Guayaquil is a frenetic city in the south-west corner of Ecuador. We’ve come here in the hope of shipping our car to Panama, where we intend leaving it during our visit to Europe. But the dark arts of the global logistics business are proving murkier than ever. Believing we have set the wheels in motion, and that our container will be waiting for us on the dock in a months time, all set for a voyage northwards, we set off for a tour of the country.
Once again we cross the Andes range, passing close to Mount Chimborazo, at one time thought to be the highest mountain in the world. The great German explorer Baron Alexander Von Humboldt attempted to summit this volcano in 1802. He reached a height of 5,897 metres before he and his party had to descend, due to the amount of blood pouring from their noses. No doubt Humboldt was in his element. He loved nothing more than self-experimentation, after which he made copious notes concerning his bodily reaction – the more gruesome the better. (More here on Humboldt’s South American adventures HOW TO CATCH AN ELECTRIC EEL pdf) The volcano was eventually conquered by that doyen of the Alps, Edward Whymper, who said high-altitude sickness was merely a build up of the gases within the body, and was always mystified why no one wished to share his tent.
From the high plains we descended to Riobamba, where the folks like nothing better than to kit themselves out in kinky chaps. “Ride ’em, cowboy!”
From Riobamba we descend even further, dropping down to the Amazon…again. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea down here. The atmosphere is hot, humid and sultry. It’s like breathing through a damp cloth…and then there’s all these damn beetles. And yet, swinging in a damp hammock, I have to say there is something peaceful about all this greenery. At dusk the forest comes alive with screeching, whirring and clicking, and the fire-flies glow green in the gathering darkness. We go to Jatun Sacha, a centre for research providing education on the humid, tropical rainforests of the upper Rio Napo. Jatun Sacha means “Big Jungle” in Quechua, and so we decide to go for a wander in it, discovering how many rather large and colourful spiders live in this big jungle, constantly weaving their webs across the trail. We take with us a booklet of instructions so as to learn something along the way, finding a tree known as the “Moral Bobo”, and several plant species variously called “Suru Panga”, “Hens Blood” and “Hot Lips”. It rains heavily during our jungle trek, so we’re quite wet when we get back. Nothing really dries here. I can well understand how you would rot in a very short time.
From a soggy 400 metres altitude we head back to the high ground, cresting a summit of 4,100 metres before the morning is out, where it is cold and arguably even wetter than the jungle – what a country! We head up to the north, but heavy cloud has settled on the mountain tops, (the rainy season has begun) making driving all the more precarious at high-altitude. The Ecuadorians are a nice bunch, until they get behind the wheel of a car. They will overtake in the face of oncoming vehicles, on a sharp bend, in dense fog and through a curtain of rain. Maybe part of the problem lies in the ancient belief that everything is imbued with a spirit, and that if they bless the ‘spirit of the car’ all will be well. They flash their headlights to let you know they are coming – whether you can do anything about it is entirely irrelevant. Buses and fuel tankers are some of the worst culprits of this ‘blind overtaking’. There are many roadside crosses. We once passed a driving school which contained hundreds of cones and a mock-up of a service station, so they are well versed in driving round cones and filling up the car. Everything else is left to chance.
We head to Quito, capital city of Ecuador. Of all the South American cities Quito boasts of having the greatest density of colonial buildings. I can believe it. It is simply stunning, particularly the Jesuit churches where, inside, you stand agog at their splendour.
After our few days in Quito it’s time to return to Guayquil and look for another shipping agent, because the first one seems to think we are carrying a hoard of Inca gold, and they want every last ounce of it. On the way we pass Cotopaxi Volcano.
And we even managed a spot of fishing during a bivouac beside a river.
Back in Guayaquil we arrange a meeting with a second shipping agent, who seems to think we are not only carrying a hoard of Inca gold, but also the keys to the Bank of England. This lot make our previous experience of shipping a car from Ghana feel like a rather genteel tea party. We’ve had enough of being taken for mugs, so we’re off. Unfortunately we can’t leave the car here in Equador, so we must find another solution, which may well lie to the south of here. Yeeha! Peru, here we come – again.