Equatorial Opinion

Written May 11, 2016

High fives at the equator!

Since we're cooling our heels waiting in Quito for a part from BMW, I wanted to take a break from the road-tales and talk about a thought that's been percolating.

It’s been over a month since the last story, and while much has happened on the road, I somehow don’t feel that I’ve made much progress in myself.  I think that, as we traverse down through the equatorial region, the rate of change around us has slowed, and so the driver for different thoughts and realizations has weakened, at least for now.  We’re halfway between the north and the south, and, as such, we’ve reached a trough in the curve of how fast things are changing around us due to latitude.  The temperature and climate are driven by altitude now, and we go constantly up and down, but at fairly high elevation, between 1,500-4,000 meters (5-13,000’).  Once we cross down into Peru, however, ocean-driven effects will produce the desert, and once again we will have visible change.  How much this year’s very strong El Nino contributes I can’t be sure, because I haven’t been here before in “spring.”  But talking to people, it’s generally drier and warmer in most places on our path because of it.

While at the Cali Zoo, Jalene pointed out that we no longer think of anything around us as particularly noteworthy.  Anyone flying in from the States would be gobsmacked by the sudden differences, but for us it’s all much the same now.  Each day’s ride shows us new terrain and impressive sights, to be sure, but it’s somehow all made up of the same substance rearranged.  We’ve become accustomed to the crazy plants and ginormous mountains and all the sounds and smells and food.  Banana and kapok trees, coffee farms, rice fields, llamas, concrete everything, animals everywhere, you name it.  Oh, we never get tired of it, but the now-gradual change has required us to look for smaller differences, such as what we saw going through the Colombia-Ecuador border.  But we’ll get to that.

This guy helped us with directions when we were walking on the back road to our hostel in San Agustin, Colombia.

Yogi Berra once said “You can observe a lot, just by looking.”  I love this line, and used it on the frontispiece of a fisheries observer manual once.  Traveling is just observational science, isn’t it, and our data is mainly subjective.  Paired with that, as observers we’ve gotten used to many new things, and that changes us.  Our viewpoints and references and standards are different now.  What we consider “normal” is now drastically different than what our Oregon normal was.  


  • The cops: We think nothing of police/military checkpoints with sandbagged bunkers and machine guns, and give them a friendly wave as we roll by, getting a big thumbs-up and a grin in return (it gives one a warm and fuzzy feeling on a muddy track in the deep mountain jungle of Colombia).  And police drive everywhere with lights flashing, “for safety.”  (It’s interesting to blow by one on a double-yellow and then… nothing happens.)
  • Traffic: A laissez-faire attitude with general guidelines.  I find it’s best not to consider it “my side” of the road, we all use the pavement we need, and allow others to do the same.  Red lights at intersections are the adhered to, but sometimes practicalities take over.
  • Pedestrians:  People walk out into the road at anytime, or cows, dogs, horsecarts, or anything.  Go back to what I said about it not being “my side” of the road.  We don’t expect smooth sidewalks to stroll on, we’re happy if there is one at all.  The missing man-hole cover will be unmarked.  Don’t step in the garbage, horse manure, dog crap, broken glass, or whatever is there.  And there may be lots of it there.
  • Hotels: We like hot water, but don’t expect it anymore.  Toilet seats are a nice luxury, but not really necessary it turns out.  Just tell us where you want the used toilet paper.  Gentlemen, adjust your flushing rate if no plunger is handy.
  • Permission:  You are generally allowed to do things that the lawyers would never allow in the States.  Go ahead, walk out there for a picture, nobody cares.  One the other hand, it’s not exactly a handicap-friendly land.  And you may be at the urinal as the lady cleans right behind you.
  • Borders: How long is the wait?  Okay.  Our patience towards waiting and bureaucracy have vastly increased.  Problems in general are just solved, not ranted at.  Anger is simply a waste of energy in most situations.  It is what it is.
  • Food: Chicken with rice and fried platanos AGAIN?  Well, okay.  There is always cervesa available.  Everywhere.  We do eat some amazing things, at times really good, not-so-good, and sometimes really, um, surprising.  It’s all adventure, right?

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

We crossed out of Colombia and into Ecuador a few days ago.  The border crossing was like magic.  Two stamps, Boom! Boom! - and we were out of Colombia, rolled across the stripe, and within a few more minutes we and the bikes were stamped into Ecuador, and that was that.  We had to wait a bit for the Ecuadorian Aduana (Customs) to re-open, but excluding that, the whole process took maybe half an hour, tops.

Once we were into Ecuador, both of us soon noticed that the feel of the road and the general look of the place had changed.  Hmm, same Andes, same rivers, same weather, what’s going on?  It was subtle but noticeable.  Again, the little things – Ecuador just seems a bit more organized.  There are more road signs, the paint striping is a little crisper, the farm fields are a bit neater, cars mind their manners a bit better, streets and parks are a bit cleaner, and so on.  Oh, and now we have to pay 20 cents at some toll booths (an outrage) and yet the motos are still allowed to exploit their small size in traffic.

So – if we wanted to go faster, things would change around us faster, but would we have the time to really observe it?  I don’t know, but I don’t think we’d see as much, that’s for sure.  And so we just roll along, letting the world slowly change us as it changes around us.  Yes, change often brings some discomfort, but that’s how we learn new things.  As travelers, wherever we are, we are here to learn.

Look for more blog stories and photos in the next few days to catch you up on where we are on the road, and our latest adventures.

Oh my, Jalene just came home with super-bright shiny red hair.


And speaking of hair color, that's one of many appearance changes Jalene has noticed on this trip. Check out her video exploring Appearance vs. Being.