Aren't You Brave?

April 16, 2014
Against all advice, we rented a car. They say Ecuador has the worst drivers anywhere, and it's best to let a professional handle it by hiring a driver or taking the bus. Plus, rental cars are pricey in Ecuador (busses are the main mode of transportation, at only $1/hr is easy to understand why, and taxis across town are $1-2 fares), but we wanted freedom and we learned in Italy that Frank suffers from motion sickness riding as a passenger so driving was our only option. I reserved a Grand Vitara from Carmax for $65/day. Cars are cheaper than SUVs, but most are manual. Which usually Frank doesn't mind, but with all the mountain driving and tales of horrible driving conditions we thought automatic would be best. When I made the reservation, I assumed the Vitara was 4WD. It was not; it was rear wheel drive. So, anytime we were in gravel or damp unpaved roads our tires would spin. There were a couple times, we could've really gotten stuck. Thanks to Frank's mad skills we broke free every time and he kept us safe all 1,562 miles.

Frank says it takes a certain amount of skill, luck and insanity to drive in Ecuador. I think that is an accurate assessment, one must also be agressive and defensive at all times. There is an etiquette to driving in Ecuador. It involves a heavy use of the horn. Passing is frequent and common at any time, it doesn't matter if it's a bridge or a blind curve. The greatest thrills come from driving in the Andes. Up or down, it's a white knuckled ride. You never know when a bus will approach head on. Driving the coast is relatively easy. In fact, I would have been perfectly comfortable driving once we descended out of Andes at Santo Domingo. That stretch between Quito and Santo Domingo is real squirrelly, though.

We met a couple from Arizona that are trying out retirement in Cuenca. They've been there six months. When they heard we were driving, their response was "Aren't you brave?"

I guess we are, I don't regret renting for a second. We were able to reach our destinations faster, stop for photo opportunities and who doesn't love a great road trip? Gas was cheap $1.48 gallon almost everywhere, roads were in great condition, most constructed in the last few years. Others, were currently being widened, etc. Expect delays from Cuenca to Quito and up to Otavalo. Tolls ranged from 40-cents to a dollar. They were fairly well spread out. Gas stations were plentiful, they sold snacks and had clean bathrooms. There are also plenty of tire repair places. Public parking is well marked in the larger cities. Overall, road conditions were far better than I could have ever imagined.

If you drive in Ecuador, a GPS unit is a must! Our original plan was to rely on google maps and the Waze app. Fortunately, while at Carmax, we were offered a Garmin GPS for $3/day. I thought it would be helpful. Boy, was it ever! Had we not had it, we would've been lost and angry majority of the trip. Even with the GPS we had a handful of sights and hotels it was unable to locate. That was frustrating enough, I cannot imagine how awful it could have been without it. Signage is terribly lacking and even after two weeks in the country I made little sense out of addresses.

We made a friend in Banos, Frank told him that driving in Ecuador was fun. He laughed and called Frank, "Loco!"

Crazy and brave. That's my husband.


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