Leaving Colombia we both felt really sad, the same way we felt when we left Mexico. It was a country that was easy to fall in love with and we did not want to leave it, but we need to head south. Traveling in South America is all about hitting the countries in the right season, and a Patagonia winter does not sound super fun. So we needed to pick up our pace. The border crossing from Colombia to Ecuador was almost too easy compared to the Central America borders (about 40 minutes total for both borders). People had told us that they got much easier in South America, and they were not kidding. Almost zero stress, no border helpers chasing you around, super easy to find immigration and aduana, it was awesome!
We crossed with Toby and Chloe and headed to Finca Sommerwind near Ibarra, a campground run by a German family that was full of other overlanders. We were super excited to see our Swiss friends Markus and Karin blog 2infarhrt on their motor bikes and Simone and Michael blog off-we-go (who we first met in Mexico!) with the most badass Range Rover we have seen yet, and Shannon and Josh and their dog Kaleb. There were also a bunch of new people we met.
Since so many of us were together we decided to all stay for a while (so much for speeding up….) and planned a big group BBQ. Karin was nice enough to give Toby and I lessons on how to make Swiss bread from scratch (she is a very good baker) and we got to eat her delicious bread after. We also went on excursions to town to explore the amazing municipal market to shop for food for our extravagant meals and had big camp fires at night where we swapped stories, made dutch oven dinners and drank the cheap one dollar Pilsen beer tall boys. I was worried when we left that we would get lonely on the road, but we have met so many wonderful people along the way, and are often meeting up and traveling with other people. We are very rarely lonely, and are making lots of new life long friends from all over the world.
Ibarra is close to Otavalo, the town with one of the largest (and most touristed) craft markets in Ecuador. We went and were a bit disappointed. Most of the items sold were manufactured in Peru and China. There is lots of cheap stuff to buy, but we decided to wait until to Peru to buy Peruvian handicrafts. (Just a side note, the market is open every day except Tuesday, and Saturday morning before 9am is when the large animal market occurs if you are into that.)
Mitad del Mundo
On our way to Quito we stopped at the equator, celebrating finally crossing into the southern hemisphere.
From the equator we headed into the the mountains to go to the hot springs Termas Papallacata . It was really cold and rainy, so we did not take any pictures, but these were some of our favorite hot springs of the trip. They allowed us to camp in the parking lot and since the hot springs stayed open until 10:30pm, we got to soak in blissfuly hot water in the 40 degree cold. We both agree, that hot springs are the best when it is super cold. The only part that was not fun was walking back to our car. We were both freezing since all we had was our wet bathing suits on!
From the hot springs we headed to Quito, which at 9,200 feet elevation, is one of the highest capitol cities we have visited. The Old City of Quito is really pretty, full of colorful colonial architecture and some of the most beautiful churches in South America (at least of the inside). If you ever wondered where all the gold stolen by the Spanish in South America went, visit some of the churches in Quito. In Iglesia de la Compania, there is 7 tons of gold. 7 TONS! Pictures are not allowed in La Compania, so you will just have to imagine what it would look like if every surface of a church was covered in gold leaf. Over the top is an understatement.
In Quito we finally met up with Karin and Coen of LandCruising Adventure who have been overlanding for over ten years now! We urban camped in a parking lot with them next to a big park where Ecuadorians exercised in the morning (very early in the morning….). It was great to spend time with them and have them give us advice on the more remote areas of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina where there are wide open spaces and no people around. Karin circled lots of spots on our map that I would have never thought of visiting, really excited for the adventures ahead of us.