The difference between Peru and Ecuador is stark. Once across the border everything changes. The potholed road is now concrete highway, the weed-infested fields are now lush banana plantations, and just like that the roadside garbage is replaced by workers in smart uniforms sweeping the road edge and picking up any litter.
I knew little of Ecuador and my expectations weren't high. It was a real surprise to me. Like, who knew Ecuador had a ski industry, right on the equator? It's true, mountains just like our Mt Ruapehu support a few ski fields.
The lowlands are mainly banana plantations, in the 'cloud belt' many other crops are grown such as citrus, papaya, and mango, and in the highlands, between the snow-tipped volcanoes, a thriving farming area exists with root crops, dairying and flowers exported worldwide. In the steep cloud belt donkeys and ponies are used to ferry crops to the road edge.
While waiting at some roadworks I meet Dany. He's riding a CF Moto 800, one of the new breed of motorcycles out of China which are proving to be quite popular. We start chatting. He's a pilot for a local airline, flying 737s on the Galapagos Islands route. Today he has a free day and he's out for a spin on his bike. He buys me lunch at a nearby town.
Being a pilot Dany has excellent English and he tells me a little about his journey from student pilot to 737 captain. He's young and single and intends keeping it that way for now. He's ambitious and would like to emigrate to either NZ or Australia, both of which he has visited. When I ask him why he wants to leave Ecuador, his reply is "the corruption". It seems to permeate life in all the countries I've visited here so far.
I stay a night in the capital Quito (keeto), a thoroughly modern and clean city with great restaurants.
Like all the South American countries I've visited, the driving here is manic. Double yellow lines mean nothing, traffic lights are just a guidance, and yet apart from a couple of very bad, truck vs truck accidents in Bolivia, I've seen no other accidents at all. It amazes me.
As does the lack of health and safety practices. Major roadworks will mean a couple of flag men at best, and maybe a road cone every 100m or so. None of the idiocy seen in New Zealand, where health and safety costs often exceed the cost of the roading project. In La Paz, Bolivia, I watched a guy repainting the yellow and white stripes on a speed hump on a busy thoroughfare. He was painting by hand, with a can of paint and a paintbrush. He had one road cone to divert traffic away from him and his drying paint, and traffic was still moving freely around him, over the hump in both directions. He didn't seem in the least concerned that someone might run him over.
In NZ that would require a bumper truck, at least a couple of lollipop men, 50 road cones, a signed-off traffic management plan and a STMS supervisor on site at all times. It is ridiculous that we've fallen so far down the health and safety rabbit hole.
It's a similar situation with lane splitting, where motorcyclists filter their way to the front when approaching traffic lights, roadworks or any other disruption. It's expected here. I've had some strange looks from motorists if I don't (usually because my bike with its wide panniers can make filtering difficult).
Often when filtering my way to the front of a queue at roadworks, I'll be told by the flag man to go ahead. They realise (sensibly) that I can fit beside oncoming traffic and they're not going to hold me up when they don't need to. The oncoming traffic doesn't blink an eye, and simply moves over to allow me past and I move as far to the right as I can so as not to impede them. Cooperation! Imagine that! In New Zealand, filtering through traffic will often result in car drivers pulling into your space to impede you, or an angry toot from a motorist who is pissed that you are doing something they can't!
Ecuador is not a large country and in just a few days I'm at the northern border. I've enjoyed my short time here and it sure was a pleasant surprise for me.
The border crossing is a busy one, but the officials here go out of their way to accommodate my lack of Spanish. Their computers are temporarily out of action and we get to wait a while. Here I meet several bikers from both Ecuador and Colombia. They are quick to offer me assistance and we swap details. I'm particularly interested in a Dutch expat the same age as me, living in Uruguay. He's touring South America on a Honda CG 110, all of his possessions are bungied to the back of his little bike in a blue rubbish bag and he's having the time of his life. He helps translate instructions from the border officials for me.
Before long the computers are back online and it's goodbye Ecuador, hola Colombia!
So, how does Ecuador rate on Muzza’s shit hole scale? Well, Ecuador gets a solid 4. Good roads, generally free of trash, interesting and varied topography and scenery, and friendly people.
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