Ecuador and the Amazon Basin

The border crossing from Peru into Ecuador is one of those crossings where everything changes. The scenery changes dramatically, from the dry Peruvian desert into lush rolling hills covered in sugar cane and banana plantations in a few short kms. Ecuador produce the most bananas in the world, almost twice as much as their nearest rivals, Costa Rica – they are everywhere.

I need to find a fuel station fast, my bike’s running on fumes. At $2 a gallon, it’s the cheapest fuel I’ve had since Nigeria and I’ve arrived empty. A few wrong turns later and I locate a fuel station, fill up and then on to find some local road insurance.

Most of my trip prep has focused on the bit up to Peru. I know surprisingly little about Ecuador, apart from the bit about bananas. The FCO’s Travel Advice page does not make for good reading, armed robberies, express kidnappings, drug cartels, volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides…


I had planned to blast through Ecuador, avoiding armed robbery, and then meet up with some friends in Colombia. But after reading about the Amazon I decided to spend some time in the Amazon basin before continuing north. Ecuador has the highest biodiversity per sq km in the world and has lots of impressive national parks. Unfortunately lots of the land is under threat from oil exploration and the Amazon has a marked increase in pollution from oil production. My cheap fuel comes with guilt.

I aim for the Amazon basin, which is on the other side of the Andes. My route takes me past Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountain and generally considered to be the farthest point from the Earth’s centre. The earth is slightly wider at the equator, like a squashed ball. So although Everest is higher above sea-level, Mt Chimborazo, at 6,268 m (20,565 ft), is further from the centre of the earth meaning it could be said to be the world’s highest point.

One thing is for sure, crossing the Andes here is a lot colder. And wetter. Descending into the Amazon basin, I hit some of the heaviest fog I’ve ever ridden in. Visibility is down to a few meters; I hit the horn on every bend hoping to warn oncoming trucks, which tend to overshoot the corners. When the fog lifts; some massive scenery hits me, lush green rain forest as far as the eye can see.

Heavy fog crossing the Andes

The road to Tena is good. I’d been worried because landslides are a problem here. Looking at the route on Google Earth, the road looked like it had been carpet-bombed. But it was brand new tar, great twisties to get your pegs down on grinning from ear to ear.

I head further down the Rio Napo, one of the most distant tributaries of the Amazon. Even this far from the Amazon mouth the Napo is massive, a good 100m wide. Average rainfall in parts of the basin can exceed 5,000mm per year.

The Rio Napo, one of the most distant tributaries of the Amazon

I’d been given directions to a small community where I could stay, off the main road and what my Spanish understood to be “up a path of pebbles”. The pebble path turned out to be a twisty 35’ incline over tennis ball sized rocks. Wet rocks. With sticky mud thrown in for good measure. Sometimes I loathe the 300kgs of a fully loaded GS.

At the community, I stayed with the family of the local Shaman. Traditional medicine is still alive and well here; this family have been medicine men for many generations. Many of the locals can’t afford to pay the Shaman in money so they donate a chicken, almost always a cock. The result is a village of 10 cocks to a hen with constant violent chicken gang fights and a lack of sleep due to cockcrow-offs starting at midnight.

The family was great though and they looked after me extremely well. The next week was spent taking trips through the forest, down the river and to various local reserves.

Children from the community

Helping out with daily chores

The Shaman’s holiday home, in virgin rain forest a short hike away from the village. It was impressive to watch them building this hut, only a chainsaw and hammers where used

Boats are often the main form of transport around here – not GS friendly!

After my week in the forest, I head back over the Andes again to Quito the capital. Quito took me by complete surprise, very American, clean and organised. I thought it was great place. Sorry no pictures, terrible scare stories about armed robberies and all.

Leaving Quito, I head for the Colombian border. I was planning to stop at the Equatorial Monument, which unlike Gabon where the equator is celebrated by a rusty road sign, this one is actually a, well, monument. Unfortunately I never made it to the monument, partly due to me missing the turn-off and partly because it is not actually on the Equator.

Continuing to the border I end up riding behind 2 other GS’s. This is odd because I have not seen another GS since Chile. Without speaking, we form a convoy, filtering through traffic, they even start to signal to me when it’s clear to overtake. Secretly I hope they are going to Colombia too, I’ve been a bit worried about the next bit of the trip, it’s one of the sections when you do actually have to take the FCO’s advice seriously. Unfortunately they turn of just before the border, we wave each other off, them in Spanish, me in English.