Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports

Date: 31 Jan 1997 
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list 
Subject: Trip Report - 970131.rpt

[ "Sunday January 26" is missing.   -DaVE ]

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------

Monday January 27

I found a bank, Banco de Guayaquil, with an ATM on the PLUS System, and
replenished my supply of Sucres, which the tire purchase on Friday had
pretty much wiped out.

In the afternoon I stopped by the SAEC clubhouse, where the DHL package
from home was being sent, and it has arrived.  It was a bit scary seeing
how good a job the thieves did at forging my signature.  There were
charges at restaurants, jewelery stores, airline tickets, electronics
stores, you name it.  For the Visa card there was a form I had to sign and
get notarized and mail back to the States.  AmEx merely required I sign a
form and fax it back. It took me the rest of the afternoon to run around
getting those things taken care of and I got to the FedEx office only
minutes before they closed at 6:30pm.

While at the clubhouse in the afternoon, I had run into another biker,
Dave Johnson from Wisonsin.  He was riding with a friend from Germany,
both on Honda XL600s.  They had come through Panama shortly after I had,
had stopped at the Road Knights clubhouse, and seen the writeup I had left
there about how I shipped my bike to Colombia.  Dave said, they followed
my suggestions to the letter and as if to prove the point, he produced a
copy of the instructions I had left at the Road Knights clubhouse.  I
neveer did meet his German friend, but they had met on a previous
motorcycle trip in either Europe or Asia, and had agreed to do this South
America trip together in '97.  We agreed to meet at 7pm for dinner at
Dave's hotel.

I got there a bit late after fighting my way through Quito traffic.  We
had a couple beers while comparing notes of our trips so far.  We had very
similar routes, though they had come through Baja, and had spent time
scuba diving in the Honduran Islands.  They also were headed to Tierra Del
Fuego, but planned to sell their bikes somewhere down south in Chile or
Argentina.  That's a definite advantage of taking a bike that you just
bought for the trip and haven't put a lot of time and money into like I
have with my G/S. The bike essentially becomes expendable.   It's a
different approach, and both have pros and cons.  Later we walk down to a
restaurant known for it's steaks.

It turns out that during winters Dave works as a truck driver in Campbell,
California, which is two towns south of where I live in Sunnyvale. 
During the summers he works on the family dairy farm near Sheldon,
Wisconsin. We exchange addresses and agree to get in touch when we're back
in California.  Dave and his Germain friend will be finishing their trip
in March or April, so Dave can return to Wisconsin for the summer farming
season.  I won't be back in California until who knows, September or

They've done the trip without the Libreta and haven't had any problems so
far.  We each order a large T-bone steak, which is exquisitly (sp?) tender
and very delicious.  Several more beers wash it down.  At the end of the
evening Dave insists on buying my dinner and beers.  I thank him and
promise to reciprocate back in California next winter.  They are leaving
Quito tomorrow, while I have another day or 2 here, so we say goodbye
knowing the next time we see each other will be back in California.

Tuesday January 28

I take a short day trip out to Mitad del Mundo, which is situated astride
the equator 25 km due north of Quito.  It is a huge monument with a
rectangular base on top of which is a huge globe.  Inside is a small
museum which describes the various cultures and ethnic groups found in the
different regions of Ecuador, from the black, almost Caribe, cultures
along the coast, to the Indians of the high Andes.  An observation deck on
top gave a view of the surrounding area and in the distance you could see
the Quito suburbs.  A red line was painted along the long walkway leading
up to the monument, the equator, and I got a picture of me straddling it. 
I had hoped to get a picture of the bike in front of some such monument
but it was not possible to ride the bike into that area.  Surrounding the
monument were numerous crafts shops but I pretty much ignored these.

Wednesday January 29

Thinking about it more last night and this morning I decided it would be
kind of dumb to leave Quito without seeing more of the Old City.  I
decided to stay at a hotel in the Old City tonight and spend the day
looking at the sites in the vicinity.  I find that the times during this
trip when I end up staying in someones home, that it is easy to get sort
of lazy, and not see as much of the area as I would if I was staying in a

Also I've spent a fair amount of time the last couple of days catching up
on email.  It's both a blessing and a curse.  I hadn't been able to check
my email since San Jose Costa Rica on Thanksgiving Day, amost exactly 2
months ago, and when I connected on Sunday had more than 50 messages
awaiting me.  I also finally got to sent out messages I had composed back
in San Jose and along the route since, but had been unable to send.
Reading and replying to those messages takes more time than I care to
admit, especially when done on this small palmtop.  Then dialing in again
to send that batch of replies takes more time (not to mention money), and
of course there are then replies to my email I sent out the last time I
connected.  It's actually a convergent process.  After several iterations
of connecting/sending/receiving the number of new messages received each
iteration finally approaches 4-5.  But until you get to that point it's
time consuming.  The curses of modern telecommunications.  Ted Simon
didn't have this problem on his round-the-world motorcycle trip.

I was surprised to find that Alex had breakfast waiting for me when I got
downstairs.  After breakfast and some photos of Alex and his bicycles, I
left at around 9:15.  There were supposed to be protest marches to Plaza
Independencia which is where the Presedencial Palace is located, so I
wasn't sure if my planned route was open or not.  But at this hour of the
morning the protesters must have been sleeping yet and I had no problem
finding my targetted hotel, Hotel Plaza del Teatro Internacional, on
Guayaquil near Esmeraldas.  The room, with private bath (hot water) and TV
was S35000 (US$10) and it had a parking garage for the bike.  It was 5
blocks from Plaza Independencia, and by 10:30 I was checked in and heading
out to explore the Old City.

I first walked north to Parque La Alameda which has a large monument to
Simon Bolivar, and the oldest astronomical observatory in South America,
opened in 1864.  There are statues of the members of the French Academie
des Sciences 1736-1744 expedition, who surveyed Ecuador and made the
equatorial measurements which gave rise to the metric system of weights
and measures.  Normally the observatory is only open to the public on
Saturdays but there was a man outside the front door and I asked if it was
open and he said he would give me a tour.  Senor Marco Alvaro had worked
for 40 years at the observatory as a Meteorologist and the site was still
an active meterological station, taking readings 3 times a day.   Marco
took me up to the top of the tower and showed me the old telescope, French
made in 1864.  The structural steel for the observatory was German made. 
Marco spoke in broken English (about as good as my Spanish) in order to
practice and I spoke in Spanish.  We each corrected each other when needed
and helped the other out with words we couldn't remember or didn't know. 
He showed how the huge telescope (for that time) was perfectly balanced
and was easily rotated into position for observations.  I took a photo of
him standing out front of the observatory.

As I walked back south towards Plaza Independencia, a large group of
students marched by on Avenida 10 de Augosto towards the plaza, carrying
large banners and placards, and chanting slogans which I couldn't
understand.  At the plaza there were already crowds gathered listening to
speeches made by speakers standing around the central statue.   Others
were gathered on the steps of the Cathedral on the south side of the plaza
and large banners were hung from it's walls.  The police presence was
overwelming with Nacional Policia, decked out in grey and black camaflage
uniforms and wearing riot helmets and carrying riot shielda and battons.
stationed at the corners of the plaza.  But everything was peaceful, and
throughout the entire day I didn't see one case of violence.  

I sat down on a bench to watch the goings on and read my guidebook.  Two
older ladies, who I later found out were sisters, sat down beside me and
warned me to watch my camara.  One spoke better English than my Spanish; 
she had lived in the States for almost 20 years and was a Spanish teacher
both in the States and here in Quito which is where she was born.  She had
travelled extensively throughout Europe and Australia and so admired ny
spirit of travel and adventure, but said she would never travel alone in
Latin America - too dangerous.  She also pointed out that when she first
left Quito for the States, "Quito was almost entirely white", but now she
said, motioning around the plaza there were Indians, blacks, and mestizos.
 There was a bit of superiority in her voice as she made this observation.

She said the whole country was in turmoil, boiling over the political
situation with President Abdala Buscaram, in office for only 5 months. 
She said he was loco (crazy), which is the sentiment I've heard from
numerous Ecuadorians, and that there was talk Congress was going to remove
him from office on grounds of mental incapacity.  She said he had been
elected by the uneducated illiterates, to whom he had made wild promises
of reform and economic assistence.  This too I had heard from other
Ecuadorians.  Now, five months later, with nothing forthcoming from the
new administration, the people were getting angry.  This was compounded by
the idiosyncracies of the new presedent; who refused to live in the
Presedential Palace because he supposedly thought it was haunted by the
dead sister of the previous president; who had recently been named
president of an Ecuadorian soccer team and which he claimed was his duty
to serve as;  he had been quoted as saying that Ecuadorian beaches were
better than the French Riviara, and now the French press referred to him
as "The Clown.  Other scandals plagued his administration:  his Education
Minister resigned yesterday after it was discovered her PhD disertation
was plagerized from someone elses disertation 4 years earlier.  And the
Predident blamed everyone from the current members of Congress to the
ex-Presidents of the country for conspiring against him and keeping him
from carrying out his programs.  Two days before, Alex's brother-in-law,
who was a lawyer in some government agency, said there were rumors that
Buscaram was going to declare emergency powers and disolve Congress, much
as Fujimora had done in Peru several years ago.  Another thing Buscaram
had done which really angered the majority of the population was he had
visited Peru shortly after taking office.  Now Ecuador and Peru have been
in a state of conflict since 1942 when a large chunk of Ecuador's
Amazonian Basin lands were granted to Peru in a settlement forced on
Ecuador by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and the US, as settlement of a border
dispute with Peru the previous year.  At any rate, Buscaram was the first
Ecuadorian President since then to visit Peru and during that visit, he
used the term "perdon" (which means apology) in a anner which made it look
like Ecuador was apologizing to Peru, something which outrages most of the
Ecuadorian population, which still support Ecuador's claim to the disputed
lands. Ecuadorian maps still show the disputed lands as being part of

We talked for a while longer, and then they left, both wishing me "felize
viajes" and "bueno suerte".

An apparent unfortunate side effect of the protests were that the
Presedential Palace and the Cathedral were closed to the public so I could
not see the inside of either.  Riot Police barracaded the entrance to the

Quito has 86 churches and I walked around the Old City visiting a handful
of the more ornate and well-known churches.  Most had large plazas in
front which were crowded with people enjoying the good weather.  I
strolled along Calle La Ronda in the La Ronda disatrict, one of the oldest
streets in Quito and lined with balconied houses.  High up on a hill along
Calle Venezuela was the huge, "new", gothic Basilica, still being worked
on, 71 years after work began in 1926.  It has many gargoyles, stained
glass windows and huge bas relief bronze doors.

Late in the afternoon as I was returning to my hotel, more marchers
paraded by on their way to the Plaza. I saw more than 20 groups march by,
each carrying banners and placards, many denouncing President Bucaram. 
These groups were not just students, but included workers, womens groups,
campesinos from outlying villages, and social organizations.

A country-wide general strike is being called for next Wednesday February
5, and while the organizers are stressing and calling for nonviolent
protests, there are warnings that violence could break out in places. I'm
planning to be out of the country by then, hopefully crossing the border
into Peru a day or two before then.

Ecuadorians seem to love water balloons.  Many young boys are seen walking
around the streets and plazas carrying them, and their favorite targets
seem to be young women or girls.  Surprisingly, when someone gets pelted,
there's rarely an angry reaction, but rather, following the initial shriek
at the unexpected bath, a laugh or shrug, accompanied by the laughter of
nearby friends.  But it's not just young boys doing the throwing, as
During the parade of marchers, I saw older men also tossing balloons.  A
favorite ploy is to toss the balloons down on passerbys from second floor
balconies and windows.  Only once did I see an angry reaction and that was
in Plaza San Francisco where a young shoeshine boy had pelted a young
Indian girl and the girls mother, dressed in her native outfit, gave chase
to the young boy with a stick.  Of course the boy was too fast for the old
lady abd escaped.  Fortunately I avoided any direct water balloon hits but
did get splashed a couple of times.

Thursday January 30	63218

On the way out of Quito I rode up to Cerro Panecillo, a hill which closes
off the valley at the south end of Quito.  It rises 183m above the city
and has a huge statue of the Virgen of Quito at it's summit.  Stairs take
you part way up the inside of the statue and from the observation deck you
get a great view of Quito stretching away to the north.  On a clear day
you'd get a good view of the encircling cones of the volcanoes and other
mountains but, while it was clear over Quito, the surrounding mountains
were cloaked in clouds.

South of Quito, the PanAm highway goes through spectacular mountain
scenery, and a series of volcanic peaks go by on each side.  First on the
right is Volcan Illiniza, then Cotopaxi (5897m) on the left, and then
Chimborazo (6310m) on the right.  Unfortunately all are completely cloaked
in clouds and only with Cotopaxi am I able to see any snow on the lower
extremes of the mountain, poking out from below the clouds. The road
proceeds south, for the most part at elevations of more than 10000 ft,
twice rising to more than 11500 ft and several times dropping below 9000
ft.  The surrounding mountainsides are heavily cultivated, and there are
also areas of pinr forest and apple orchards and onion fields.  At one
point I skirt some rain clouds and get a few sprinkles but the road turns
and the skies ahead are clear and I decide not to stop to put on my
Aerostich pants.  While going around a traffic circle in Ambato, a town
known for it's February flower festival, my peripheral vision picks up a
rather large projectile coming towards my head from the right side.  I
instinctively duck and successfully avoid a large water balloon hurled by
some boys at the side of the road.  As I approach Riobamba the surrounding
hills become a bit drier and not so lush.  

I arrive in Riobambo (2750m) at about 3:45 and decide to stop for the day.
 It is a relatively small city (95000 people) and has a lot of old stone
buildings situated on broad streets of cobblestone and paving stones.  I
get a room at Residencia Nuca Huasi on Avenida 10 de Agosto for S12
(US$3.50) with private bath.  I grab a hamburger at a small restaurant
across the street and then walk around the city.  The city itself is
situated on a flat plateau, but at the north end the Park 21 de Abril is
located on top a small hill and offers a nice view of the city and the
surrounding mountains.  In the distance to the east are some jagged snow
covered peaks.   Cotopaxi, to the north is still shrouded in clouds.  Dark
storm clouds threaten to the south, east and west, but Riobambi is bathed
in sunlight.  There are 4 other nice parks or plazas in the downtoen area,
with central fountains or statues and many palm trees.   Stately old
buildings and churches face the plazas. A nice city to stroll around in,
unlike the hustle and bustle of Quito.

Friday January 31	63343

In my involvement with trying to figure out how to get out of town I
almost failed to notice Volcan Chimborazo (6310m) rising majestically in
all it's glory to the northwest. completely free of it's usual cloaking
clouds.  I rode back to the Parque 21 de Abril, on the small hill, where I
had walked yesterday afternoon and captured it on film.  Volcan Tungurahua
(5023m) to the northeast, with the church in the foreground, was also in
full view.  Spectacular sites.

Last night reading my guide book and map, I discovered that two very
spectacular roads were within a days ride, though it meant having to loop
back north to Ambato, which I had passed through yesterday.  However the
potential of these roads was such that the decision to do them was an easy
one.  For me riding a good road through spectacular scenery is as much or
more a highlight of the trip as is going through museums, looking at old
churches, and seeing local Indiginous costumes and customs.

The first road headed west off the Pan-American Highway about 6 miles west
of Riobamba (9022 ft) where the PanAmerican turned south again. The first
10 miles to the village of San Juan were paved, but I knew the remaining
20 miles to Guaranda were dirt and I stopped at two gas stations to ask
about the condition of the road.  I need not have worried as it was
dirt/gravel road in excellant condition allowing me to spend more time
enjoying the spectacular scenery and mountain vistas.  Mountainsides were
patchwork quilts of fields and pastures with the occasional rich black
earth of a freshly tilled field visable here and there. From San Juan the
road climbed to a 13200 ft pass where native Indian women were tending
their flocks of sheep along the roadside, and small yellow, blue, and red
wildflowers grew in the grassy fields. From the pass, the road dropped
down to the town of Guarandi (8900 ft) where it intersected a paved road
running from Ambato to the northeast to the lowland city of Babahoyo to
the southwest.  The 56 mile stretch from Guaranda northeast to Ambato is
Ecuador's highest paved road.  I turned right, heading northeast.  

Guaranda is built on 7 hills and the road initially snaked it's way up one
of these hillsides before regaining the countryside.  The first 20 miles
or so were newly paved and a delight to ride as the road climbed and
twisted upwards through the mountains.  I again faced the dilemna of
whether to treat the road as a motorcycle road and pick up the pace, or
back off and enjoy the views.  For the most part I did the latter with an
occasional blast through a particularly twisty section. As the road neared
the pass the new paving ended and their were several stretches of dirt and
a couple areas under construction with heavy equipment.  The road climbed
to more than 13800 ft and the pass was intermittantly obscurred by heavy
clouds blowing up one side and across the road.  It was a bleak
environment and the surrounding terrain was short grass, small scrubby
shrubs, and a lichen-like gtound covering.  The temperature at noon was
52F.  During breaks in the clouds I could see a flock of sheep down the
hillside tended by a man in traditional clothing.  The road meandered
along a ridge and once away from the pass proper the clouds cleared a bit
and offered great views of snowcovered Volcans Chimborazo, closest though
the summit was still obscurred by clouds, and Carihuairazo (5020m),
further in the distance but unobscurred.  A little further on, along a
small roadside stream a small herd of about 10 llamas was grazing.  They
watched me curiously as I got off the bike and got a photo with Chimborazo
as a backdrop.  Getting back on the bike, the sun was out but I had a
couple minutes of pea-size hail as I continued to the northeast.
At this altitude it was mostly grass-covered hills, used presumably for
grazing, and I saw the occasional herds of sheep, llamas, and some cattle.
There were no villages to speak of, and only an occasional straw-roofed
hut with some cultivated fields in the vicinity.

As the road continued northeast, dropping in elevation, I passed more
small villages, and the number of dwellings in the surrounding countryside
increased as well, and the hillsides became once again heavily cultivated
with a patchwork of fields - yellows, dark greens, light greens, and dark
black earth.

I stopped for lunch in Ambato at a restaurant and had a typical "almuerzo
del dia" which starts with a bowl of soup, in this case a broth with rice,
potatoes, and pork, and then a large plate with rice, salad, papas fritas,
and a large piece of beef.  Papaya juice was included in the S3500 (US$1)

In the restaurant was another example of a site which you commonly see
throughout most of the Latin-American countries I've been through so far.
On the wall was a large picture of Jesus with some words proclaiming him
as guide and savior.  Next to it on the wall was a large poster with a
buxom nude woman in a seductive pose.  Such posters and pictures are
common in restaurants and establishments throughout Latin-America, even
those seemingly owned and/or run by women, often accompanied by religous
plaques or pictures. Maybe it's to cater to the machismo of the male
clientele, I don't know. But in the US you don't generally find the two
themes, religion and the human body and sexuality, interposed to the same
degree you do in Latin-America, probably due to the Puritanical influence
on religion in the US.  In addition, in the US, such posters would
probably result in a slew of suits for sexual harrasment in the workplace.
>From Ambato I headed southeast towards Banos, a small town of about 13000
people known for its hot baths.  The road offered great views of
snow-capped Volcan tungurahua (5023m) and the surrounding valleys and
hillsides.  Banos lies at "only" 5900 feet and as the road dropped it
became noticably warmer and entering Banos, which is situated along the
Rio Pastaza, between the towering mountains on both sides of the river, a
warm wind was blowing up the river valley.  Because of it's agreeable
year-round climate and the hot baths of which there are 3 in town and
another 2 km out of town, Banos is sort of a resort town, both for
Ecuadorians and foreigners alike.

I got a room at the Residencia Santa Clara for S15000 (US$4.25) with bath
and nice hot water. My room was in a new addition of cabanas and was very
nice.  I could have had a room with shared bath in the original house for
S8000 but I decided to splurge; plus, with the cabana, my bike was parked
right outside my door.  By the time I got my stuff off the bike and my
riding gear off it was 4:15 so I heades for the Piscina de la Virgin hot
baths two blocks away for a quick soak before they closed at 5pm.  These
baths are situated at the foot of a towering cliff with a waterfall
plunging down the side.  It has a large swimming-pool-size hot pool,
several smaller hot pools, and some cold pools as well.  The water was a
brownish tint from the mineral content, but is changed daily.  In fact,
when I arrived they were already in the process of draining the pools for
the day, and I had to tell them I didn't mind paying for a half-hour soak
in a draining hot pool.  There were only two small boys and two couples in
the pool when I arrived.  Sitting there soaking in the hot water you
looked up at the waterfall plunging down the cliffside, and the towering
mountains on both sides.  Because of the large size of the pool the water
drained out very slowly.  I noticed dark storm clouds moving in over the
mountains.  About 5pm, just as the water was dropping below shoulder-level
while sitting, there was a loud flash and thunderclap very closeby and we
all decided it was probably best to get out of the water.

Within minutes it was pouring down rain.  I dried off while waiting out
the rain and one of thw women asked if they could use my towell since they
had forgot theirs.  Kimberly was a college student from Arizona and doing
sort of a work-study program in Ecuador.  She had come down originally
with some friends to climb some of the volcanoes, and when they had left
had come to Banos to study Spanish and do some research on womens issues
for a course back in Arizona.  She had been here in Banos for almost a
month.  Her boyfriend, Ivan, was from Italy, and spoke very little English
so we conversed for the most part in Spanish, lapsing into English when we
were stumped in Spanish.  We hung out for about a half an hour until the
rain let up enough to walk back to my hotel.

It rained off and on during the evening, and during one break I left my
room to go for dinner.  A half a block away I remembered I had left my
passport in my room.  Now normally I leave it in my room, but the
guidebooks and several people I had talked with said it was not uncommon
for the police to make passport checks in the local bars, and that if you
didn't have your passport with you you would spend the night in jail. So I
returned to my room for my passport and just as I was leaving it began
pouring again, so I donned my rain jacket and headed out for dinner.

Each country has slightly different terms and vocabulary for meals.  Here
in Ecuador the fixed menu evening meal is called "merienda".  It usually
includes a large bowl of soup, a drink of some sort, usually juice, and a
large plate of rice, salad, vegetables, and meat.  Price is usually S3000
to S5000 (US$0.75 - 1.50).

I found a small restaurant crowded with Ecuadoeians and ordered the
merienda. It was good and filling as usual, but the S6000 price reflected
the touristy nature of the town.  After dinner I walked down to the plaza
and market area and checked out a couple of bars, but nothing much was
happening, and not being one to drink by myself I walked back to the