I’ve been on this journey for a while now and I’ve noticed a couple of things. The first is that, after so many countries and time zones and hotels, it takes a few moments when I wake up every morning to figure out where I am. It’s the same sort of mental exercise that one goes through after losing their keys. It generally goes, “Okay, what country am I in. Where was I yesterday and where did I want to go today?”
I can usually figure it out without having to look out the window (assuming my room has one), but I can easily see how the old joke about the touring rock musician yelling, “We love you, Cleveland!” when he’s actually in Detroit is based in truth.
The other quirk is that everything seems to be getting easier in general. Part of this is certainly due to the fact that I’ve been able to shake some of the cobwebs off my basic Spanish by this point. I think, however, that it has more to do with the fact that after so many miles and places, the bar has been set pretty high when it comes to personal misery and discomfort.
I find myself saying, for example, “Well, this traffic is pretty terrible, but it’s no Mexico City,” or “It’s ungodly hot here, but it’s no Laredo Desert,” or “I could really do without this rain, but it’s no Panama City.”
The other side of this coin is that I live every day worried that something will happen that causes me to recalibrate my barometer of suck. Luckily, Ecuador was a joy to ride through and has set a standard in the opposite direction, as an example of a pretty stellar place.
I crossed the border from Colombia where a helpful customs agent typed out my paperwork, said, “bienvenido,” and sent me on my way. Despite getting lost on the outskirts of Quito (but not as lost as in Dallas), I found the Equator. I should actually say that I found a stone monument that marks the Equator, which was built on a spot erroneously marked by a French expedition in 1736 and is actually over 1000’ away from the real equator. It was still worth a photograph.
I skirted Quito (the highest capitol city in the world at 9, 350 feet), and headed up further into the clouds to a groovy little town, situated in a misty rainforest, called Mindo. This place, draped with orchids and tropical vegetation, is a Mecca for birdwatchers. I suppose that I’ve never considered that birdwatchers might travel the globe in search of bird-watching hotspots, much in the same way that skiers or golfers or surfers might, but I suppose it makes sense that they do. I saw several “Steiner Binocular” stickers stuck to hotel windows and signposts throughout Mindo, much in the same way a “Billabong” sticker might be plastered to a stop sign at Bondi Beach.
After morning coffee with the dozens of hummingbirds on my hotel veranda, I headed towards the coast to Montañita, a surfing party town full of backpackers, surfers and all of the usual denizens one might expect in a town that has a road called, “Calle de Cockteles.” After a day to recover, both from the previous days of riding and a late night on the aforementioned calle, I made my way to just north of the Peruvian border to a town called Machala.
Riding on a Sunday morning was the best. There were few cars on the road, as the residents of Montañita were nursing hangovers and the more pious were at church. When I reached Machala several hours later, the storefronts and businesses were locked up tight on the Sunday afternoon, but the market was in full swing. I strolled through the beautiful, colorful confusion of the marketplace for a few hours and headed back to my room to prepare for an early start to the Peruvian border, only a few kilometers away.