This tour is a bit different from the previous trips I’ve been on. The concept is called overlanding which was something I’ve never heard of until a few months ago when at a travel exhibition in London. Essentially a bus (although it’s technically not a bus but I’ll go into that later) goes on a huge journey across a whole continent. This tour travels the length of South America, from Patagonia to the top of Columbia. It then links up with another tour that continues up through Central and North America. Patagonia to Alaska would be epic if you’ve got a spare 7 months and $23,000. I was doing the 18-day Quito to Cartagena leg. About half of the others had the same plan, while some people had been on since Brazil. Back to the bus, or truck as it is referred to. Or bus, er truck as I more often than not call it to avoid being corrected by the overloading aficionados if you say bus! While I was willing to buy into that I refused to refer to the truck by its name of Cameron. Calling inanimate objects human names is a personal pet peeve. Whether it’s a truck or a bus, it’s actually some sort of hybrid vehicle that the Dragoman company have especially manufactured for their overland tours and they’re pretty good. Inside are table seats, a fridge and a sound system. As about half of the trip involves camping, there’s storage for tents, cooking equipment, etc., with no space wasted. Everyone was assigned a small job to do throughout the trip. Mine was unloading the gas bottles and the cooker for campsite cooking. As every campsite we visited had kitchen facilities my services were not required which was a bit of a bonus.
While the roads in Ecuador are noticeably less hectic than somewhere like Bolivia I wouldn’t fancy driving a car around, let alone a big truck containing passengers. At one point today Emma did about a twelve-point turn to get onto the desired road. This halted four lanes of traffic for a minute or so and we received plenty of the obligatory beeping horns. I spoke to Emma about this later and she said she’s used to such manoeuvres now. She also said that gender equality hasn’t reached a point in South America where a woman can’t drive a truck without getting double-takes from many passers-by.
Today we crossed the equator. It was back into the northern hemisphere after a month down south. Ecuador commemorates this with a park containing a monument and lookout tower, a painted line to remind you that you’re at 0° latitude, a decent science museum and a few touristy shops. It’s worth going in to have the slightly corny photo taken where one foot is in either hemisphere. However as the location of the park is seemingly slightly arbitrary, with the equator crossing the entire country of equator, you could stand outside the fence and still be in both hemispheres albeit without a painted yellow line on the ground to inform you of this.
We continued north to Otavalo, a small town known for its markets. Having seen a lifetime’s worth of markets during the past few weeks I didn’t think they were anything special but everyone else seemed to come out of them with rugs, tat and backpackers-style clothing. We stayed in a really nice hostel in the hills above Otavalo where the rooms and view were very good but the chicken curry served was average.