The Big Turn Around

Flexibility… the key to overlanding! Way back in May we left Chile into Bolivia, then on to Brazil, back to Bolivia, then to Peru. Now here we are in Ecuador and we’re making a big turn-around, heading some 3,000 km back southwards. It’s not the most logical of routes, and if we ever had an approximate route in mind when we set off in South America this certainly wasn’t it! But we have a date with a tyre supplier… in Chile!

Good news/bad news: the Tyre Story

We always knew that Cuthbert’s Michelin XZL tyres would be difficult to obtain in South America, but a limited amount of research before we left Europe indicated that we should be able to get them somewhere. Mileage-wise, we calculated that we would probably be somewhere around Ecuador or Colombia by the time replacements were required. However, a few emails to Michelin dealers around those parts eventually revealed that Cuthbert’s particular style of wheel-wear is not available in these countries (apparently, it has a military specification requiring a special import permit). The summary of the Good News/Bad News story runs thus:

Good news: back in May we eventually found a supplier in Santiago, Chile

Bad news: a 4 to 6 month lead-time means they won’t arrive until Oct-Dec

Good news: we had approx 20,000 km left on the existing tyres and the supplier would deliver to anywhere in Chile.

Bad news: we had already committed to meeting friends in Peru and Ecuador in September and October, so we would have to go there, then return to Arica (north Chile) for the tyres.

Good news: although the tyres were being shipped from Europe, the price in Chile was around 30%, yes… three-zero per cent, cheaper than Europe.

Bad news: since ordering, the Brexit palaver has crashed the pound, so the price (for us) is a bit higher than expected, but they’re still much cheaper than in Europe!

Ending the story with some final Good News… the Dakar Rally takes place in western Bolivia/ northern Argentina in the first two weeks of January. We’re keen to see this, so we’ve decided to collect the tyres from northern Chile in December, then just pop over the Andes to see the Rally when it comes past in January! As we said… it’s all about ‘flexibility’!  🙂

The Great Battle

20161016_161001e2compSo… as we arrive back in Quito from Galapagos we plan to start our south-bound journey heading down the coast for a bit of beach time. It’s mid-October, so we have a couple of months to get back to Chile… plenty of time! But then we hear about an event about to happen in Tisaleo, just south of Quito. The town hosts ‘Inga Palla’ – an annual re-enactment of the battle in 1534 between the indigenous indians and the Spanish invaders. Hmmm… interesting… we decide to divert from our route to the coast, to investigate (See! Flexibility, again! 🙂 )

20161017_133326ecompWe arrive in Tisaleo on the afternoon before the battle to find the town mid-procession; tiny-tots are dressed-up and carried through the town in tiny sedan-chairs. Interspersed between the toddlers are some marching bands, some older children dressed as angels and some adults in a, shall we say… ‘eclectic’ range of fancy dress out-fits. Sounds fun… but the atmosphere can only be described as ‘fascinatingly odd’. The procession passes us at a plodding pace. The bands are playing (or rather, attempting to play) lively music but the dancing and jollity is stilted. Not a single participant, not even in the toddlers lounging in the splendour of the sedan-chairs, are smiling! A leading feature of the procession is a large Santa Lucia, beautifully adorned in a jewelled dress and cloak, topped off with… wait for it… a Stetson cow-boy hat!

20161016_161838ecompNow… we can’t exactly describe ourselves as ‘aficionados’ on these things, but we have over the last few months visited a range of South American fiestas and we have seen nothing quite like this one. Although the people turn out in great numbers to participate in the celebrations, their propensity for sparkle and showmanship is distinctly lacking when compared to similar fiestas that we saw in Bolivia and Peru.

In light of the ‘not-so-fun-filled’ procession, we don’t have high hopes for the battle re-enactment. This turns out to be a wise move on our part because although the re-enactment cannot be remotely described as ‘slick’, it does at least exceed our low expectations. To our surprise we rather enjoy it! The crowds are cheery and the atmosphere is fun. As the ‘troops’ start to gather on the ‘battlefield’, the anticipation mounts amongst the crowds in the makeshift-grandstand. The event organisation and coordination is truly dreadful, but it doesn’t matter. The crowds cheer as the indigenous Indians, then the horse-mounted Spaniards come forward to ‘fight’. Time after time, the superior force of the Spaniards sends the Indians packing, but they just run a circuit around the town and come back to fight again! All in all, it is really a fun afternoon and the good folk of Tisaleo totally redeem themselves after the bizarre procession of yesterday. It is a far from ‘professional’ spectacle, but a good time seems to be had by all and we can recommend it if you are passing-by next year.

Beach hopping

20161026_133507ecompAfter the battlefield detour, we’re back on track for some beach time. We head south down the coast of Ecuador and visit a small selection of its renowned beaches. It’s a pretty coastline and we have a relaxing, uneventful time hopping from beach to beach before reaching Ecuador’s second city: Guayaquil.

20161028_193801_llsecompGuayaquil is essentially a large industrial port town and historically has a reputation for being a bit dodgy on the travel-security front. However, the current Mayor has big plans to re-generate Guayaquil and has done a great job developing the Malecon (sea-front) into a family and tourist friendly zone. We happened to arrive just two days after the opening of the town’s latest attraction, the big wheel (bit like the London Eye but disappointingly, without the view of Big Ben). Another surprising attraction there is the city centre Plaza Bolivar, populated with loads of large, friendly iguanas! Some of them are over a meter long and they are fed, like pigeons, by kids and old people sitting on the benches. To think we spent all the money going to Galapagos to see the critters 🙂 !

20161028_140213ecompAll in all, Guayaquil isn’t a bad stop-over for 24 hours, but after a couple of weeks of beachy-time, we’re pushing on south via the inland route. The city of Cuenca seems to be a good target destination, but on the way we can stop-off in Alausí for the reputedly hair-raising train trip to The Devil’s Nose.

Flexibility… again!

After a scenic drive from Guayaquil up to Alausí in the mountains, we have a pleasant evening with a couple of young Austrian back-packers and a Kiwi cyclist who, over the last 18 months has cycled from Philadelphia to Alaska, then all the way south through North and Central America down to here in Ecuador! Respect!

Anyway… remember back to the start of this blog we rambled on about the overlanding ‘flexibility’ thing? Well you never quite know when you’re next going to need this critical overlanding skill. Overnight in Alausí we receive a message of a family illness and we decide to head immediately back to England. We make the six hour drive north to Quito and book flights to London for the following morning. In no time at all, we’re back in England sitting with Marcus’ sister in hospital. Just goes to show what a small place the world now is! Overlanding to remote places is a great life-style, but having the ability to stay in touch with home and having the flexibility to be there for the people most important to you, is really what matters most.

Happily, we are chuffed to say that Marcus’ sister is now slowly ‘on the mend’. Thanks to the marvel of the sat-phone, we can stay in touch with her as we continue our ‘flexible overlanding’ in Cuthbert. Now, we’re back in Alausí looking forward to that overdue Devil’s Nose train ride and continuing the ‘big turn-around’ back south to Chile.

Link to next blog: Exit Ecuador        Link to full South America Blog

The Big Turn Around – Photo Gallery