Travelling by bike is full of surprises. You cycle 200km relatively untroubled and look at the next 200km on the map and think “It can’t be that different, can it?” but of course it always is. I didn’t know much about the route from Loja to Peru other than that it was lower in altitude and I assumed that meant “easier”. I was wrong.
Taking the bus was easier than expected. All I had to do was detach all my panniers and pay the porter a small fee (I suspect this was a gringo tax) to store the bike. The road from Salinas to Guayaquil was just as I’d imagined: a boring, straight road past innumerable banana groves, and I felt further vindicated in taking the bus when the entire area around Guayaquil proved to be a swelteringly hot maelstrom of traffic and confusion.
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.
Once I set my sights on the coastal route I thought it worthwhile to try another Workaway. Why bother taking such a big detour without putting aside some time to enjoy the fruits of the costeño culture…and twat around in the sea? Kimberly was looking for volunteers proficient in Spanish to work at her Cottages in the small town of San Jacinto and I signed right up.
Zumbahua: a fork in the roads. To continue south through the mountains or cut west to the coast? My mind was already made up. Due to El Nino it’s been an unseasonably wet rainy season and April is supposedly the worst month. The idea of day after day of camping in the wet wasn’t too appealing. On top of that I knew this would be my last opportunity to get some beach time for like 9 months and I simply couldn’t resist the prospect of checking out the ruta del sol and having a few beers on the way.
On Monday Tumbaco was awash with yellow shirts. I decided it best to forego wearing one of mine to watch the Ecuador v Colombia game at the bar – the Ecuador shirt would’ve been a betrayal of my dear Colombia and the Colombia shirt would’ve just been asking for trouble. Colombia ended up winning 2-0 but none of the Ecuadorians seemed too surprised. The collective reaction was more the wet fart of a deflating balloon than an explosion of indignation.
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.
The ride from Laguna Yahuarcocha to the farm where I was due to volunteer was only 25km but it was all on the Panamericana. In the pouring rain. Unlike in Colombia where it’s not uncommon to have a single lane road linking 2 major cities, Ecuador has decent infrastructure and 3 lane highways. This is great if you’re in a car but not so hot for those on bikes. Trucks and buses whizz past at high speed and when there’s not much of a shoulder things get a little hairy. I put on some Black Flag and powered uphill through the rain, doing my best to ignore everything but the road immediately in front of me.
Ecuador: home of The Galapagos, volcanoes and, uh… Antonio Valencia. It’s safe to say I didn’t know much about the equatorial meat in the Colombia/Peru sandwich and was curious to find out more. The Colombians I’d asked unsurprisingly told me Colombia is far more bacano (cool) and that while Ecuadorians are friendly they’re not as warm as their northern neighbours. Oh, and their food sucks (uh, pot kettle black?).