on the issue as well. I encourage readers to watch these segments and learn about the exploitation taking place, this kind of crap would absolutely not fly in the U.S.A.


Eventually we arrive at a lonely bridge in the middle of the jungle. We see no one. Crap! Did we miss the boat? We park and start looking around. We go underneath the bridge where we discover a toothless old man snoozing in a canoe. We gently nudge him awake. He sits up and I see he is wearing a Cuyabeno River Lodge t-shirt. Score! This was our guy.

We stash the truck at the old mans shack, load our stuff into the canoe, and hit the river. The small 5 horsepower motor slowly idled our canoe through the thick forest canopy. The morning was full of jungle sounds, frogs, monkeys, birds, insects. The sound of the jungle in the morning is something you must experience to believe.




We travel for around an hour or so via canoe seeing nothing but dense rainforest. We come around a bend and rising up out of the jungle is the "Cuyabeno River Lodge". The lodge consists of one large primary building and about 10 separate open-air cabanas.




We unloaded our stuff and were directed to our open-air cabin. Complete with hardcore bug net (very necessary out here in the jungle)


Home Sweet Home.


After a quick 30-min rest up the main bell sounded. We headed back up the clubhouse and met, Diego, our jungle guide. We also met a great group of ladies who have been volunteering with a street children education program in Quito for the past few months. They would be part of our group for the next few days.


First order of business. Suit up! We were all given a pair of knee-high rubber boats AKA Wellies to hike through the jungle with. Our guide tells us, "It's pretty wet out". (This would prove to be an understatement...)

Geared up we headed out into the jungle.


Read the rest of the jungle book and lots more pics on the blog at Welcome to the Jungle – Cuyabeno Reserve | Home on the Highway
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Old 11-20-2012, 01:51 PM #216
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While we were camped out in the jungle, our guide Diego was reveling us with stories of Ecuador's coast. Hearing tales of the Ruta Del Sol (Route of the Sun), Galapagos Islands, and fresh ceviche was enough to have us change our destination from mountains back to the coastline.

Headed out of the jungle we picked up a flat-tire, we easily tracked down a vulcanizadora in a nearby town. A 14-year old boy and his 8-year old brother came out to greet us. As they were removing the tire I realized it was a Tuesday and asked the kids if they should be in school. They both looked at me confused and said "This is our school". I felt guilty as I spent most of my 14-year old childhood doing my best to make my teachers lives a living hell. I think they should send little jerks like me to fix tires out in the jungle for a few months. I would be begging to come home and study. Perspective.

15 minutes and $2 later the tire was patched, filled, and we were back on the road.


We made a pitstop near the touristy town of Banos to relax for a few days at the wonderful Pequeno Paraiso, a highly recommended hostel/campground run by a friendly couple whom primarily cater to large "overlanding tour groups". These tour companies rig up giant buses with kitchens, camping equipment, and other overlanding gear, load 30 people on the bus and drive all over the place for months. A concept I had never heard of but is apparently very popular in South America, Europe, and Africa. Personally I don't think I could be stuck on a bus with 30 strangers for 6-months but some people must enjoy it. Luckily no group was there and we had full run of the joint. Its a great spot to hang for a few days.

We explored the areas waterfalls and recharged our batteries for a few days enjoying the cool mountain air.





From Banos we hit the highway, passing up and over the Andes, waving hello to Mount Cotopaxi on our way.


Pick your cut!


Eventually we were cruising closer to the coastline through some interesting dry tropical forest like landscape, it was full of these giant "bottle trees" which looked more like something out of Africa than South America. I later learned these are called "Ceibos" and actually are related to the famed Boabab trees of Africa.


Lauren, ever the queen of wildlife, picked up a new friend along the way, somehow this guy ended up landing on Lauren's hand while we were cruising at 55MPH. Amazing colors.


Soon we met up with the coastline itself, ah the Pacific, nice to see you again!


We discovered the "Route of the Sun" was more akin to the "Route of Grey". It is common knowledge (to us now as well...) that this time of year in Ecuador the coastline is primarily clouded over with grey clouds. Undeterred, We trekked on down to Puerto Lopez, our next destination.

Arriving in Puerto Lopez we quickly tracked down a little campground with wifi, hot showers, and a bar. Check, Check, and Check.

We made arrangements to head out to the "Isla de la Plata" the next morning. We had read that Isla de la Plata was the "poor mans Galapagos". Home to blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, and other forms of rare wildlife usually seen on the famed Galapagos islands. The difference was, a trip to the Isla de la Plata is $40 whereas a trip to Galapagos can range from $1000-$5000 depending. One day we would like to return and explore the real Galapagos. For now, the $40 Isla is more in our budget range.

Next morning we were out to beach where we were mingling with the fisherman hauling in the days catch. Seemed like 1/2 of the damn ocean was being hauled in to the shore.


We saw giant squids, tuna, dolphin, shrimp, you name it, being loaded by the crate into refrigerated trucks.



We weren't here for the food today, I doubt my stomach could handle eating a giant squid at 7:00AM anyway.

We met our boat captain, suited up, and walked out into the ocean to board our vessel. No fancy docks here, you gotta get wet to get onboard.



We were soon tooling along across the Pacific, the weather had cleared up and it was a gorgeous morning. My eagle-eyes caught many whales breaching the water off on the horizon. We also passed a few trawlers out hunting for shrimps or squid.


After a 2-hour ride we spotted a small island in the distance. From afar the island island appeared to have strange white patches all over it, as we approached I could see why, surrounding the island were thousands upon thousands of birds flying to and fro. The white patches? Awww ya thats doo-doo baby.



On the boat ride over we made friends with some fellow english-speakers, Aaron and Bri from Canada. We teamed up and got ready to hit the trails. However, once we actually made it onto shore we learned we were not allowed to just freely roam the island, we needed to go with a tour guide. Pretty lame, especially lame since we ended up standing around waiting for an hour for a late boat to arrive with more touristas. Oh well, We made the best of it practicing our best boobie jokes in preparation.

What kind of bees make milk? Boobies!


Finally our hike started and within 15 minutes we came across our first booby-sighting!


Read the rest of the story and loads more pics at Ecuadorian Coast. Isla de la Plata and boobies galore! | Home on the Highway
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Old 11-20-2012, 06:08 PM #217
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You had me at boobies.

Thanks for the updates, i love getting the email reminders when you have a new post.
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Old 11-20-2012, 06:33 PM #218
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Old 11-29-2012, 04:06 PM #219
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Hey guys! If you havent added us on facebook, please do!
http://facebook.com/homeonthehighway

Up and on the road the next morning we quickly approached the Ecuadorian side of the border, turned in our paperwork, got our passports stamped out and jumped back in the truck. A few miles further the large Peruvian tourism logo greeted us. Welcome to PERU! Country #12.



It took us an about an hour to clear through the entry paperwork. We encountered the standard hiccups which we are used to by now. Note to future overlanders, If your car title has your license plate number listed, make sure it actually matches the tag on your truck.... Our original plates were stolen back in Baja, we were issued new ones and have the proper registration paperwork but it always causes a snag when they see the title and the registration don't match up. Just a tip!

Paperwork completed, we were free and clear for 90-days of fun in Peru!

We scooted on down through the sketchy border town of Tumbes and were soon cruising some of the best blacktop we have seen the entire trip.


Suprisingly, the landscape also quickly changed from the low-lying coastal jungle of Ecuador to straight Peruvian desert. I soon learned the entire coastline of Peru is actually a giant desert, appropriately nicknamed "The Egypt of South America". The dunes rose up out of the earth towering everything in sight. Bundle in the lower range of the Andes directly behind them and you get jaw-dropping scenery unlike anything we had ever seen before.







As we cruised along the coastline, we checked in with our friends SprinterLife for some Peruvian travel tips. SprinterLife gave us the downlow that the mountains are actually the perfect place to be right now. We cut up from the desert coast and started heading into the Andes. Closer towards the low-range of the Andes we saw the desert transform from a lifeless sandbox to lush green fields and rivers.


Climbing further up the mountain we soon discovered the source of the greenery below. A giant dam has been constructed here to collect water from the mountain snows/rains and slowly disperse it to the farms in the valleys below.


It's a dam lake


We crept further and further into the mountains until eventually arriving at a small city named Cajamarca. Cajamarca sits around 9000FT. The city has a very rich history dating back thousands of years to pre-Chavin culture. The Incas took up residence here for a while as well, before being conquered by the bloody Spainards. It has a lovely colonial style town-square, we found a cheap hostel and setup shop.


We strolled around the town taking in the beautiful colonial churches, hospitals and various other historical sites. SprinterLife had been right, the weather was perfect up here the mountains.



Located just outside of Cajamarca are the "Banos del Inca" (Inca Baths). Here there are naturally occuring hot springs that the Inca elite used for bathing and ceremonial purposes. Nowadays even regular Joe's can swim or bathe in the waters. The Peruvians have constructed a large complex of various showers, pools, and baths. You can get even get a massage on site. The baths are cheap, around $2. An hour long massage only running $10 or so.

Steaming thermal pool


Lauren testing the water in one of the ancient Inca bath houses. Yep, its hot!


We paid our soles and got our own private bathroom where they pipe in the thermal waters. The water was insanely hot straight from the tap, luckily you could regulate the temp with a series of valves. Even so, after 20 minutes of being in there we felt pretty light headed. Lauren actually had to quickly step outside and sit on a bench before she fainted.

Ladies, Try your best not to swoon.


We explored the hills around Cajamarca, passing through many small Andean villages, seeing people go about their daily lives.



Cruising these backroads you often come across locals trudging up the mountain towards their homes. One guy flagged us down and jumped on the sliders. He let me wear his sweet ass hat so it wouldnt blow off in the wind. I was pretty excited as you can see.


Currently Cajamarca and the surrounding villages are in a huge battle against large foreign gold-mining interests who have been destroying their land, rivers, and food sources. There are daily protests, roadblocks, and there have even have been some attacks on the miners by locals. Read more about the situation here.

Unfortunately, we managed to get mixed up in a roadblock where the villagers mistook our large Toyota truck as being a "Mining truck". Things got a little intense as we approached about 20 villagers including grandmas, children, and pregnant ladies all armed to the teeth with various implements of destruction. Rakes, hoes, pickaxes, and other farming tools take the place of guns here. As we approached the roadblock they started screaming and banging on the sides of the truck. I yelled out the windows that we were "solo touristas!" and pointed to the innocent looking Lauren as proof that we were in fact NOT greasy miners. Once they realized we were just a bunch of dumb gringos, they yelled at us to get the hell outta the way so they could finish their roadblock! Whew, that was a close one! Sorry no pics.

We eventually made it to our destination "Ventanillas de Otuzco"(Little Windows). The ancient Cajamarca cultures dug these small crypts out of the side of the mountain. Inside they would place the bones of deceased leaders along with tools, gold, and other important items much needed in the afterlife. Pretty cool, unfortunately looters had pillaged most everything before scientists ever got a chance to get in there.



Rest of the story, tons more pics, and SOME BIGS NEWS on the blog
http://homeonthehighway.com/peru-land-of-the-incas/
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Old 11-29-2012, 04:17 PM #220
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Defrag, good to see you aren't dead yet, and thanks for the pics as always! Were your ears burning?
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Old 11-29-2012, 07:35 PM #221
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Defrag, good to see you aren't dead yet, and thanks for the pics as always! Were your ears burning?
lol I think I win that thread
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Old 11-30-2012, 02:50 PM #222
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What an adventure. What memories you are making for yourselves.

I just spotted this thread. 15 pages.... so far = not much work going on today reading through this, that's for sure.
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Old 12-01-2012, 02:47 AM #223
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I just discovered this thread and just finished reading through the last 15 pages.
Amazing story! I spent some time down in Honduras and Central America years ago. If you ever get back to Texas and need some help or just someone to drink a beer with... I usually keep a cold Lonestar or 3 around. Be safe!
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Old 12-08-2012, 12:14 AM #224
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Awesome Adventure. In 2010 I bought a Nissan Civilian in Quito and drove it down to Ushuaia and then up to Bolivia via Buenos Aires. I wish It would have been a 4runner! Good luck and make sure you hit Patagonia when it is summer.
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Old 12-18-2012, 04:01 PM #225
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I just discovered this thread and just finished reading through the last 15 pages.
Amazing story! I spent some time down in Honduras and Central America years ago. If you ever get back to Texas and need some help or just someone to drink a beer with... I usually keep a cold Lonestar or 3 around. Be safe!
i am down, love me some lonestar
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