Quito – Ecuador
I was sitting in a coffee shop in Quito this morning, drinking espresso made from freshly ground Ecuadorian coffee beans. As I sipped the frothy head of the strong, dark brown brew, my mind wandered back to the last few weeks of our cycle.
We made our way out of Lima through the sea mist and played dodgems with gigantic articulated trucks, buses, pedestrians and street dogs. After passing through about 70km of smokey, noisy, smelly suburbs, the road finally rolled out into the desert that was to accompany us all the way to Ecuador. The road was hillier than we though it would be, and the hot, dry air made the long uphills a very sweaty affair. The heat was however great for drying out the laundry that I hang off the back of my bike.
At the Casa de Cycliste in Trujillo, the owner warned us about the dodgy town of Piura which was just up the road. Apparently, lots of cyclists have been robbed at gunpoint by guys on moto taxis. As we neared the town, I became aware of every moto taxi that came up slowly behind us, giving a suspicious “what´s going on ´ere” look to each diver that passed. Helped by a strong tail-wind and the adrenaline that surged though our veins, we got up to a speedy 36km/hour through the town centre, and out the other side, almost breaking the speed limit and running over a few street dogs in the process.
Our next big obstacle was a 200km stretch through the Northern Desert, with no towns or places to stay shown on our map. We consulted Juan, a local roadie who we met (and who kindly invited us to stay in his mates house). In his opinion, it couldn´t be done in one day, but to us, this sounded like a good challenge so we picked up some supplies, got up early and rolled onto the long, flat, straight road. As we had hoped, the wind was in our favour, and allowed us to keep and average speed of 27km/hr for the day. By lunchtime, we had 140km on the clock, and to our surprise, we came across a windswept truckstop. In hindsight, I wish I had opted for the bread rolls, avacado and tuna that I was carrying, the trucker fare of cold chicken, cold rice and warm drink, wasn´t particularly appetising. Another few stints, and my speedo finally clicked over 200km, and then up to 212km, the longest I´ve ever done in one day.
We were both looking forward to a couple of days rest in the coastal town of Mankora, but the evil bike fairy had some other ideas. As we were climbing up a wee hill, Fearghals gears made a horrible crunching sound, not good I thought. Somehow, the rear dereilleur decided to have an intimate affair with the spokes, snapping the chain, and ripping the gear hanger off the frame. I managed to fashion a crafty chain tensioning device, McGyver stylee, with a plastic bottle, duck tape, and a few zip ties (how-to blog coming soon). We were back on the road again, but with only a single gear, we were rolling much slower than before.
With Fearghals legs spinning rapidly, like a kid unaware of how to use his gears, we neared the Ecuadorian border. We were told that the border was “the most difficult border in South America”. It wasn´t. In fact, you could easily slip from Peru to Ecuador unnoticed. Upon crossing the bridge that separated the two countries, we were suddenly in a very different place. Street vendors had much fancier stalls equipped with lights, rocky deserts were replaced with banana plantations, toilets came with loo paper, but to my dismay, the love affair with rice remained, and I´m still eating huge plates of rice, 3 times a day. With Fearghal only having one gear, we were forced to put in much longer days to achieve the required daily distances, getting up at 6, spending 8 hours in the saddle, and finishing just before sunset. After spending a few days passing through endless miles of banana, coco, and corn plantations, the road pointed upwards, towards Quito.
The road started climbing gradually upwards along a river bank, my legs felt strong despite it being our sixth day in the saddle. After a couple of stints, I took Fearghals single speed bike, as I prefer to push a harder gear while climbing than he does. The road then left the gently sloping river and started winding steeply up the tree covered mountainside. On a lot of the hills I was forced to get out of the saddle (which i never do) and had to really push hard with my legs and pull with my arms to get the required force. Imagine using a stepper machine on the hardest setting for a day, it hurts!. Eventually though we got to the top at about 3200m altitude and freewheeled down the other side. We were both really cold as our warm gear was packed deep in our bags, so we stood next to a charcoal chicken rotiserrie for ages, trying to warm up. We must have looked like nutters, manky dirty and smelly, staring at the chickens spinning round and round.
A short, but hilly, 40km day bought us into Quito, and after only 2 days rest in 2500km of cycling, we were looking forward to a few proper days off. I´m really enjoying having the time to eat as much and as regularly as I like. That said, last night I want out looking for food, but to find everywhere closed. There was not a morsel to be found, so I went back to my digs, fished my “emergency” noodles out of my food bag, set up my petrol stove, and had a big cook off……..in the shower!
So now we´re researching so now we´re trying to get to grips with the visa nightmare that is Asia, and sorting out a route home, but more on that coming soon.