If you’re reading this, chances are you are not the type of person to spend their vacation time relaxing on a pristine beach while sipping mojitos and working hard on your tan. No, like me, you are an adventurer and thrill-seeker, dreaming of traversing the unknown country on two wheels, rain or shine. You don’t get scared away by adverse weather, rugged terrain or tough conditions. You embrace it!
One thing I love about traveling and exploring on a motorcycle, dirt bike, or ATV is the close contact with the elements. You can feel the wind on your face, smell the air as you are riding through a forest, desert or high mountains. There’s no better way to intimately get to know a new country than spending a few weeks riding through it. Not too long ago, I had the chance to do just that when I decided to spend my vacation in Ecuador.
Ecuador is an adventurer’s paradise. Its unique geography allows you to experience several climatic zones in a short period of time. You have easy access to cloud forests, beaches, deserts and high mountains — what more could you want? During my trip, I spent about two weeks dirt biking through each of these varied climate zones. It’s an amazing country with even more amazing people full of friendly smiles and willingness to help. Ecuadorians are more than happy to guide you if you lose your way while hiking to a waterfall deep inside the cloud forest or offer a lesson if you want to try your hand at making your own sugar cane juice at the local farmer’s house. If you’re an adventurer who’s itching to embark on a trip like this yourself, there are a few tips and considerations you need to go over to help make the journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible.
First Things First
If your trip is centered around exploring and touring on a bike, the most important step in your planning will be sorting out the details of your ride. Namely, will you buy, ship, or rent a motorcycle or bike? Most people don’t have the luxury of taking a few months off from work, so shipping your own ride to the country of your choice may not be the best and most cost-worthy option for a shorter trip. Similarly, buying a motorcycle in a foreign country is often not feasible if you’re only planning to stay for a week or two. The best option in my experience is to find an established and experienced rental shop in your destination. Cost of rental will be cheaper than shipping back and forth and it also helps you avoid the painstaking process of registering/insuring your bike with the foreign government.
I highly recommend researching rental and touring companies in the weeks leading up to your trip to ensure you get the best deal and are working with a reputable organization. It also helps to have everything conveniently ready for you upon arrival — That’s exactly what I did when I landed in Quito. I reached out to a local motorcycle touring company before I left home. They had a ride equipped with luggage already waiting for me. All I had to do is to jump on it and go off exploring the country on my own.
Your standard packing list should include a first-aid kit, water bottle, maps, portable chargers and protective clothing. Check the weather and bring layers and waterproof gear, if needed! Ask about safety gear and add-ons when you get in touch with the rental or touring company. A helmet/visor are likely included with your rental but, depending on the terrain you plan to tackle, you might also want elbow or knee pads, gloves and even a small tool-kit to handle repairs on the go. Unfortunately, tourists can be easy targets for crime so get into the habit of keeping your wallet and important travel documents on your person at all times. Consider investing in a travel belt or similar carrying case that can be worn comfortably.
Research and planning are everything
It can be fun to get “lost on purpose” and hidden gems when exploring a new country on two wheels, but try to at least set out with a rough plan for each day. It’s easy to take detours and rely on your GPS to get you back on track, however, I also suggest bringing physical maps as a backup and having a general idea of where you’d like to start and end each day.
Your plan should include assessing the terrain and elevation. This is especially important on trips where you’ll encounter a variety of climates and conditions. While in Ecuador, my riding itinerary consisted of traveling from sea-level villages to altitudes of 20,000 or more feet in the mountainous areas of the country. That’s a perfect recipe for altitude sickness and I experienced a bit of it while I was there! If you’re covering a lot of altitudes on a trip, listen to your body, take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.
Additionally, be cognizant of the driving culture of the new country you are about to explore. Thankfully, Ecuador’s driving culture and laws are pretty similar to the U.S., so there was not much of a learning curve for me when it came to local customs. Of course, things can get more chaotic once you leave more populated cities and you are riding through remote towns and villages where street signs are taken more as suggestions than a rule of the road! Being adaptable is key in situations like that. As the old saying goes: “when in Rome…”
Expect the unexpected!
Even with careful planning, you can run into speed bumps and unpleasant surprises. On the second day of my trip, I left Quito and made my way toward some small oceanside fishing villages. I have been advised prior to the trip to only drink bottled water to avoid getting sick as the water treatment facilities in Ecuador aren’t as reliable as in the U.S. I was very diligent about sticking to my bottled water yet, when I opted to eat dinner at a local restaurant in a beachside town, it completely escaped my mind that the side salad I ordered with my meal was washed with tap water. Later that night I paid the price with extreme food poisoning. The biggest lesson learned? Even if you’re careful, bring backup supplies for worst-case scenarios! Nowadays, I always pack basic antibiotics and Imodium, alongside my painkillers and first-aid items.
Study the current events and history of the area where you will be riding and gain as much understanding of the local customs as possible. Make sure you are all up to date on your shots and vaccinations. I’d suggest checking the CDC’s advisory regarding the required and suggested vaccines for the country of your destination.
On this trip, I not only had a chance to learn about new areas and culture, I learned valuable lessons about travelling solo and sightseeing on a bike. I love telling my friends about my adventures and sharing tips in the hopes that they are inspired to go on a unique journey of their own!
Hubert Szumski is the Category Manager for POWERSPORTSiD.com, and self-proclaimed adventurer, who enjoys exploring and off-roading on bikes, motorcycles and vehicles of all kinds.