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Loja, Ecuador
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 South America.

My friend and fellow motorcycle rider, Ivan Guerrero, from LimaThe 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

Ricardo Rocca at our house in Seattle - summer2003Ricardo Rocco
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 Rocco.

House on stilts on Ecuador's coastal plainThat 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, model and two Columbian trials riders at Moto Show in GuayaquilRicardo 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.