“Welcome to Ecuador. It isn’t like Colombia; you are safe here,” said the border police as we pedaled up to the gate.

This was the easiest border crossing yet, about 20 minutes then up the hill to Tulcan to change money and get maps and information.

Tried all three banks in town and none would change American Express travelers checks.

 Money changers filled the streets but we didn’t want to change until we knew the official rate. Finally found a small money changer that took the checks.

 

The tourist bureau had no maps of Ecuador; they cost the government too much to print up. Left town stopping at all the gas stations but no maps. Started up an 8 mile hill going from 3000′ to 11,000′. Everything is very green.

 

We spent about a month and a half  in Ecuador biking,  hiking, doing jungle trips & sightseeing.

Bicycling Ecuador was extremely difficult at high altitudes and up very steep gradients.

In southern Ecuador, landslides, mud and rain were a daily challenge. We took  a bus to get through the worst of it.

Ecuador was a highlight of our adventure.


Two parallel mountain ranges cut north-south for 240 miles through the center of Ecuador. Between these ranges are ten hilly rungs that join the ridges together like a ladder. Spread between the rungs are basins with floors ranging from  6,000 to 10,000 feet. 

More than 30 volcanoes, 8 of them still active, line both rims of the Sierras.”


We hadn’t cycled far before meeting Juan. He was walking home. He had been cutting brush; his wife gathered grass used to flavor tea.

He invited us to spend the night at his home.

 We accepted. He walked with us to the small village. The streets were rough cobble, very beautiful and impossible to ride on. Our host lived in a quality house. It was brick and mortar.


Several of Juan’s friends stopped by.

We were seated on the bench, a place of honor.

 Each man as he entered came over, shook hands with us, then Juan, then the other friends in the room. This continued throughout the night as many of the villagers stopped by to see the gringos. After all the hand shaking, Juan gave us a shot of the national drink then took us to the village square. We bought beer for four of our news friends. The square was very clean, cobbled, and flowers were planted in the center. The bar was 16×20 with an ice box, 2 benches and 2 tables. The beers were quart size. Cost was 30 cents each. The children quietly snuck in as we were talking and lined, the walls. Soon they nudged closer and closer until we were surrounded.

Bicycling Ecuador

Bicycling Ecuador

Tulcan to Otavalo

Bicycling the Andes in Ecuador
Juan's brick & mortar house in Ecuador

On the dirt floor rested one wood bench along a blank wall; one small wood table hovered in the corner.

The room had no windows.

The kitchen was a hole in the earth at the back of the house just big enough for one worker, a tiny table, and a wash basin filled with hand carried water. Meat hung from hooks in the packed dirt ceiling.

Inside Ecuadorian house

Back to the house, Juan’s wife served us dinner of potato and onion soup. It was delicious and I’m sure the best food they had. We of course were still very hungry and craved more carbohydrates. After dinner the friends stopped in again.

Among the colorful people was an old Indian with no upper teeth, his left foot sticking through the side of his boot where the stitching had broken loose.

 A teacher from the college whose Texas instrument calculator had broken wanted to know if we could fix it. He had paid 30 dollars for it and it had only worked 2 years. The digital figures were fading. He would not believe it when we told him he was very lucky it lasted that long. We couldn’t fix it.  We gave him our credit card calculator that we really hadn’t been using. He had heard of our plight trying to find a map and gave us his only one from the college.

I asked for the bathroom. Juan’s son walked me about 280 yards down the road to the school house and only village bathroom. It was filthy and dark. Went to bed in the upstairs part of the house. Juan laid grain sacks on the floor for us to sleep on.

When we woke in the morning there were 5 other people sleeping in the room.

His wife fixed us breakfast of tea and biscuits. Took a family picture then took off looking for the nearest restaurant to get some food in our stomachs for the day’s ride. Of course the Ecuadorians work all day on that small amount of food.

Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador

After leaving Juan’s house, the serious climbing towards Quito began. We allowed two days just for the ascent. It was 50 miles…all up. The road wound like a cobra floating out of a snake charmer’s basket.

Because of our heavily loaded panniers and the rapidly thinning air, “progress” was hardly an appropriate description for what we were doing.

I’d sit and spin granny gears, puffing like the “Little Engine that Could” until my little engine couldn’t. Then I’d stand up and pedal so I could burn my hams and quads for a refreshing alternative.
It was barren, vast, and lonely…until we rode over the top. Aren’t all summits worth the climb? The great mountain peaks surrounding immense tundra-like meadows reminded me of Alaska, with volcanoes replacing glaciers.

Bicycling Ecuador

Otavalo Market

Otavalo, not Quito was our real destination of interest.

Every day in Otavalo is market day.

 This is the town in Ecuador, just north of Quito the capital, where tourists as well as locals flock to buy Ecuadorian goods made and sold by the majority Indian population.
By 6 am most the Indians have brought their wares to town to sell. There are three separate areas: produce, livestock and woolen goods.

The Indians are beautiful people, their features are full and round.

The men wear one long braid of hair, the women tie their long hair up under large black hats.

They wear white cotton string pants, wool black poncho and derby hat. They carry incredible loads on their backs from fresh cut grass for tea to stacks of blankets to sell. The men and boys do the weaving.

Bicycling Ecuador

The women wear blouses that are hand embroidered with many colors, full length skirts and embroidered black shawls.

Note the local beggar in the background.

There are poor Indians who beg. They smile, shake your hand and bid you good day. Then they put their hands together like praying and bow. It is only very old people, no children. If you say no, they go away. If you give them a penny they bow and say thank you. The Indians give to the beggars too

Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador

The food market is something else. One entire park square is devoted to food stands, fruit, vegetables, meat, avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, bananas, peppers, beans onions and many things we had never seen. When buying some tomatoes, the lady said 30 cents a pound.

I looked around for a scale. She picked up three tomatoes in her hand indicating 1 pound. Her hand was obviously the scale.

When I looked somewhat astounded, she replaced one tomato with a bigger one. When I had chosen all my vegetables she gave me a lemon and said, “come back to me tomorrow” We did. They don’t like to make change; if you have 25 cents and want to buy 20 cents worth of bread, they give you more bread to make it come out even.
Thousands of un-gutted fish are sold from the back of a huge truck..They sit in the sun all day.  In several places women are gutting them on the ground then frying them up to sell. Files of cabbages, a whole harvest lay out in “the sun, the stench is incredible.

No one washes their hands.

  Food stalls are everywhere. They cook and serve with their fingers, wipe them wherever and continue. Dirty plates are dipped in dirty water and dried with dirty rags. Animal guts are thrown to the dogs or left to rot.


The woman wiped her hands on the apron that covered her skirts, then picked the remaining meat from the boar’s scull that graced her portico.

I couldn’t believe I was standing in line, conspicuous in my Lycra, waiting a turn for boar’s brains.

 I handed the woman my coins, dipped my fingers into the bowl, and stuffed the aromatic scrapings into my mouth. Constant hunger from days of undernourished cycling had given me courage to eat the boar’s brains. Now undaunted and still ravenous, we headed for more eating stalls crowded into one corner of the square. Wisps of smoke and pungent odors issued from the stalls like ghosts beckoning us to enter.

Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador

Saquisili, our next destination, is not to be found on most maps. The town plays host to the largest indigenous animal market in Ecuador.

It lies in the heart of the western Cordillera at 12,000 feet.

 Our arrival created quite a commotion. We might have been foreign, but our bikes were a familiar commodity. Fifteen teenagers later, we rescued our  wheels from yet one more trip around the square.

“Is there a place we can sleep for several nights?” I queried the young group.
“Si, si,” one of the boys replied as he jostled himself to the fore. “We have a hotel. I will take you there.”

We stopped in front of a crude wooden ladder. I looked up to see a trap door. Puzzled, I asked the boy again if there was a place to sleep.

He climbed the ladder, opened the trap and disappeared. We followed, still wondering. He led us into a narrow hallway flanked with four doors. He pushed the first door aside. Two single beds crammed into the corners of the room left just enough space to enter. I asked him the location of the bathroom.

Bicycling Ecuador

Saquisili Market

Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador

“Donde quieres,” he replied, wherever you want. I opted for a snoop around the hallway as I really wasn’t certain I understood his meaning. Nothing. I climbed down the ladder and rounded the corner of a row of houses. Standing at the edge of the village fields, 

I saw a woman, covered by layers of heavy wool skirts, squatting over an irrigation ditch. The full meaning of donde quieres sank in. I waited until dark.

Early the next morning, a band began to play what reminded me of a catchy, laid-back Sousa march. There were 3 trumpets, 2 tubas, 2 big drums, and cymbals. It was a festival. Men, women, and children danced, each in their own circle. Whoops and hollers accentuated the beat.

Bicycling Ecuador Bicycling Ecuador

As the day wore on, the band continued playing…the same tune over and over. Eventually the dancing (with a little help from the local liquor) took its toll. 

Men and women alike fell to the ground where they were left to rest.

“What did this festival celebrate?” I asked a man later that evening.
“Un dia del descanso,” he replied, a day of rest.

The next day, outlying farmers brought their livestock to the central village to sell. We wandered about, misfits in our polypropylene and Gore-Tex amidst a world of nature’s provisioning. We had traveled through a time warp; the rain and fog intensified the faraway feeling.”

Bicycling EcuadorBicycling Ecuador

At dusk, goods were loaded onto the llamas and the market dissolved. Next week for the villagers, this scene would repeat itself. Next week for us, the rich details would be memories, thousands of pedal revolutions away.

Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador

Bicycling Ecuador

Saquisili to Latacunga 43 miles: 17 up, 26 down

High clouds meant possible clearing so we prepared to go.  Excited about biking out because it is so beautiful. Went to our favorite kitchen again for breakfast but as usual weren’t quite sure what if anything we might get.  Asked for breakfast. She said sure, in a little while. Pots of different things cooked furiously on the fire. We expected corn like the days before but nothing came. Finally, I asked for hot milk. She brought some stale bread; after about an hour, we decided to go. 

People are marvelous but we still haven’t figured out the proper method of getting things.

The local bus driver honked the horn repeatedly urging all riders to get on. As soon as they were all loaded he came into the kitchen for coffee. All the people in the bus waited patiently for 20 minutes while he drank.
By now most the people of Saquisili knew who we were and came to wish us a good trip. Other foreign travelers we met had made the remark it was difficult to meet the Indians. We were under the impression these foreigners travel too fast and did not bother to take the time necessary.

We had no problem getting into conversations, even with our poor Spanish.

 Certainly they are shy or giggle at first, but it doesn’t take long. The bicycles gave us a unique opportunity as well to communicate because we go so slow. The natives can walk up hill as fast as we can peddle. They always have dozens of questions. We always say hello to everyone we pass by. Many smile and answer, others just stare; they don’t know what else to do. As primitive a life as they live, they are beautiful people.

The ride down to Latacunga can never be forgotten. Beautiful views, no traffic, llamas, sheep, burrows, thatched houses, friendly people, We have seen what we hoped to see, and realized that any and all side trips are more rewarding than we hoped.

The scenery on the Pan American highway is spectacular but the traffic is heavy

; every vehicle honks it’s horn to say hello just as they pass us; the diesel fuel is funneled into our lungs by the exhaust pipes at the bottom right side of all the trucks. We would completely disappear into the thick black smoke of each truck. The only advantage to being on the Pan American highway was being able to cover more distance, or find an occasional bath and more reliable food, 

but we found our most treasured experiences were in the back country.

Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador

Bicycling Ecuador

Latacunga to Banos: 72 miles

Ambato is a big city, 110,000 looking a little like Hong Kong with its narrow streets and heavy traffic. It was laid out like a maze, hundreds of streets going nowhere. We didn’t want to stay in the city so took off at 2:00 for Banos 25 miles away. Strong headwind came up; so strong we had to pedal down from 12,000 feet to 7500′ with more effort than downhill should require. 

Steep canyon walls falling into the wild Pastaza river. Many rock and mud slides.

Banos has to be the perfect spot in Ecuador.

 So much to see and do in one area.  Found the best accommodation of the whole trip… Pension Patty. The owner obviously knows how to please traveling gringos. Clean rooms and best of all clean bathrooms and hot water showers with lots of hot water and pressure. Windows in the rooms, hand laundry facilities and lines for hanging, community kitchen, table and chairs, central courtyard and balconies for evening enjoyment.

The cold refrigerator stocked, cokes, beer and ice.

They offered free storage for gear while making side trips. They even had tourist information and maps… all for $1.00 per person per night. There is a lot of hiking to do here including to the top of a 16,000′ volcano. The pension owner has boots, packs, rides, whatever you need for rent.
Went out to dinner last night. Mike had a thick steak that he picked out of the fridge himself; four servings of French fries, salad and liter of beer for cost $1.  I had a vegetable pie that was as big as a dinner plate chocked full of goodies for 45 cents. We sure like Banos. Since the beginning of the trip it has been the first place where we felt we could really relax and unwind.

Bicycling Ecuado
Bicycling Ecuador

Bicycling Ecuador

Banos to Riobamba-53 miles with 30 uphill

The book says we rise only 3500 feet but that was difficult to believe.  We climbed all day long in sprinkling rain. Our route followed a fantastic river canyon all the way. In Riobamba, the rain was pouring down again. Found a really nice hotel with a big ground floor room. Finally, an easy place to put the bikes.

The bed, however, hard as a rock which has been typical of most hotels.  

Noise continued until 2 am as the drunks came home. They bang on the doors until some ­one lets them in.

Sky is overcast. We didn’t leave till 10 am.  By 1 : 00 it had turned into a downpour. Luckily we arrived at a village seconds before it cut loose.

They were having a street fair and people were dragging their screaming pigs by one leg as they went to market.

Descent looking lunch place let us bring our bikes inside as the rain poured down. It was extremely cold. The food was somewhat questionable. Never quite sure what they put in the Ecuadorian soup but it always seems to have a very strange flavor to us.

 

Bicycling Ecuador Bicycling Ecuador

Arrived in Guamote which has to be one of the most basic towns I have ever seen. Buildings are falling down, people are very ragged and unwashed, wrapped under many layers of torn clothing. Street food stalls sell the worst looking stuff.

Sanitation is unheard of; women handle pig guts then wipe their hands on filthy aprons before mixing mashed potatoes by hand.

 There are no facilities for washing plates; she wipes them on her apron. Milk and juice are sold from open 5 gallon containers. There is a lot of unidentified debris on the surface.

Bicycling Ecuador

Bicycling Ecuador

Riobamba  to Guamote- 30 miles

Bicycling Ecuador

There was only one hotel in Guamote. We were wet and very cold and too tired to put up the tent, so we took a room in the hotel. This was the filthiest we’ve experienced.

Built of stone and rotting wood, the whole place reeked of urine and mildew.

The bathroom downstairs was a typical flush toilet that was never hooked up. It was filled to the brim. No lights of course, so I took my flashlight to see if it was safe to enter. I stood on the seat and touched nothing. It’s times like this you find what a remarkable capacity you have to hold it.

Up a decrepit flight of stairs to a tiny room with two army cots. The place was papered with old newspaper and magazine pictures, It was barely big enough to enter but we got us and the 2 bikes in. Stacked them on one bed and Mike and I tried to survive the other bed together. Ate cold sardines for dinner as our MSR multi-fuel stove was clogged from using gasoline and we didn’t have the energy to clean it.

There was a piss pot outside our door which I used instead of going to that awful bathroom.

Mentally these kinds of places are really tough, but we found we were able to cope as long as we knew we were moving on.

Some of the most beautiful cycling we’ve had.  Road up and up to the high Paramo or grasslands above timber line. Barren country but beautiful. Stopped at a tiny little town for lunch; lovely friendly people as usual. Bought some crackers and sardines in the store and sat on the porch to eat. Everyone was interested in watching us. One man was bold enough to ask who we were and what we were doing. He was well educated and told us a lot about the area.

Finally dropped over the edge of the Paramo and descended into a myriad of valleys, This is the beginning of what is called the southern sierras. The roads are not well maintained and most the traffic turned off to Guayaquil. We had it to ourselves.

There are huge landslides everywhere. Road frequently closed or detours made. Descending into Alausi is breathtaking; we stopped for an hour to enjoy the view and sun.

Bicycling Ecuador

Guamote to Alausi- 30 miles up and down

Bicycling Ecuador
Bicycling Ecuador

Flies are abundant and eagerly contaminate every dish as they fly from street garbage to your breakfast. She also has an entire pig, head and all, from which she tears off various parts with her hands for different dishes. Sometimes cooked chicken as well just sits out waiting for someone to order it.

It’s the original fast foods.

 One man ordered soup. She took the pigs head, crushed it up in her hands and pulled out whatever matter was inside, dropping it into the soup!  Her hands pass from one food to another, wipe on her filthy apron, then scoop up the potatoes or greasy fried egg in her hands.

Accommodation like a palace but bathrooms still basic.

Don’t mean to belabor the point but all of South America so far smells like urine.

We are also beginning to wonder if we will ever see nourishing food again. All you can get in these places is rice and a thin, tough piece of beefsteak, soup made from all the ends and pieces of God knows what. Ordered chicken and potatoes in desperate hopes of eating something different.

The tiniest piece of meat you ever saw is served, usually the wing or back.

What happens to the rest? Who knows.

For breakfast this morning in Alausi, we ate at one of the outdoor food stalls as there were no restaurants open.  These stands are common all over South America. A woman in a space about 4×4 sets up a wood fire in a pan similar to a wok.

She has a huge pile of mashed potatoes which she rolls in her hands to make pancakes and fries them in oil, She fries eggs too.

If no one is there to buy the food when its ready she pushes it to the side of the dish where it continues to soak up oil and get cold.

We rode a 10 mile side trip along a canyon where the famous train goes to Guayaquil,

We are biking through some of the most beautiful country we’ve seen.

The southern sierras are magnificent with their helter-skelter canyons, steep slopes dropping 2000 feet straight down, houses precariously perched everywhere, the road climbing and dropping like a yo-yo.

Back on our main route to Chunchi, the beautiful scenery continues and still there has been no traffic.

The roads are cut into cliffs; there are no guard rails, no vegetation to break a fall.

Landslides are really numerous now. Rain has been heavy all winter (December through April) and every day it is still raining causing more slides. Heavy equipment is in constant use clearing debris; detours are frequent.

Arriving in Chunchi, the fog has become so thick we can’t even see. We spent 4 hours circling round town looking for a hotel.

The outside of the buildings are plain, and usually very unattractive.

 Many stores look like hallways in a concrete wall. The hotel has no sign and no name on the street.  People kept telling us, “There it Is?” and  we kept asking “where?” Lodging, however is improving a little. The lady owner uses disinfectant. Cold water shower is a little too refreshing.

Bicycling Ecuador

Alausi to Chunchi-35 miles

Bicycling Ecuador

It’s raining. Fog is thick and two weeks ago a huge landslide wiped out the road ahead and killed 11 people. Come to find out there is a 12 mile detour which descends and climbs 2000 feet on dirt road.

With 45 miles to the next town plus the detour, heavy rain, gravel roads and steep climb we decided to take the bus. We’re glad we did.

The detour was horrendous, the landslide having diverted the river into the detour road which was very much under water at the bottom of the valley. The climb out was insane, one lane wide dirt and mud road with 1000′ drops straight down. It was the first time I had difficulty watching the scenery. After reaching the highway again, It was more miles of the same. Slide after slide, even the driver wasn’t aware of them all. We estimated this 4 hour bus ride would have taken us four days to bike. With the rainy weather and no towns, we’re glad we didn’t though we heartily recommend it in dry weather with camping gear. No doubt a challenging route but extremely beautiful part of Ecuador.

Bicycling Ecuador

Chunchi to Cuenca-90 miles by bus

Rain continued all day so instead of stopping at the small town of Canar we decided to go on to Cuenca, third largest city in Ecuador, for a good hotel, bath and hopefully some good food. Arriving in Cuenca at the bus station, we were immediately impressed by the cleanliness of the new building with shops, restaurants and information booth. Quickly we seized upon the opportunity to get a map of the city and find out about hotels. But they didn’t have maps! Thumbing through our guide book I saw an address for the tourist bureau and asked for directions. Riding about 10 blocks, we reached the central square and knew we were close.

Seeing a policeman, we asked for the exact location for the bureau de tourismo.

  It’s not here he said. It’s back the way we came.  I got out my book and re-read the address showing it to him and saying the name of the building. “It’s moved,” he said. “All the offices are at the Terminal Terrestral.” He wrote it down and said, “ask for Tourismo Oriental.” We started back down where we’d come from.

Along the way we asked 5 different people for the officina de tourismo. They all pointed us up to the square where we met the policeman..

 We arrived back at the bus station; a sign said, “Terminal Terrestral.” We thought perhaps we must have missed the office. Going back to the information booth we asked, “do you have a map of the city?” No. “Is there an officina de tourismo here?” “Yes, just around the corner.” Delighted, we headed around the corner to find Terrestral Oriental, one of the bus lines!

True to nature, locals, if they don’t know what you want, they will answer you anyway.

Frustrated, we went back to the information booth. I showed the girl my book with the address for the tourist bureau. She looked it up in the phone book. “Yes, it’s on the corner of the central park.” Right where we were an hour ago when we asked the policeman directions. When will we ever learn to follow our own instincts. We have certainly learned by now that locals don’t care if they give you the right answer, so long as they give you an answer.

Here we are in Cuenca, a tranquil city with lots to do.  First rate American movies, good food, beautiful countryside, hot pools, Inca ruins, museums and folklore concerts.

And the best hotel room we’ve had. $4,50 for carpeted, private bath with hot water, large double bed and windows on the top floor of a hotel, and a place to cook with our stove. 

 It’s raining buckets and we are relaxing for the first time in ages.

There were no large markets such as we knew them (Safeway). Most of the markets even in the big cities like Cuenca were tiny and carried a small amount of canned goods and were very expensive. The locals bought all their food in the open street markets where the prices were cheap and there was a big variety of everything fresh. Nothing like peanut butter, or convenience foods that were easy to carry in the panniers.

Bicycling Ecuador

Sightseeing in Cuenca

It’s Saturday night. We decided to splurge and go out to a restaurant mentioned in our book. It was a very nice atmosphere.

I ordered a steak medium rare.  It was well done.

For the first time we sent something back. Thus far we never have because we have always eaten in cheap local places but this was a tourist place. The next steak came raw.  I sent that back too. The dinner was not really good and cost about $9 for the 2 of us which was 3 times what we normally pay. As much as we have really enjoyed Ecuador and the people, we really have been starved most of the time.

The clerks at the hotel assured us they would wake us at 5 am to catch the 6 am bus to the famous mountain park.

Only one bus a day.

 They forgot. All three clerks completely blew it away. They didn’t bother to apologize much less mention it. It’s like they never knew they had offered. Read all day. Wonderful to relax.

Bicycling Ecuador

Cajas National Park

Got ourselves up to catch the bus to Cajas National Park. The bus was ancient, totally falling apart with every bump. The driver would stop as long as ten minutes at each stop as people loaded on beds, sewing machines, lumber, anything. One time he backed up a block while someone loaded the contents of his garage.

It was 20 miles to the park and took 2 hours.

 Very COLD, Couldn’t understand how it could be raining, not snowing.  The day before an English girl had stopped at the park and asked the driver what time the bus went back down. He said 2:30 but it actually passed at 1:30 so she missed it. Only one bus a day. She was lucky to get a ride as there were only 2 vehicles all day. On leaving the bus we asked the driver what time he came back. 1:30. The ticket seller said 3:30. The park attendant said 2:30. We waited from 1:30 till 3:30 when the bus finally came. 

We waited in the freezing rain, freezing.

There is a hut at the park where you can spend the night. But because it was so cold, we decided to go back to the hotel. The hut had no heat but did have a cook stove. We nearly froze to death. Finally the rain stopped so we went out to investigate the park. It’s kind of like the moon at 14,000 to 15,000 feet.

Bicycling Ecuador

Cuenca to Loja-120 miles by bus

The rain was relentless and very cold. We decided to get out of the mountains and save our biking for better conditions.

The roads are incredible. The only thing that keeps them in place is the will of God.

 Fresh slides every couple miles. Came to a major slide where equipment was working to clear the route. Unbelievably the traffic would push up right behind the working cat. Debris would come tumbling down from above. The road was barely made passable. Mike and I got off the bus and waited for all the clearing to be completed. Even then we were not too happy driving across.

Bicycling Ecuador

Bicycling Ecuador

Loja to Catacocha-50 miles

A reasonably nice day so back on the bikes again. Feels good. Don’t know what to expect of the weather. Sixteen miles uphill into the clouds.

These long hills are really tough.

 Instead of feeling stronger, I need to stop more often. But the scenery is magnificent, steep ravines hairpin turns, no traffic, paved road, Reaching the top the sun came out so we had a picnic lunch. Then with absolutely no flat at the top, we descended 16 miles.

Reaching the valley floor which we crossed in less than 2 miles we started up the other side.

 After 7 miles of this we came to a lovely little lake and had enough. Stopped for the night at 3:30. We could see the road on the other side of the valley where we had been that morning.

Progress is painfully slow but we’re glad we chose this route;

Mike took his baggage off and rode up 3 miles to a tiny hamlet not on the map called San Pedro for dinner food. I’m amazed he was able to make it.

Bicycling Ecuador

Bicycling Ecuador

Campsite to Catacocha

Surrounded by school girls in San Pedro. Very kind, interested and friendly. Taught them English from their lesson book while Mike shopped. All school children in Ecuador wear school uniforms. The parents have to pay for them as well as education costs. There is no free public school. Many people are thus uneducated.

Again magnificent scenery, long 16 mile climbs, 12 mile descent on dirt road.

Hundreds of burros everywhere. Green and blue birds filled the air, Very steep 10 mile climb into town of Catacocha perched on the mountain top. Dead tired. And it always seems the hotel is on the highest hill. Surrounded by people with a band of children leading us, we found the hotel. Typical $2/night dump.

Went grocery shopping. Man tried to sell us eggs for 10 cents each.  We usually pay 7 cents.. He told us transportation cost more.

We looked at each other knowing that Ecuador could never get it together enough to cultivate and transport eggs. Went down the street where we found eggs for the usual 7 cents. Mike found mineral water at 2 and 3 times the price in other small towns. Same excuse; transportation, When locals pay the price, we usually figure it to be correct but otherwise its hit the gringos. Beautiful evening so we walked around. Within 5 minutes we had 20 children following us. Word had already spread about our arrival on bikes and they were curious but quiet and polite. There is a music festival tonight: crowning of the high school queen. The local band of mandolin, guitar and flute were practicing at the hotel.

Bicycling Ecuador

First 14 miles wound downhill like a serpent. Countryside beginning to show signs of more dryness. Roadside stops for cold drinks. Don’t think the people have seen many gringos. Lots of attention and surprise. Road is very rough gravel up and down along the river.

Much to our dismay, we had several steep passes over intermittent mountains to cross.

 The longest one, which we didn’t realized because the maps were so poor, came towards the end of the day. We knew we had to descend in 60 miles from 10,000′ to 2500′ but we kept going up so steep and so difficult. It starting to rain and was getting dark; we kept hoping we’d reach the top and start the descent.  In the dark we suddenly came into a slug of mud and a standstill. There was zero visibility and we could barely drag the bikes through the goo, still going up.

We were lucky to come upon a lone house with a big porch and asked if we could spend the night. 

 We shared our emergency food of sardines and crackers with them and gratefully curled up to sleep, sheltered from the pounding rain.

Bicycling Ecuador

Catacocha to Macara-60 miles gravel

Bicycling Ecuador

Bicycling Ecuador

Macara and crossing into Peru

Anticipating our last day in Ecuador, we cast our eyes back up in the mountains and said thanks for a beautiful 2 months. Delighted by its people, thrilled by its scenery, grateful to have been allowed to climb its mountains though thoroughly worn out by them, we finally reached the summit and descended to the border with Peru.

Macara, described as hot and dusty was a mud hole from all the rain. Border towns are usually not the nicest places in the world and this was no exception.

A money changer picked us up as soon as we rode into town.

He sat down with us at the breakfast table. I am finally learning to stand up for our rights.  In three efforts I got him to leave while we ate. He posted himself against the door to make sure we didn’t get away. We decided to bike on. It was early and Macara not worth much. Heading for the market to buy some foods, the money changer followed us there. He kept pestering us to change money with him. We always like to check around to establish the rate but there was no bank, therefore no official rate.

The money changers are all in league together and we don’t really trust them.

 Upon asking the store owner where we bought food what the official rate was he replied” how much do you want to exchange?” Everyone in town is a money changer. At that instant three heads popped through the window; more money changers. When we left the store they surrounded us. I threw up my hands in frustration and hollered, “no nos mas molestar” leave us alone. They backed up about three inches. They continued to follow us around until in frustration we changed $10 at the rate of 25 soles. Then took off for the 3 kilometer ride to the border.

Usual border facilities: stopped at the Ecuadorian office to get exit permission. We asked the officer the rate of exchange. “Thirty-four,” he said.

Delighted, we offered to exchange with him, but in the middle of the transaction the money changer who had walked the three kilometers from town peeked through the window.

He managed to interfere enough that our officer calculated 34 x 1000=29,000, the new rate of exchange. Being higher than before and arguing for 15 minutes on the logic of math, we accepted the 29 rate.

Thanks Ecuador for such a great time, Hope we see you again someday.

Bicycling Ecuador

 

Costa Rica 

Bicycling Costa Rica

Bicycling Costa Rica

 

Panama

Bicycling Panam

Bicycling Panam

 

 

Columbia 

Columbia route map

Columbia route map

 

 

Ecuador 

Bicycling the Andes in Ecuador

Bicycling the Andes in Ecuador

 

 

Peru 

Bicycling Peru

Bicycling Peru

 

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