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Sunday, 09 June 2019 09:48

Hospitality, Ecuador-style Featured

CSC 0301Rolling into a small, quiet Andean town of Cotacachi, all I could think of was a shower and a hot meal. I’d been exploring some of the most scenic dirt roads of Ecuador that day, and long hikes or sightseeing just wasn’t on my agenda.

But after I parked my DR650 safely in the spacious courtyard of a small hotel and had a hearty lunch at one of the local eateries, curiosity got the better of me. It was a weekday, and the usual tourist crowds were nowhere to be seen. Cotacachi seemed almost deserted, quaint narrow streets empty save for a few locals hurrying past.

I decided to head for a local leather tannery shop I’d heard about from Court and Sylvain, founders of Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental. “You’ve got to visit Luis and his dad in Cotacachi. They run a small local tannery and still do everything traditionally, by hand. It’s a special place,” Court told me back in Quito.

cobbled road to tufino

So far, I followed Court’s instructions all the way across the Ecuadorian Andes. When I showed up at the doorstep of Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental, I was received like family: Court and Sylvain started out as long-distance riders themselves, and helping round-the-world motorcycle travelers who pass by is something they still love to do. Court made me a cup of strong black Ecuadorian coffee and patiently pored over maps to show me the best routes and must-see places off the beaten path. With over a decade of living and riding in Ecuador, Court and Sylvain know the country inside and out. Even though I’d ridden in Ecuador before, their advice helped me see a different world full of hidden gems.

luis leather tanner in cotacachi motorcycle adventure dirt tour

Luis’ tannery in Cotacachi was one of them. Greeted warmly by Luis, his father Luis Senior and his mother Maria Virginia, I forgot the passing of time as they showed me around the shop and told me about their everyday lives and art. Luis Senior busied himself working on a freshly processed cow hide, while Luis explained the ancient indigenous traditions of working on leather using natural means. “We collect the huarango tree seeds and steep them in large wooden drums, then put the raw skins in the liquid. It’s a perfect natural leather tanner, no chemicals needed. Yes, chemical tanning only takes 24 hours, whereas our huarango tree seed recipe requires a whole month, but we’re in no rush. All good things take time”, Luis told me, smiling. His mother Maria Virginia offered me some homemade chicha, a fermented corn and grain drink, in the meantime. She was working on a sheepskin and chatting to her nieces in her native Quechua.

leather being tanned in cotacachi ecuador motorcycle adventure tour

I spent well over four hours at Luis’ workshop, and it was one of my most memorable experiences in Ecuador. The level of hospitality shown to complete strangers simply because of the love for your craft and traditions felt unparalleled, and I left fascinated, inspired, and grateful to have had the privilege to experience it.

S cotacachi leather 76

Court and Sylvain from Freedom support multiple small businesses like that across Ecuador, but they don’t stop there. Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental has a long-running Pack for Purpose program where motorcycle travelers are encouraged to donate and deliver school supplies to remote, often cut-off communities throughout Ecuador. They have delivered school supplies to thousands of students in need in remote classrooms across the country. The company also funds the studies of one bilingual Algorrobos School student in Canoa per year, helping them get a solid start in their academic pursuits. Stateside, Freedom supports the American Motorcycle Relief Project through donations of rides to help rehabilitate veterans suffering from severe PTSD. 

If you’re a traveler like me, make sure to stop and see Court and Sylvain in Quito for advice, tips, and of course, the coffee. Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental has a team of local and international staff, bringing the best of Ecuadorian, Canadian, American, British, French, German and, I’m thrilled to say, Lithuanian backgrounds and know-how to create unique, tailor-made motorcycle travel experiences in Ecuador. Freedom Bike works with a number of small businesses and individuals in Ecuador supporting the local communities and have brought more than 10,000 people into Ecuador to enjoy the tourism in this amazing Andean country. They have single-handedly made Ecuador a top adventure riding destination in South America and continue to do so as they welcome more and more riders and travelers from around the world.

If this post sounds braggy, that’s because it is: I’m honored and proud to have been invited to lead one of Freedom’s new motorcycle tours designed for women riders. As a digital nomad, I value my own freedom and independence, but teaming up with Freedom Bike isn’t a typical work contract because they aren’t a typical large, faceless company concerned solely with profits and scalability. Even after more than ten years in Ecuador, Freedom remains small, boutique, and as a result, extraordinary.

eglegerulaityte- Egle

Egle is a motorcycle journalist, writer and adventure rider obsessed with remote off-road trails, obscure cultures and communities, and organic coffee. Egle edits Women ADV Riders, an online magazine and resource for female motorcycle travelers worldwide, and hopes to inspire more women to go out there and explore the world on two wheels.

Egle will be leading a special, women's only motorcycle tour for Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental here in Ecuador on October 4, 2019.  For more information and to book your spot, click here.

“Adventure travel is the biggest gift you can give to yourself as a rider and as a person. It’s an eye opener, a massive confidence boost, and an incredible way to get to know the world” - Egle

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Last modified on Wednesday, 12 June 2019 16:06

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