The drive to Cuenca from Banos is a big one. We figured it would take about five hours in the car and planned to break it up with a stop at Ingapirca along the way. In this part of Ecuador there are no straight four-lane roads, just two-lane carriageways that follow the winding spine of the Andes where switchbacks dominate and you have to share the space with everything from farmers’ trucks to big-rigs (none of which are particularly well geared for the road grades).
Here, you also drive above the clouds and quite often, in them. Over a dozen times we went from brilliant sunshine to thick cloud and back again within a 10 minute span. There was some white-knuckle moments for sure, especially when the cloud was so thick I couldn’t see a car length in front of us and we knew there was a 500m precipice on the right-side of the road. These sections of highway weren’t as good as others we experienced and the potholes were more common and needed to be avoided.
Early afternoon we found ourselves in a thick-pea-soup cloud in a particularly winding section of road. Coming around a curve we were suddenly right behind a big 18-wheeler whose lights we could just barely make out about 10m in front of us. I hit the brakes so we wouldn’t find ourselves under it and didn’t see the pothole that the front left tire slammed into. The impact was enough to rattle our teeth. There was no question, we could hear the air escaping. I flipped on the hazards and proceeded to coast down the mountain on the partial shoulder until we found a flat spot. After about 2kms I was able to pull over to survey the damage.
Fortunately, there was no structural damage to the car but the tire and rim were done. The girls were good, they got out of the car and we emptied the trunk to get the spare (full sized!). It took me about 20 minutes to change. Doing so on the edge of an Ecuadorian road was a bit of an experience - the buses and trucks came roaring by giving me a bit of room and a happy ‘toot-toot’ on their horn. Great, nice, you see me. Terrific. A little more room please…
As I changed the tire I wondered how to handle this with the car rental company. Insurance is always such a hassle and I read a lot of ‘warnings’ from people who had rented vehicles in South America, having had an incident and then having to pay through the nose. There was the rental company’s insurance, the insurance on my credit card, the umbrella policy I added to my home policy before we left - which was going to be the best to use? This was going to be a major pain.
Back on the road we were moving slightly more cautiously now, attempting to avoid any dark patch that might be another sinister pothole. Jody and I talked about all of our options and explained the notion of ‘karma’ to the girls. It would have been easiest to throw the banged up tire in the trunk and claim ‘that’s-the-way-we-got-it’ but it isn’t the right thing to do, a poor lesson for the girls and would likely come back to bite us in the future. We were going to find a solution that would work.
Ingapirca was a good distraction. It is the best preserved Inca ruin in Ecuador and proved to be a fascinating stop for us to learn about Incan and Canari cultures. Our guide, Segundo, was incredibly passionate about this site and the influence of the Canari people over the Inca. While he didn’t say it, we suspect he was Canari himself, especially after he talked about their worship of the moon and how his parents still undertake certain practise before or after the new moon each month. The girls were riveted and we learned the strategic importance of the area for both sun and moon based religions and its defensible position which allowed control over a wide swath of surrounding area. The Inca were unable to defeat the Canari by force, so instead proposed political and marriage unions. While the name Ingapirca translates to ‘Inca Wall’ it should more accurately be called the ‘Canari-Inca Wall’. A simply fascinating and unexpected learning opportunity for everyone!
We pulled into Cuenca at the height of rush-hour and made our way to the historic district and were able to find the HomeAway flat we rented with limited challenges (in spite of the unanticipated una vias and doble vias - Google Maps seriously needs to get its act together). It was a nice flat, central, allowing us to explore the centre of town on foot for a few days - which was nice after the time we spent in the car over the previous few days. Cuenca is a cool colonial city and you can get a sense of it in the gallery section.
Now what about that bloody tire?
As we drove into Cuenca, Jody saw a mechanic shop a few blocks away. The next day we tried to find it by retracing our route on foot. For the life of us, we couldn’t find it. Most likely because we were looking midday during siesta. Ecuadorian’s big meal of the day is lunch and shops and business quite often close up to re-open again around 3pm. However, we did find a car security system shop that was open and asked if they could help us find the mechanic. Through our broken Español and his broken English we discerned that he was aware of the mechanic but ‘he knew a guy’. Well this was better than nothing, so we asked where we might find him. Rather than giving directions, Edwin walked us the six blocks to his friend’s scrap yard. There were about six guys working on vehicles and equipment, sparks were flying and butane torches were on full burn. Not exactly a place where I wanted to bring my wife and young daughters.
That said, Edwin had a chat with his friend (no English) who relayed that he could fix both the tire and the rim. I was to bring it back later in the day for him to have a look at and we could sort out a price. After thanking Edwin profusely, we headed back to our flat, picked up the car and drove back to the scrap yard. After scraping the bottom of the car across the curb to enter the yard, I pulled the tire out of the trunk. Edwin’s friend was no where to be seen. However, one of the guys came out as if he was expecting me and through Google Translate, broken Spanish and some wild hand gestures we figured it out. I was to come back the following day after 3pm and the tire/rim would be ready for the grand sum of $60.
I couldn’t believe it. With visions of a couple of hundred bucks in insurance charges or repair fees from the car rental agency I was over the moon. There was no way I could have it fixed for this price back home - here’s to doing the right thing!
The next day I showed up at the appointed time and navigated the curb slightly better. A new guy saw me pull in and jumped into action. He grabbed the rim and went off to some dark corner to reattach the tire. He rolled it out to the back of the car and put it in the trunk for me. I pulled out my money and handed over three crisp 20 dollar bills. Well, this was cause for considerable consternation. Suddenly there was some yelling back and forth between a couple of guys and the fella I dealt with the day before when settling the price appeared out from underneath an old wreck of a car. No, no, no was all that I got. Oh, no - here we go, this couldn’t be this easy.
It’s funny, when two people who don’t naturally speak one another’s language interact, it is incredibly easy for things to be mispronounced and misunderstood. When you say sixty and sixteen out-loud, you do have to admit they sound incredibly similar. The cost to fix the rim and the tire was $16. $16.
Here’s to Ecuadorian honesty!!
As they didn’t have any change, this cost me a grand total of $15 - $5 back from a single $20.
I left, scraping the bottom of the car one more time, and went around the block to where the girls were playing at the playground. I told Jody the price and headed to the nearby convenience store. I picked up a six-pack of Club cerveza and walked back to the scrap yard to provide it as a thank you. I don’t know what they thought when I walked in there the last time but they had a good laugh and a few mucho gracias’ for my departing gift.
A few days later when we dropped off the car in Guayaquil, I provided the keys, they did an inspection and there were no issues. The hold on my credit card was removed and we were on our merry way to the Galapagos. Here’s to karma and doing the right thing!
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).