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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Updates From Ecuador | Quito, Mompiche, & Canoa...

Greetings from Ecuador!  10th country on the adventure thus far...

First off, a HUGE thanks to Chris I. from Omaha.  I've received several donations through PayPal recently, but this one, from someone I don't know, was quite large and very generous.  Chris, I hope my journey has inspired you to take off and see the world on the back of a bike someday for yourself.  Thanks again!  The donation will keep me going for a little bit longer, which means the world to me. :) 

...Last night I woke around 2am and couldn't go back to sleep.  I noticed a bright unread message notification, so decided to roll over and check e-mail.  I found a concerned message from a blog reader Veronica.  She has been following along, but hadn't heard anything for a couple of weeks and was concerned.  Interestingly, I've received more than a few of these, which for me is pretty neat.  Not the worry of course, but that people (complete strangers for the most part) are actually interested and following along, and of course concerned enough to reach out to check-in when things go dark for a bit.  When I reached Canoa and started 'work' I put up an 'out of the office' message on ADVRider to let people know I'd be away for a bit, but forgot to do the same on the blog, sorry about that.  Anyway, I'm fine and have decided to post a bit this morning to get everyone up to speed... 

The border crossing from Colombia to Ecuador was painless and relaxed.  Aside from an hour'ish delay due to some paperwork issues (stemmed from arriving on the boat and things being filed incorrectly apparently).  The border itself was chill on both sides, but I'm also surprised at how much more experienced one gets at dealing with travel stress after being at it for awhile.  A friend of mine Dyann back in Denver is currently planning a similar moto trip and was asking me about border crossings yesterday.  I was looking back on the first few in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, etc, and thinking/comparing it with this latest experience.  In the beginning I was fumbling with gear, sweating bullets, accepting help and overpaying 'handlers', paying for insurance and sprays when they weren't needed, and missing out on them when they were.  Now it's a totally different story, I'm waving away helpers in fluent Spanish like the pesky insects they are, laying down and napping when there is a delay, going with the flow, and all the gear has its perfect place.  Turns out, it all seems to work out in the end regardless of the stress level you choose to live in...  an interesting realization for me, and probably many, many Americans.

Since I have quite a bit to catch up on, I'll leave the Quito portion brief.  The riding all through Ecuador between cities is fantastic.  The mountains gorgeous with roads carving through like twisty veins of asphalt lifeblood.  There is also a huge amount of back road and dirt riding if you choose to partake.  If so, I would recommend hooking up with the boys at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental.  They can show you all the best routes that Ecuador has to offer.  I didn't stray too far off the beaten path and ended up staying at Casa Helbling in the city, which is two blocks from Freedom.  Plenty of adequate secure parking, beautiful private rooms (starting at $20USD), and a choice location in Mariscal Sucre made this a good choice for a few days.  Interestingly, the longer I'm on this trip, I'm really starting to dislike being in large cities.  When I was younger, and even at the beginning of this adventure, I craved the action and nightlife only a larger city can provide.  Now, after a few days of being in a city, I yearn to throw a leg over the bike and get the hell out, which usually takes at least an hour (what is it about LatAm cities and trying to exit?!?!).  

Quito itself is nice, and there are plenty of sights and activities to explore.  Interestingly, it was one of the more dangerous places (from a petty theft/robbery/assault perspective) that I've been in quite sometime.  Then again, I had no issue, but kept hearing people tell me not to go here, not to walk here, not to ride this bus, etc.  As referenced above, Mariscal Sucre (Plaza Fuch specifically) is the area to be if you want to get hammered, see a blend of incredibly overpriced/incredibly cheap food options, sing karaoke, dance, hook up with a gringo and/or a local, or generally cause a raucous throughout the night.  The old town, a short taxi ride from Mariscal, houses the majority of Quito's historic/famous architecture and sights, and also provides a path to explore El Panecillo, which is an ever-present hill to the south topped by the overpowering statue of La Virgen de Quito.  You can grab a map of the old town and check off the sights one by one (i.e. Cathedral, etc), or you can throw it away, grab a cup of coffee, and get lost for hours strolling around, which is what I recommend.  It really is a beautiful old city with a fair amount of charm.  However, I'm not sure I would want to spend more than a few days there (maybe that's just my recently discovered distaste of larger cities).  

After three nights/days exploring Quito, I pointed the front wheel of the F8 southwest.  I was drawn to get out of the city and back to the coast.  I ended up in the incredibly sleepy fishing/surfing village of Mompiche.  I rolled up to Hotel Gabeal after a long, but beautiful day of riding through the mountains out of Quito and then blasting out down through the coastal roads.  Ok, now here is where you might call me hypocritical (probably not the first time!), but Mompiche was too sleepy.  Yeah yeah, I know, I just called Quito too busy...  I'm not sure if I was there during some sort of 'off week', but there was literally nobody around and nothing going on.  Don't get me wrong, it was nice for a day or so, but I literally explored the whole town, and essentially knew everyone after half a day.  There are a couple of good restaurants in town, and a few places to grab a drink, but other than that, not much going on.  If you inquire with the locals however, there are several options for day trips around Mompiche.  For example, one afternoon I took a 1hr hike over to Playa Negra, which is a very secluded beach with the blackest, silkiest, mud-like, unique sand that I've ever seen (and pasted all over myself). There are also severel small caves and waterfalls surrounding the beach to explore.  It's definitely a very nice way to spend an exploratory day.  

Along my journey I have been hearing a lot about a website called WorkAway.  It's a site set up to promote fair exchange between budget travelers, language learners, and/or culture seekers, in an effort to match them with families, individuals, and/or organizations who are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities.  In summary, a traveler can provide a few hours of honest help per day in exchange for food and accommodation and an opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community, with friendly hosts in varying situations and surroundings.  The 'aims' are to...  
  • Promote cultural understanding between different peoples and lands
  • Enable people traveling on a budget to fully appreciate living in a foreign environment
  • Promote cultural exchange, and give a chance for volunteers to contribute to a cause
  • Enable language learners to experience different countries and language immersion
  • Give opportunity to projects to receive skilled support and real immediate impact
After researching the site a bit, I figured worst case it would be an interesting way to receive room/board for a few hours of work per day.  Interestingly, after doing a search I found several properties/projects in Canoa, which was where I was targeting next.  There was one that stood out specifically.  Canoa Beach Hotel, which is a beautiful high-end (high-end for Canoa), 21 room hotel nestled directly on the beach just south of town.  On the 11th I sent them a message outlining my marketing/sales/management background, and told them about my current journey.  On the 12th I received a response saying that Greg, the owner/manager, was very interested in having me help out, but I would need to be there on the 14th.  So, I didn't hesitate, packed the bike, and headed south for Canoa.  

I arrived in Canoa on the 13th, and ended up camping on a beach just south of the hotel.  The next morning I arrived and was immediately greeted, warmly welcomed, and shown to my own private apartment, where I've been living since.  I've since fallen in love with this place (both Canoa Beach Hotel and the surrounding area).  Canoa is an amazingly beautiful place, with a very special feeling/vibe.  The surf is good year round, and it's not too busy.  The town has a fair amount of bars, restaurants, hostels, and plenty of nightlife to keep busy.  A five minute walk south of town provides instant refuge from the crowds, and a five minute walk north provides isolated beaches, cliffs, and caves to explore (along with additional surf breaks all up/down the coast).  In the 10+ days that I've been here, I already feel like I've made several friends and contacts for life.  I've been helping out in the bar here at the hotel, and also assisting with marketing/business/sales ideas for the property and their web presence.  I've also been piecing together a report that I'll present to the owner upon my departure, which can hopefully outline some opportunities that I see to drive additional business, and close up some existing gaps/problem areas.  In return, I've been given a beautiful home to live in, and am surrounded by paradise, great people, and VERY good food.  

Something I'm also very excited about is that Nina is coming to visit for a week beginning the 26th.  She and her friend Helena will stay with me in the apartment, which will give us an opportunity to hang out, get to know each other further, and explore an amazing area together.  She and I have continued to grow closer during my travels.  We've now hung out for quite some time in paradise on the boat from Panama to Cartagena, in Cartagena for a week, lived together within the bustle of Bogota for a couple of weeks, and will now spend another week together in Ecuador.  I guess this will be our final 'trial week' together in person to see how serious we are about each other, and if we want to pursue things further upon the completion of my trip.  This is a very public forum, so I'm hesitant to discuss, but from where I stand now, my initial answer to that question would be 'yes'.  We'll see how the next weeks unfold.  I never thought I'd meet someone on this trip that means so much to me, especially after one of the main drivers being a split with another.  Long story short, Nina is incredible...  one of a kind, beautiful, kind, caring, gentle, and fun.  And, she likes me, for me... a lot, which is obviously quite important!  Anyway, as with everything else, I'm gonna go with the flow to see where things land.

As for other important things in life, like a future career, I'm still a bit 'lost'.  I leave here on the 2nd to head south to meet my buddy Sam for some riding through Peru.  The initial plan was to continue the journey after that through Bolivia, Chile, then Argentina.  However, there has already been some discussion about a permanent position for me here at the hotel...  something I've been seriously considering.  In addition, a global motorcycle tour company, whose name I'll keep reserved for now, has reached out to gauge interest in me possibly becoming a lead rider/tour guide for one of their long term LatAm tours.  That would be a real dream come true for me.  Imagine, doing something you absolutely LOVE to do and getting paid for it!  Problem is, while both of those are fantastic opportunities, the pay really would be just enough to live/sustain (*edit* - to be fair, you certainly can't compare take home pay on an even country/country basis - I know that).  On the flip, the alternative is to move 'home', grab a gig doing what I was doing before, make a $hit load of money, get caught up in the American consumerist lifestyle, and be miserable.  Sounds like a no-brainer, but at some point I want to settle, have a family, and create a life, which certainly requires a bit of stability from a financial perspective.  I feel like I've made real progress, but it is REALLY difficult to pull away from the concept that money is what equals happiness and/or security in life.  So...  all 'that' will require several more long solo walks on the beach, books like Everything That Remains (again, highly recommend that one), and isolated rides on the motorcycle to think and figure out.  

Speaking of great food here at CBH (Canoa Beach Hotel) and long walks on the beach, I'm getting fat and out of shape.  Well not really, but I'm certainly not as fit as I was when I left.  So, I made a commitment to get back into an exercise routine.  My new daily routine is a 3 mile run on the beach, followed by 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, then a short swim in the ocean.  I think it's time to flip the laptop closed and get out there...  Otherwise Nina may not be quite as 'interested' when she arrives.  :)  

Chat with everyone soon...  

~ D

PS...  Here is my agenda for the next few weeks for those wondering:
  • May 2nd:  Leave for Cuenca where I'll stay for two nights w/ a friend who I met here
  • May 4th:  Head for Huaquillas at the Ecuador/Peru border
  • May 5th:  Cross border and ride northern coast south
  • May 7th:  Head inland to Cajamarca
  • May 8th:  Huamachuco
  • May 10th:  Canyon del Pato to Caraz
  • May 11th:  Huaraz
  • May 12th:  Huanuco, via La Union, where I'll be meeting my buddy Sam


  1. Thanks for the mention! Glad you found Canoa and could help Greg out- good stuff. Let us know when / if you get back to Quito...

  2. Will do... Looks like you guys have some epic rides coming up. Let me know when you expand enough to need another guide! ;)

  3. Hi David, its Christopher I. from "Omaha". I need to update my paypal because I haven't lived in Omaha for years now as I am in Alabama but moving to California in June. I read your story and I wish I could be right there with you along your journey. You are truly an inspiration, keep on rollin'!