August 22, 2004
Ecuador: A Land of Contrasts
Following is the update for my eight days in Ecuador, a land of contrasts, to
use a well-worn phrase, and one that I will surely repeat as I work my way down
The gleaming glass and steel bank towers of Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador’s two
largest cities stand in sharp contradiction to the wooden shacks on stilts and
the mud huts that pass for houses on the coastal plain and the Andean highlands,
respectively, or to the well-worn, and splendid shabbiness of the stone Colonial
buildings of Cuenca. Smart-dressed women in heels and skirts and men in ties and
suits, mostly of European ancestry, crowd Quito’s streets, while a child in
rags, wool shawl pulled tight around his shoulders, a felt hat low across his
brow to ward away the wind and cold, tends sheep at 10,000’ in the high Andes,
on the road just past Riobamba, a few miles from the booming metropolis of
Guayaquil. Peasants lead cattle past new diesel buses. Principal roads pass from
four-lane interstate-quality to pothole-filled village streets and back within a
mile. Guayaquil, on the Pacific Coast is at sea level, while Quito sits at
9,300’. Coastal swamps, 20,000’ volcanic peaks, highlands of immense beauty,
ostentatious wealth and appalling poverty co-exist in a country of thirteen
million that straddles the Equator. And those are only the areas that I visited,
having saved both the Amazon Basin and the Galapagos for another trip. Ecuador
appears to have it all.
I’ve started my trip in Quito because, skipping Columbia for security or
cowardice reasons (take your pick, I’m still not sure,) Quito is the first port
of entry south of Bogata in the north of the continent, and allows me to travel
almost the full length of South America without retracing my steps.
Meeting Ricardo: Motorcycle Enthusiast from Quito
Ecuadorian motorcycle enthusiast and businessman
It’s not possible to tell this story without introducing Ricardo, so please bear
with me as I digress for a few moments.
It’s over two years ago now that on the internet I first read Glenn Heggstad’s
account of his capture by the FARC (a paramilitary drug cartel) in Columbia for
five weeks before being released to the Red Cross, then subsequent continuation
of his motorcycle ride through South America. In a phone call, Glenn was adamant
that I skip Columbia and start in Quito, and that the man to talk to was Ricardo
That was in the summer of 2002, and I had originally planned my assault on South
America starting in December 2002, to catch summer south of the Equator. But as
the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, wrote in the late-1700s, “the best laid plans
of mice and men gang aft aglee…” It didn’t work out, although Jan and I
subsequently rode through Costa Rica and Panama in early 2003.
As I got more involved with the long-distance motorcycle fraternity during 2002
and 2003, it became apparent that Ricardo met and helped just about every gringo
motorcyclist who traversed Ecuador. As an aside, he spent at least two years in
California completing an AA degree, and is fluently bilingual.
Ricardo answered my questions related to shipping and importation of the bike to
Ecuador, we shared several e-mails, and when I heard that he was visiting North
America, I invited him to stay with Jan and me in Seattle, which he did. For
three days we talked motorcycles and business, while we hit Seattle’s tourist
spots. We certainly shared a common bond.
And we stayed in touch.