Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 03 Feb 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970203.rpt
Saturday February 1 63479
I decided last night to spend another night here in Banos, and do a day
trip to Puyo, a city of about 15000 situated 30 miles southeast of Banos
on the edge of the Amazonian Basin jungle. The road from Banos to Puyo,
dirt for most of the distance, passes numerous waterfalls as it follows
the Rio Pastaza river valley, and offers views of the Amazon Basin
stretching away in front of you to the horizon. I wasn't planning to
spend any more time than this brief day trip in the Amazonian part of
Ecuador, since I planned to come back north through Brazil on my way home.
After sleeping in I spent the rest of the morning looking around Banos
which was now crowded with Ecuadorian tourists. Yhe plaza in front of the
church was lined with stalls selling food, crafts, and other junk
targetted at the tourists. The main street between the two town plazas
had wide sidewalks geared for pedestrians and was lined with restaurants
and stores selling handicrafts, and other things for tourists. A local
speciality is taffy and one could watch it being made in the doorways of
shops. Long ropes of taffy would be flung over a hook on the door frame
and then stretched out 4-6 feet, then flung back over the hook and the
process repeated until the right consistency was reached. Several places
were making multi-colored taffy by twisting several ropes together. Along
the street several bands were setting up their equipment for street
I left on the bike around 11:30 and got a couple of miles out of town when
I remembered I had left my passport in my room. There was a military
checkpoint just prior to arriving in Puyo where travellers to the jungle
area had to register their passports. So I turned around and went back
for it. Once on my way again, I got only a couple of miles past the point
I had turned around, just after passing through a tunnel, when the road
was blocked by a gate manned by military personnel. The road was closed
because of roadwork to repair damage from a slide the previous week. Tne
soldier informed me that it was closed 6 days of the week for road work
and then opened the seventh for traffic. It would be open Monday.
Here the river was far below and the valley walls very steep and rocky.
Away in the distance you could see the road hugging the valley walls and
the area of road construction. I had a coke at a small roadside stand. I
was going to order lunch until I noticed that their water source was a
small stream plunging down the cliff behind the stand. It probably was OK
since the military personnel and passing truck drivers were eating there,
but I decided to pass.
Once again there was evidence of Ecuadorians fondness for water. The road
in front of the stand was dirt and a boy was constantly watering it down
with a hose to keep the dust from passing traffic down. Pickup trucks
full of passengers would pass and they would get sprayed with the hose and
everyone would just laugh and wring the water from their hair and clothes.
On my way back just after passing back through the tunnel I stopped at the
Agoyan falls. While they were spectacular, from what I read they were
only a fraction of their former glory, thanks to a large hydroelectric dam
on the Pastaza River upstream between here and Banos.
A mile or so outside of Banos I turned off onto a small road leading to
the small village of Runtun situated high on the mountain towering over
Banos. The road was cobblestoned much of the way interspersed with
stretched of dirt. Just shy of the village itself was a resort hotel,
Hosteria Luna Runtun, and I turned off the road there. There was a
spectacular view from the roadside down to Banos stretched out far below.
As I was putting my camera away, a car drives by, stops, and backs up till
it is even with the bike. The guy driving, leans out the window and asks
if I know David Morillo. Well I didn't sctually know David, but I knew of
him. David was the brother of Alex Morillo, whose house I had stayed at
in Quito. The guy in the car worked with David for American Airlines in
Quito, and David had mentioned that an Americn on a large motorcycle had
been in Quito and was heading south. The guy in the car said when he saw
my bike, he figured I had to be that guy. Small world.
Beyond the resort, the main road continued to climb, passing through the
village, which though it had a concrete school building and church, had no
other streets and only a few other small buildings. I continued on for a
ways, at one point having to fend off two Dobermans and a German Shepherd
which ran out from a house I was passing. It was an uphill stretch so I
could just gas it and pretty much left them behind. I knew they'd be
waiting for me when I returned.
As I approached a man tending four cows by the side of the road he
motioned for me to stop. He was carrying a 3 foot machette. I stopped
and Manuel introduced himself and we talked for 10-15 minutes. I can
almost guarantee that one of the questions I'll be asked in such
situations is how much the bike costs. Now I actually don't know how much
money I put into this bike to get it ready for the trip. I purposely
didn't add everything up. But I can safely say it's more than US$8000.
However, in such situations I usually give the price I paid for it used
about 3 years ago, wbich was about US$3500. Sometimes, depending on the
situation, I'll even give a lower price than that. I also always add that
the bike is 15 years old, which is true, just so that the figure doesn't
seem too ridiculous. The theory is that if you give too high a price, and
you happen to be in the area for a couple days, someone might get an idea.
On the other hand, if the price is too low, they may offer to buy it from
you. I've had that happen several times. I just reply that I need the
bike to finish my trip. As I prepare to leave, Manuel and I shake hands,
and he says he will remember me. I say likewise, wave goodbye and leave.
I decide to head back down since the clouds have moved in, obscuring any
view of Volcan Tungurahua which I had hoped to see.
Back at Banos, I try the other hot baths next door to the one I went to
last night, but am disappointed. They are not nearly as warm as
yesterday. Back at my hotel I find that a German couple, Paul and
Natalie, on a Suzuki DLR 650 had arrived. Actually they only met in Quito
where she has been working for some months, and he has been staying for
about a month. This trip to Banos is just a weekend trip for both of
them. He has been travelling for about 10 months, after buying the bike
in Los Angeles. He brought Darr cases with him from Germany. He is
repairing a flat rear tire which he got just as he arrived in Banos. We
compare notes and he mentions the road from Manaus, Brazil, north to
Venezuela is closed, the first I had heard that. I plan to take that
route after going up the Amazon by boat from Belem to Manaus, although
that is some time in the future. I'll have to keep grilling fellow
travellers to try to get more information.
For dinner I had an Ecuadorian speciality, cuy, which is guinnea pig. It
was grilled over coals and tasted a bit like rabbit or pheasant. Quite
tasty. I didn't buy a whole one which was about a foot long and still had
the feet and head, with the little eyes scrunched shut, still attached.
But the leg which I was served still had the foot, with its little claws
clenched, and it made a nice handle to hold the leg with.
Sunday February 2 63509
It's interesting to see the difference in the foods and drinks as you go
from country to country and even different areas within the same country.
In Colombia you almost always could get a cup of good coffee with your
breakfast and it was for the most part the expected drink. Here in
Ecuador, when you order coffee you get served hot water and a container of
instant coffee. The drink served at breakfast most often in my experience
is hot milk. To this you can add instant coffee if you wish.
The cheap shoulderbag I had bought in San Jose, Costa Rica, to replace my
fanny pack which had been stolen, was falling apart, so I bought another
cheap bag for S18000 (US$5) before leaving town this morning at about
I head out of town to the northeast on the road back to Ambato, but a
couple of miles out of town I turn left, heading southwest up the Chambo
river valley towards Riobambo. The road follows the river for the most
part and is nicely paved. As I approach Riobambo I am treated to
spectacular views of Volcan Chimborazo, completely unobscured by clouds.
I continue on looking for the perfect photo-op when I find myself in the
outskirts of Riobambo. By the time I work my way through town and out the
other side, the clouds have moved in to obscur the lower three quarters of
South out of Riobambo the road climbs a bit until it comes out on a high
10000 foot flat valley with several lakes. Sheep, goats and cattle are
grazing alonside the road, and farmers are drying hay and something which
looks like long canes in big bundles. The sun is out but it is quite
Eventually the road climbs up into higher mountains and it gets foggy and
colder. I stop to put on another shirt and my Aerostich pants. The fog
is very thick in places and other times it rains lightly.
Dogs in Ecuador seem to be more aggressive and likely to chase
motorcyclists than in other countries. Fortunately they seem to know
enough not to actually get in front of the bike itself, but rather chase
along from the side.
I lose track of the number of water balloons and buckets of water which
are thrown at me from the roadside as I pass. Most miss me. One hits my
left saddlebag. I see a lot more people in the back of pickup trucks get
plastered though. Again, shrieks and laughter is the usual reaction.
South of Palmira the road surface becomes worse and is frequently broken
asphalt or dirt. I hit a detour which climbs up and around a long stretch
of road, presumably due to a landslide. On this stretch, one ingenious
young boy is using a water hose to douse passing motorists. And it's not
just an ordinary garden hose, but one which projects a 2" stream of water
out onto the road. I get doused but as I have on my full Aerostich it
doesn't really matter. The road remains bad, off and on, the rest of the
way to Cuenca.
On one stretch, dropping down in elevation, with the mountain side to my
left and the valley to my right, clouds are blowing up over the mountain
from below, and to my right and above is a complete whiteout of clouds and
fog. I am riding along the mountainside in a narrow tunnel of clear
visibility as the clouds blow up the mountainside above the niche the road
is carved into.
I stop for lunch in Canar at about 2pm and a couple of hours later arrive
in Cuenca where I stop for the night at the Residencia Siberia where I pay
S18000 for a room with a bath.
Cuenca is a nice old colonial city situated along the Rio Tomebamba, and
has nice wide streets, many old buildings made out of the locally quarried
marble, and a beautiful plaza with an old cathedral with blue and white
I spend most of the evening ppouring over my maps and guidebooks. The
realization that I might need to change my strategy with respect to
getting to Tierra del Fuego has been creeping up on me. It's the begining
of February and I'm only to Ecuador. 2 monthe is not much time to cover
the sites in Peru and Chile, and that would still get me down to Tierra
del Fuego very late in the season, possibly with very bad weather. The
plan which is forming is to travel down to around Lima at a reasonable
pace, but from there blast down to around Puerto Montt in Chile where I
catch a 4-day boat to Pueerto Aisen and then again travel at a more
reasonable pace down to Tierra del Fuego. Then I would turn around and
follow a more zigzag route back north, eventually revisiting parts of
northern Chile and Southern Peru I missed on the way south and also giving
me more time to see Bolivia.
Doing it this way will probably result in a longer overall trip since my
return route north will not be as direct as otherwise envisioned, but will
remove the time pressure I have been feeling about reaching Tierra del
Fuego before winter sets in.
The first impact of this revised strategy will be felt tomorrow. Rather
than crossing the border to Peru at Macara, Ecuador (via Loja) and then
heading southwest to Sullana in Peru. I'll head over to Machala Ecuador on
the coast and then follow the coast, crossing the border at Huaquillas,
My original route involved long stretches of dirt roads and while the
mountain scenery was supposed to be great, I've seen much spectacular
mountain scenery already and will see more in the months ahead. The new
route will cut a day off getting to Peru since it is faster and has better
roads and is more direct.
Monday Febrrary 3 63709
Before leaving Cuenca, I change my excess Sucres back into dollars (about
$70). My guidebook says to follow Avenida Gran Colombia to pick up the
roads leading south and west. I do and soon am on a wide, newly paved
road heading more or less west, though slightly north. I expect it to
turn south shortly, and because it is such a big and new road think it
must be the road southwest to Machala. At a military checkpoint, where I
show my documents, I ask the soldiers how long to Machala and they say 4
hours by bus. Later as the road continues northwest I suspect that I'm
not on the road I planned to take, but as this road is so good and the
scenery is so spectacular I keep on going. It is heading west after all.
The road climbs up through bleak, windswept mountains, cresting a pass at
about 13800 feet with small alpine lakes dotting the surrounding
landscape. Down the other side there are numerous landslides with heavy
equipment clearing the road. At several I must wait several minutes for
the equipment before proceeding. At places the fog is very thick which
makes seeing these slide zones difficult.
Eventually I drop out of the mountains and see the flat, green, coastal
plain stretching away before me, and when I reach it I am once again in a
warm, humid, tropical climate. At a T-intersection, I turn left, heading
south, still not exactly sure what road I took, but knowing that I needed
to head south to Machala where the road I indended to take went. The road
I was now on, was straight and headed south-southwest through banana
plantations and low scrubby jungle. It was also humid and hot.
As I rode through this countryside, I thought to myself, that while
beautiful, I much prefer riding in the mountainous regions of the Andes.
I find the scenery more interesting and beautiful, the roads are
definitely more interesting and fun on a motorcycle, and I prefer riding
in cool temperatures than hot.
At a small town I stopped to gas up, having put just over 370 miles on
this tank. This was an example of the benefit of the large tank. When I
left Cuenca this morning I already had 256 miles on this tank and I had
expected to fill up on the way out of town, but hadn't seen any filling
stations. I wasn't worried since my map showed numerous towns on the road
to Machala. Well the road I ended up on had no towns or villages along it
and it was so new that there were no gas stations either. Without the
large tank I would have had to turn around or be a bit more disciplined in
planning my gas stops. The large tank just provides a bit of flexibility
and peace of mind.
I borrowed their hose to wash off my Aerostich pants, my boots and the
bike as several of the slide areas had a fair amount of mud I had to ride
through. I also used the opportunity to look at my maps more closely to
determine just what road I had ridden through the mountains. The road
went through the Cajas National Recreation Area, and my maps showed it as
being dirt, while my guidebook did mention that paving was in progress. I
was glad I had taken it, though it had added at least an hour of time to
my trip to Machala as the road intersected the coast highway about 75
miles north of Machala.
I headed south, bypassing downtown Machala, passing through several more
uneventful military checkpoints, and arrived at the border town of
Huaquillas at about 2:30. From Machala to Huaquillas the terrain had
turned drier and desert-like. I stopped at a restaurant in Huaquilla for
lunch. I sat where I could see the bike parked at the curb 15 feet away.
Five young Ecuadorian men in their early 20s came in and sat at the table
behind mine and we struck up a conversation. To talk with them I had to
turn around in my seat, putting my bike, and my things at the table out of
my sight, which made me a bit uneasy, a result of my experience in San
Jose and hearing about Jeff Coult's experiences as well. It's an
unfortunate side effect of the actions of a couple bad apples, ruining it
for the rest. In the end, nothing transpired and we had an interesting
conversation. They offered me a glass of beer out of the large bottle
they were drinking and I accepted. One of them, Manuel Castro, had
obviously been drinking before the current bottle had been opened, and
would repeatedly ask what my name was. We'd all laugh and remind him that
it was "Dooglas." Manuel was by far the most talkative, probably spurred
on by his state of intoxication. After many of the typical questions
about my bike, my trip, my marital status, whether I had a girlfriend and
kids, Manuel asked whether I liked Ecuadorian or American women better. I
diplomatically answered that I liked both, that they were both different.
He liked that answer, laughed, and gave me a thumbs up. It was now 3:30
and I had spent more time at the restaurant than I had planned, so waving
goodbye I headed through town to the border.
Things change quickly and the guide book was wrong on most accounts
regarding the border crossing here at Huaquillas. The book implied that
on the Ecuadorian side you could get your exit stamp either at the
immigration office in town or at the office just before the bridge into
Peru. I decided to avoid the mass of traffic and people around the office
in town and proceed to the office near the border. This meant riding
through a crowded market area, crowded with people and stalls, and while
negotiating this mess several men and boys who had seen me pass the
immigration office in town, caught up to me, and said I needed to get my
exit stamps back at the office I had just passed. After confirming I
couldn't in fact get the exit stamps at the office by the border I turned
around and followed my newly self-appointed guide back to the immigration
office in town. When my "guide" saw the Libreta for my cycle, he said
that things would be easy, and in fact they were. One stamp in my
passport and a couple in my Libretta after they removed the exit portion,
and I was out of there in about 20 minutes. Fortunately I had got there
just before a bus carrying a Colombian soccer team.
Outside I haggled a bit with a moneychanger before settling on an exchange
rate and I changed my remaining Sucres into Peruvian Sols. The going rate
is between 2 and 2.6 Sols to the dollar. He was a bit annoyed I think when
I only had 31000 Sucres (US$10) to exchange.
My "guide" hurried alongside me as I rode back through the market area to
the international bridge 2 blocks away. Before crossing the bridge, at a
booth on the right side, I had to show my passport, then walk across the
road to show my Libretta to an officer who wrote down pertinent
information in his notebook, and said the fee was 5000 Sucres. In
retrospect I think I just contributed to his pocket linings, but at the
time, not having dealt with border fees for the last several crossings, I
was out of practice, and didn't even think of asking for a receipt. Now
the problem was I had already exchanged my remaining Sucres into Sols and
only had 3 Sucres in coins. My young "guide" quickly produced his wallet
and gave me 2 Sucres with which I was able to pay the fee. I also knew
that my "guide" had now at least earned a nominal payment.
My guidebook said that on the Peruvian side they might check your passport
at the bridge, but that you didn't get stamped into Peru until the
official checkpoint 3 km later. Wrong again. Immediately after crossing
the bridge there was a immigration booth where I filled out a tourist card
and got my passport stamped. I asked the man at the desk where to go for
my motorcycle and he indicated the Aduana office 100 meters down the
street on the left.
Now I planned to try to get the bike into Peru without using the Libreta
since it had only 8 pages left and I wasn't entirely sure which countries
ahead used it, plus I would be entering numerous countries, especially
with my revised travel plans, multiple times. My "guide" had accompanied
me across the bridge, and he knew I had the Libreta and I didn't want him
to screw my plans up so I told him I was not going to use the Libreta. He
said I needed to use it, but I told him I didn't think so and wasn't
planning to use it and didn't want him to mention it. The information I
have from several sources is that officially no country, including Ecuador
or Colombia, now require the Libreta. While this may be the case, it may
still be true, that with a Libreta the procedure is a lot easier. On the
other hand, as I found out when entering Colombia from Venezuela, having
the Libreta doesn't necessarily make it a painless process.
In the Aduanas office, I show my passport, drivers license, and bike title
and the official tells me to make copies of my passport and title and I
think I'll be able to enter without using the Libreta. Another official
then asks if I have a Libreta, and before I can decide how to answer this,
my "guide", who had been standing just outside the open window, volunteers
that, yes, I had a Libreta. Well that screwed everything up, as now the
officials didn't want to proceed in the original manner, but insisted that
I use the Libreta. I was really pissed at my "guide" and let him know it
when I went out to the bike to get the Libreta. I tried explaining why I
preferred not using the Libreta but that didn't help. Not being in the
mood to haggle or argue with the officials I decided to use the Libreta,
and after making copies of my passport and tourist card, the formalities
with the Libreta were completed in 5 minutes and I was officially stamped
into Peru. I tried asking the officials about my problem of limited pages
and multiple entries into countries, and whether it was possible to
complete the exit section only when leaving for the final time (as had
been suggested by the man at the Venezuelan Auto Club). But the language
barrier was too great and I wasn't in the mood to pursue it so let the
subject drop. I was still pissed at the guide, but gave him a small tip
to cover the sucres he had lent me and his "help" back at the market in
Huaquilles. Then I headed south into Peru.
The road, for the most part, followed the coast, within sight of the
ocean. Here the coast was sand beaches with numerous small huts or
cabanas along it. Many of these appeared to be homes with people living
in them. The surrounding terrain inland was dry desert-like with some low
barren hills. The road turned inland away from the coast for a stretch
through the surrounding barren hills and I had to stop at a customs
checkpoint and show my documents. I asked the official here about the
Libreta and he said that the other countries south of here, Chile,
Bolivia. Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, didn't use the Libreta so it
would not be a problem. He seemed to know what he was talking about, so
I was originally planning to go on to Talares for the night, but the sun
was setting quickly, and riding through the small town of Mancora, I saw
several residencias, and decided to stop for the night, since it was
another 30 miles or so to Talares. I got a room at Residencia Casablanca,
on the edge of town, just across the street from the beach, for S5 (US$2)
with shared bath. I paid in dollars since I was low on Sols. I needed to
find a bank tomorrow.
It had been a long day, I had only gotten about 5 hours of sleep the night
before because I was looking at my maps, and my stomach was a bit upset,
and after taking a shower I collapsed on the bed and quickly fell asleep.
The mosquitos are a bit of a pest here, for the first time in a long
time, and I had dream about getting malaria.