Crossing the Equator, Quito, and Santiago’s Bunker

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Heading up into the hills south of Otavalo

I was overjoyed to be back on the bike and the first hour was pure bliss. No more 7 o clock starts or meat to chop. Just me, my trusty 2 wheeled companion, and the road ahead. As a way of avoiding the motorway I set forth up a wee road towards Las Lagunas de Mojanda: a gaggle of lakes in the mountains midway between Otavalo and Tabacundo. The cobblestone road was cutthroat – a real ruthless bastard. Both bumpy and steep, it had my farm-softened legs pushing the bike a fair chunk of the 17km climb, the most I’d pushed the bike since the first couple of days back in Antiochia. Despite the difficulty I was quite enjoying the challenge. Then came the rain. By the time I reached the lakes I was a drowned rat.

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Into the void

The rain eased off for a little while, just long enough for me to take a few snaps and do my best to appreciate the tranqil shimmer of the lake, although it was tricky given how cold and wet I was. The mud path ahead turned out to be more of a mud bath and to make matters worse I took a wrong turn, wasting at least an hour bumbling up a punishing hill. The other route was even more grim and it was almost 5 o clock by the time I reached the 4000m pass out of the basin. I arrived in Tabacundo just as dusk fell and, looking like something out of Swamp Thing, I gingerly knocked at the first place I saw resembling a hotel. The owner very kindly ferried me buckets of water to clean up my bike and panniers then I had the best shower anyone has ever had. Ever.

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One of the lagunas, although given the surroundings it could easily be a loch.
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This is much steeper than it looks and took me about 10 minutes to scale.
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Tabacundo

It can be hard to find coffee in Ecuador. In Colombia everyone and their dog is selling tinto (black coffee) from little thermos flasks on the street and, if you’re lucky, it hasn’t already been pre-sweetened to a tooth dissolving degree. In Ecuador there’s none of this and even in the bakeries and so-called cafeterias it’s sometimes scarce. In Cayambe I went to a place with a picture of a coffee mug on it with ‘cafeteria’ in the name and asked for a black coffee to go. The woman at the counter seemed bemused by my outlandish request. Coffee to go? From a cafeteria? Utter madness. After consulting with the other ladies in the kitchen and a few minutes of general fuss, I was brought a large handle-less plastic container filled with hot water, a jar of instant coffee and a bowl of sugar. After I’d browned and sweetened the water to my liking she decanted it into a Gatorade bottle for me. That first sip of Gatorate-tinged caffeine sure was a treat (although I must admit coffee in a sports bottle is mighty convinient for early morning cycling).

One thing Ecuador is good at is having the equator go through it. I really wanted to go to a tacky museum and do all the egg tricks and toilet flushing magic, but alas there was only a stupid giant sundial to mark the greatest of invisible lines on our fair earth. I paid my $2 and was given a sales pitch from the sundial man who is apparently part of a movement protesting that all maps of the earth should be vertical. I bid this dreamer adieu and had my token equatorial photo taken by a man with a Carribean accent who, having been told of my ventures, advised that I eat lots of fried food in Ecuador as the oil “is heated to 300 degrees”.

Having being drenched by the customary afternoon rainstorm, I pulled into Tumbaco, a town nestled in the valley just outside Quito. A few minor hitches later and I was warmly greeted to Santiago’s casa de cicistas. The casa de ciclista is somewhat of a South American phenomenon and exists when someone, out of the kindness of their heart, opens their house to travelling cyclists. Santiago opened his 26 years ago and the number of visitors steadily grew, before exploding in the last few years. These days it’s not uncommon for him to host upwards of 10 cyclists in his bunker – an open concrete garage round the back of his house covered in the scrawl of a thousand thankful bike urchins. During my stay at Santiago’s I shared the bunker with 3 young Colombian guys, 3 Argentinians, an Austrian couple a Mexican and a French dude, some of which had been at the bunker for as long as 3 months. Suffice to say, Santiago is a convivial host and a hell of a nice guy.

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Tumbaco. All the town squares or parques in Ecuador are really nice: very green, tidy and filled with kids playing and old men…doing old man stuff.
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The bunker

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Carlos from Bogota finances his trip by playing traditonal music in restaurants. The pipes are called gaitas and the one on the left is the female (for melody) and the other is male (for rhythm).
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His brother Cristian, 17, is the youngest ever cyclist to stay at the bunker in 26 years. They also do fire juggling at traffic lights to raise money.
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I camped here but after getting caught in a biblical rainstorm had to make a midnight dash for the bunker.

I was hoping to do one of those free walking tours in Quito but as it was Sunday there wasn’t one. Thus I had my very own, rather less edifying, ice cream eating tour of the centre of the city. Perhaps it’s a Sunday thing, but I could barely walk 50 metres without having an ice cream or a guanabana cone masquerading as an ice cream thrust towards me. Not that was complaining. Quito is a nice city and I enjoyed mindlessly ambling around the old town for a few hours. The architecure is pretty, the surrounding hills give it depth and it feels safe and vaguely European.

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The main square.
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As it was Sunday a lot of the streets were pedestrianised for cyclists and joggers.
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The old town was packed with stalls and performers.
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Cake is king. There are people selling giant slices for a $1 a piece eveywhere.
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This ain’t an ice cream but some kinda guanabana paste that’s served from a tray. It’s pretty good.
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Delicious encebollado (fish, tomato and onion soup) with a side of, uh, popcorn. An old lady came and sat with me and told me I needed to be careful for ¨there are bad people and robbers everywhere”. Thanks old lady.

So here I am for the next couple of days running errands and relaxing. Today I bought a travel towel (!) and tonight I’m off to watch my namesake, Logan, at the cinema. As soon as Santiago picks me up a backup chain for my bike I’ll be heading south for the legendary Cotopaxi volcano. Pray for no rain.

Next Stop: Cotopaxi and the Quilotoa loop

Reads: American on Purpose – Craig Ferguson, To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee

Tunes: Chet Baker – Greatest Hits, The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street

Route: Otavalo – Tabacundo (via las lagunas) – Cayambe – El Quinche – Tumbaco – Quito

One thought on “Crossing the Equator, Quito, and Santiago’s Bunker

  1. Dino April 3, 2017 / 9:46 pm

    Looks like a very cool trip. Lucky you.

    Like

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