Heavy traffic in Quito - something we had experienced ourselves prevented Mario from joining us that night as planned - even on a powerful BMW 650 so we dined well in great comfort as the party had indeed dispelled as promised.
Early next morning the random chirps and bleeps of the Hyundai's alarm woke me but it was only Franco who had decided to replace his front tyre and was busying himself in the hotel car park.
Mario arrived after breakfast
and after a photo shoot with the vivacious receptionist we set off north initially and then turned west heading for Esmeralda and the coast.
As we dropped in altitude the temperature and humidity soared and we were soon in valleys almost inundated by the lush green vegetation of a tropical zone.
Bananas, coconut and date palms, mangoes and pineapple all grew freely and we enjoyed good local ice creams after a friendly military stop from an adjacent shack.
Whilst always polite and open it was amusing to see how the soldiers sharpened up their act when Mario produced his military ID and we were soon away to stop in a local village where the kids thought we had dropped in from space. They were all really good and friendly and asked politely to sit on the bikes and in the van - again I was reminded of times away in Morocco when I had allowed the local youths to jump in and experience the van which for all its modest comforts is a world away from their impoverished homes. We drank the ice cold milk from fresh coconuts, rapidly prepared by a huge fellah with a top notch machete before heading down to the coast where the heat almost knocked us over.
Overnighting in Pedernales gave us a chance to walk in the slightly cooler evening before finding a good place for dinner and as we left being entertained by a street act - a young lad on a unicycle juggling burning torches - all very clever but not a brilliant source of income for his partner and toddler who were alongside. Earlier we had met a young Argentinian couple living in a Type 2 VW air cooled van and selling handmade trinkets which again seemed a precarious existence.
The two bikes roared off in tandem as we continued to follow the coast south stopping to enjoy views of the vast Pacific Ocean before pulling up at a viewpoint just before a long bridge over the Rio Chone to Bahia de Caraquez which looked like a mini Manhattan on its distant peninsula.
By late afternoon after a lofty viewpoint outside the village where the buildings seemed in imminent danger of collapse we pulled in to Montanita and took rooms in a central hotel with secure parking and access on to the long sandy beach. The place had a real buzz with lots of bustling narrow streets lined with trinket and fast food stalls that were popular with the numerous young American travellers.
I took a long walk on the beach as the hours in a vehicle were playing havoc with my fitness and waistline - after a summer of exercise and dieting I had lost a fair bit but this trip will have undone all my good work.
On our way back we noticed the remarkable sight of swifts or similar perched for the night on the power cables in huge numbers.
Our final day as Mario's guests took us towards the border with Peru with a visit to the large city of Salinas en route. Here in the posh bit we admired the hotels and marina where pelicans amongst others shot vertically in to the water just yards from the shore. Two guys painting the upper floors of a hotel dangled precariously on ropes whilst I gave an elderly Argentinian camper bus the once over.
A final diversion to a barren headland marking Ecuador's most westerly point at La Chocolatera involved passing through one of the bases that Mario had served at - plenty of soldiers were milling around but from what we could see there was no imminent threat of invasion from the vast expanse of ocean before us.
A light drizzle and descending dusk caused us to review our plans and we soon turned in to Hotel Jeshua that promised much and failed to deliver - a noisy pentecostal service in an adjacent building went on for hours, traffic thundered by on the road and my 3 neighbours seemed incapable of sleep.
The shower had another of the lethal looking direct shower heads I had seen in Montanita, again the earth wire was missing but this one did at least work and left the body tingling and clean - a good job as it was still hot and the fan was too noisy to leave on overnight.
A few mozzies were dealt with and I was glad to have shelled out a fair bit for anti malarials as this coastal part of Ecuador is a high risk area.
After a poor night's sleep we were away early as Mario had a long journey back to Quito - he had kindly bought us all a memento of our trip to Middle Earth and was grateful for his bottle of Scotch from Cali in Colombia where it is a third of the price. He was a very likeable guy and I hope to meet him again on a return trip one day - local contacts count for so much in a foreign land.
The Ecuador/ Peru border process was very efficient taking under half an hour - a sign of the approach to things came when a security guy yelled at us to use the pedestrian crossing but took no action when a car and van nearly ran us down by failing to stop - hey ho.
Near Mancora we pulled off the main road and followed a rough and dusty track to one of the nicest places we have stayed in. La Caprichosa has been raised from a dry dusty valley over the last 8 years by a Swiss Austrian couple whose attention to style and detail was a true credit to them. A number of stylish detached villas spread out over the land with a central dining area overlooking a salt water pool surrounded by palms. It was, sadly, almost empty and apparently they are losing around £5000 a month - a huge amount in anyone's books let alone by local standards and like El Hato and Madre Tierra it would no doubt be up for sale in the near future. However it served our purpose very well and we enjoyed a good meal outside before retiring to the spacious and well appointed rooms - my bed was larger than the whole of my living space in the van!!
After a refreshing dip in the pool we headed the few miles in to Mancora itself and pulled in to Las Pocitas which lay a couple of miles down a dusty and rutted track - an unpromising start. However the place itself was superb. Simple paja (palm) roofed shacks lined a stunning beach which stretched for miles with the sea no more than 30 yards away from our doors. There was a slight swell so the waves rolled in regularly and a breeze kept it bearably cool, however the sun is so strong here that I resisted the temptation to swim until later in the afternoon.
We enjoyed relaxing in hammocks and the swim when we did go in was sublime : warm, invigorating and good exercise. The rough track shook us up as we returned to the town for a meal in an Asian restaurant - the busy Pan American ran as usual right through the centre and carried the usual mix of long haul bus services, heavy trucks, local taxis and tuc tucs all blending in to a by now familiar mix. The various stall holders tried to entice us in but were never pushy or offended when we declined their wares and we enjoyed the mix of cultures, art forms, food styles and music.
Returning to the peace and quiet of our rooms we again tackled the track which now thronged with half lit tuc tucs, stray dogs and wild scooter riders.
Early next morning three of us walked south for an hour or so watching the pelicans skimming the waves, a fishing boat dragging in its nets and avoiding the stench of a bloated seal carcass. After another swim and reading I walked north past the new fishing jetty under construction and in to the village again. Birds of prey were attacking another carcass in the blistering heat and despite wearing a wide brimmed hat I was reddened by the sun's rays reflecting off the almost white sand.
Later that evening I walked back up again to avoid the road to hell and joined the others for dinner in an open fronted restaurant for grilled pork chops and ice cold beer. It looked hot and sweaty work over the charcoals but the end result was delicious - it is surprising how the hotter countries also favour the peppery and spicier food and I think over the last month I have become accustomed to the heat of various accompaniments.
What was to be our final day on the road started well with an early departure after a good breakfast on the terrace and a final traverse of the tortuous track. We deviated briefly to see the turtles at El Nurro but declined the opportunity to swim alongside them and headed off to Piura which had been the venue for a very noisy night 3 weeks earlier.
It was a relief to get going again as it was by now 5pm and we had many miles ahead of us - but at least we were all safe and together. It is a constant concern for me when away as breakdown cover is very much a western luxury and following the fun and games in Morocco earlier this year when I faced a 1500 mile journey across Morocco and then Spain with defunct suspension our predicament had a sense of deja vue. We stopped in Chiclayo and again in Chilete to revive the supremely stoical Jorje who by the time we reached Cajamarca at 2am had been driving for 18 hours - apart from a couple of police checks and some crazy lorries it was a largely uneventful ordeal although a few vicious mozzies had jumped in and took advantage of the tight spaces to attack my legs.
Suzy had the gates open and after extracting our bags we left the bulk of the goods to be dealt with in the morning and all headed off for a much needed sleep.
So today we have been right through the van sorting out things after almost a month on the road, whilst Suzy fussed over us. Ozzie has been hard at work in the grounds, the chicks have trebled in size and it was good to sit back and reflect on what has been a revealing and informative journey.
The APM lads have been amazing company looking after Chris and I throughout and always in good humour. Dave's unique approach to life has provided many memories - his 69th birthday at La Caprichosa put many a younger guy to shame - and for me it has been a remarkable introduction to three rewarding, welcoming and friendly countries that I very much hope to return to in the not too distant future.
Over the next couple of days we will relax, prepare for the journey home and put warm coats at hand for what will be a rude awakening as we return to the poor weather we have been reading about. Coastal SA has El Nino warnings for the next few months which if they materialise may devastate some of the amazing place we have seen but judging by the tenacity and resilience of the many people we have met they will survive - somehow.
A final post covering this next week will be posted from the UK so in the meantime
photos here and our progress here will have to do!