After almost 3 weeks it was a little emotional saying goodbye to The Cottages. Wilmer gave me a black and yellow striped polo shirt, some cologne and a roll-on deodorant as goodbye gifts. That’s not just one, but two scented products. He was clearly trying to tell me something. Thankfully cologne is an essential for bike tourers and I’m sure to be the best smelling lone camper in provincial Northern Peru.
As I geared up to leave Kim plied me with tequila shots in a last ditch attempt to make me stay. I couldn’t say no to the ice cold Jose Cuervo and was three shots deep when I finally put foot to pedal and wobbled out of the gate. I doubled back on myself to lose Mama, who otherwise would’ve probably done a Most Hated Dog In Cauca on me and followed me all the way to Argentina.
Kim told me a friend of hers owned a hostel called the Donkey Den in a surf town called Santa Marianita and with the sun low in the sky I pulled onto the sandy beachfront strip lined with cabanas and beach bars. Kim’s friend was out of town but the volunteers were cool and said I could tie up my bike inside and camp just in front for free. Coincidentally 2 of Imke’s Dutch friends were also volunteering there and after saying hi on her behalf we whiled away the evening chatting and playing cards.
On leaving Santa Marianita I followed the quiet road south through the valley and before long there was nowt but me and the lizards darting in the brush. Oh, and the heat. It was the hottest day of cycling I can remember since I foolishly decided to cycle through Tuscany in mid July, and it had me sweating like a nun in a field of cucumbers. After a couple of hours I rejoined the main road and, having passed a slew of tragic looking resorts I was greeted by both the coastal breeze and sumptuous views of San Lorenzo.
The road leading up to Puerto Cayo was like the land that time forgot. Half finished constructions, abandoned upmarket gated communities and crumbling old resorts covered in weeds were all I saw for 5km. Did the earthquake drive people away? Was this place mooted as the next big coastal haven and never took off? Did someone swindle all the gringos then cut and run? Whatever the answer, it sure made for an odd spectacle.
My body was still adapting to life back on the saddle and I probably pushed myself a bit too hard in cycling 90km to Puerto Lopez. By the time I arrived in the little tourist beach town I was walking wounded and after some street pizza and a piña colada I stumbled back to my hotel room to collapse in bed and watch The Handmaiden, which was very good. I recommend watching it with your mum, or better still, grandma. Family entertainment at its finest.
45km to the south lay Montañita which is like one of those island party towns in Thailand if they airdropped in 5,000 tattooed Argentinians. Beautiful men with ponytails wear singlets blazoned with “You better BELIZE it” and “Plunder the BOOTY” while beautiful bikini-clad girls compare tanning rituals. Dudes sling Colombia’s finest along the malecon and you can’t throw a stone without hitting a cocktail stand.
My hostel, Iguana Backpackers, where we slept in rows of mosquito net covered floor mattresses like opium fiends, offered a night of free cocktails to anyone who wrote positive reviews on Hostelworld and Tripadvisor and before you could say “sellout” I was double fisting mojitos.
Montañita is exactly the kind of place I would’ve loved 10 years ago on my gap year but I think my party town days are on the wane. I found it overpriced and garish and didn’t have much in common with the rest of the hostel crowd. The highlight was the food. With months of porridge and homogeneous Andean cuisine looming large on the horizon I took advantage of the variety on offer and ate as much as I could. Chicken curry, Argentinean seafood empanadas, burgers, ceviche, a falafel and hummus wrap and huge banana/oreo/Nutella crepes that had enough calories to clog a whale’s arteries, were all stuffed into my face in a feeding frenzy of Epicurean proportions. I’m definitely going to leave Ecuador a chunkier man than I was when I arrived.
After just over 3 weeks of hugging the coastline I’m really glad I decided to take this route. It’s completely shaken up the trip, I’ve met a ton of great people and I’ve got a ripsnortingly good tan. However, despite all of this, I’m also very glad that I’ll soon be back in the mountains. For all of the coast’s positives (and there are many) I’ve come to realise I’m a mountain boy at heart and I much prefer the pain and struggle of the climbs and the views that accompany them to the blisteringly hot, flat roads that I’ve ridden these last few days. It all gets a bit samey on the coast and lacks the variety and the physical challenge that make cycle touring so rewarding.
In light of this, and a few other reasons, I’ve decided to catch the bus from Salinas up to Cuenca. Looking at the map I was dreading cycling this stretch which would’ve amounted to 2 very hot, boring days of cycling inland, getting through the huge metropolis of Guayaquil, before scaling 4000m of brutal climbs back up to the sierra. Why put myself through that misery when I could be somewhere I actually want to be (i.e. back in the mountains)? There’s a small part of me that feels like I’m cheating but I always swore to myself I wouldn’t be a purist for purists sake and since I need to reach Patagonia before winter, a miserable week of riding here could end up robbing me of a week of riding somewhere special down the line.
LOOK, JUST DON’T JUDGE ME, ALRIGHT?
Tunes: Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted, Patti Smith – Horses, Paramore – Self Titled
Reads: One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Savages – Don Winslow, Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker Vol. 1 – Jonathan Little, Ready Player One – Ernest Cline