The second notable thing is the absolutely spectacular scenery; lush mountains peppered with the odd volcano. Combined with perfect weather is making for great riding.
With an alarming reputation for violence, I was unsure whether to go to Quito or not. But to come all this way and miss it would be dumb, so I booked a hostel in the Mariscal district and headed south. At some point I crossed the equator, but failed to realise this at the time; the sublime landscape was just too diverting. I approached Quito with some trepidation, managing to find a bizarre back road into the city proper. It wound its cobbled way up a narrow valley, over rickety bridges towards the tower blocks visible on the ridge above. Then into the city, surprisingly little traffic, to find the hostel at the third attempt (damn these "una via"/ one way streets!).
The hostel was gated off with barbed wire across the top of the walls; a couple of druggies sprawled in the street outside didn't inspire confidence. With the bike safely behind the barbed wire, I ventured out to nearby Foch Plaza. Lots of police on motorbikes around for security as this is where gringoes and locals alike come to drink and dance. To be honest, it felt perfectly safe, the scariest thing was the prices some of the bars were trying to charge for a pint (£6!!!! You're not in Singapore people!). Other bars were more reasonably priced; took some trial and error to find them though.
I survived the evening without being mugged, although my budget took a beating.
Next day was tourist time. Wandered down to the Historico Centrico (UNESCO world heritage status, no less). It was impressive, the colonial Spaniards knew how to build. The highlight was the Basilica del Voto Nacional; if only for the great views over Quito. Another clear day showing the city at its beautiful best.
Could have spent longer in Quito, but the pull of the road was too strong and I continued south the next day towards Banos. The road climbed out of the city to give great views of snow capped volcanoes. Cotopaxi was still belching gas from its recent eruption. This blew across the Pan-Am for a lot of miles; the people living there having to wear masks. Once I was out of the ash zone, the view of Cotopaxi, half its dome still snow covered, the other just a cloud of ash, were stunning. Even the locals were stopping to take photographs of this awesome display of natures power.
The road continued, now a 4 lane highway in places. The turn off from the main road to Banos dropped through increasingly lush countryside as this was where the Andes begin to give way to the Amazon basin. Banos sits perched between the two, surrounded by volcanoes. A beautiful spot, where all the pubs were closed (I arrived on a Sunday), probably no bad thing. Spent the next couple of days doing the tourist thing: looking at waterfalls, hiking up mountains and I even rode down into the Amazon basin proper for a look. Did I mention how stunning this country is?