I flew in to Quito, Ecuador on the 9th of August. I was pleasantly surprised with the cool climate; an awaited contrast from Central America. I spent the first few days relaxing, making Galapagos travel arrangements, and getting to know the Rodriguez family. They graciously offered a room in their home, many meals, and their warm Ecuadorian hospitality. Maria Rodriguez had stayed with my grandparents as an international exchange student while my Aunt came to Ecuador and lived with her family just a seemingly short 40 or so years back. I was shown the city several times, taken to the equator, visited some ruins, and spent a little time in a casino playing a style of poker I have only previously seen in Slovakia.

A couple friends of mine joined me in Quito to travel to the Galapagos Islands. We flew to Baltra, an island just north of Santa Cruz. Upon arrival we could see the tropical marine green waters from the plane window. We spent the next week traveling from island to island over rough, seasickness inducing, passages of water to see different sights and animals up close like no where else in the world. Huge land turtles and iguanas roam these islands, while sharks, rays, and sea lions teem in the waters. We had a few opportunities to snorkel with these creatures. The sea lions being particularly fun, screaming toward you and diving down in front of you within just inches of collision of your face. When the were´t frolicking with the tourists they would play with each other, often baring their sharp teeth. On one such outing, our guide advised us to keep our arms in to prevent any bites. It was a very nice break.

After bidding farewell to my friends from Quito and spending another couple days preparing, I said goodbye to the Rodriguez family and scratched my itch to get back on the bike. Starting off at 9000ft from Quito, I was met by rain, cloud obscured majestic mountain views, and some good personal record breaking climbs. A few days later, I screamed down a hill into Baños, a small laid back town in a deep river valley nestled at the foot of a large, often smoking, volcano. Here I took a few days off to rest, take a short Spanish lesson, and take a mountain biking excursion. I was lucky to run into Nick and Rinske, whom I had met in the Galapagos Islands. It just so happened that they were staying in the same hotel. They were kind enough to supply me with a birthday drink and loads of good travel stories and advice for the ride south.

I headed south with a couple of Americans I met who were touring on a tandem. The second day out, we met Julien and Marta. We rolled onward together, our convoy of 5, over gentle mountains, on nicely paved roads, and gaped at the views of the sprawling landscape. Finally we came to a cliff edge, the view ahead only a sea of clouds. The road turned right sharply and dropped, switch backing down the wall into Alausi where we stayed for the night. Here I lost them. I ended up spending an extra day here to wait for a migraine to pass and found myself, once again, solo.

After an hour of gasping for breath. chest paining from the altitude, I climbed out of Alausi astounded by the views. Clouds crept up the valleys thousands of feet below. Massive worn mountains towered around me as I rode the walls of these magnificent landscapes. That day I met Japhy, my brother of the road, on a climb; my arrival heralded by the braying of burros in the distance. Japhy and I rode together on and off for the next few weeks. After spending three days sick in Cañar, I climbed up into the mountain paramo into the rain. A slippery downhill on the other side and a roll into Cuenca. I stayed with yet more family of Maria, now the third time I was hosted in Ecuador. I was again awed by the Ecuadorian hospitality. My laundry was immediately taken from me and washed, I was shown to a lunch table, then to a hot shower. The following day I was taken to a national park, on a tour of the city, and was able to get to know this family as well. There had been other times in the trip I was hosted, and I am forever grateful for these times. In total in Ecuador, I had this fortune four times, and this overtone of friendship lives strongly in my memories.

I got in touch with Japhy and found we were both leaving the next day and left together. More andian climbing over the next couple days, more rain, and a spectacular shortcut on a muddy dirt road providing some epic views, an insight into the mountain villages of Ecuador.

In Loja, I stayed with family of Maria´s aunt Blanca. I took a short trip to Vilcabamba to relax, then headed out. The map showed a good downhill from my current elevation, near 7000ft to almost sea level. This turned out to not be true. After a short climb I descended sharply, gusts of wind funneling through gullies to my right and sending me wobbling as I careened downward. I told myself, as always, take it easy.  There´s a cliff and no one here to know I went off it.  As always, the thrill of the hill got the best of me. My speedometer blinked to life and registered a new personal loaded and unloaded record of 85kph (53mph). Sorry Uncle Jim. Two more days of undulation, typical of Ecuadorian ridge running, and I reached the border town of Macarà. I had expected Japhy to be a day ahead of me at this point, but to my surprise I found him there, at this border town. I spent one more day in Ecuador, with yet another migraine, before heading to Peru.

In Central America, I had hoped desperately of the high mountains, cooler weather, awe inspiring views. My spirit down but willing to keep cranking to see if things could change. Ecuador delivered beyond my imaginations. What I didn´t expect was the overflowing kindness showered upon me by so many people and the friendship I found with those I met on the road. People always ask me, “What country was the best”, or “What was your favorite place”. This question can´t be answered in a single word or place on an adventure such as this, but I will remember Ecuador forever for the variety it brought and the beauty of it´s landscapes and people. Never before had I shed a tear at the sight of a landscape, overwhelmed by the vastness and beauty stretched before me. My fever for the road was rekindled and again and I looked forward and dreamed of the future adventures to come. The road winds onward to the south, and I never know who or what I will encounter. The romance of my memories past, good and bad, are equaled only by the dreams of what lies ahead.