The best laid plans of cycle tourers often go awry. Usually this is due to tree felling winds, mechanical failures or biblical rainstorms, but every now and then one’s plans are laid aside due to more serendipitous circumstances. My stay at Nant y Fall was one such propitious twist of fate. Had the weather not been so crap, my phone been out of battery or my schedule been ever so slightly different, I would’ve passed right by the signpost to the uncommonly southern vineyard and made straight for the Chilean border. As it was I stopped by with the intention of staying for one night only to be so charmed by the eco-campsite (and the opportunity to stream the Spurs match) that I decided to stay for two. Then Sergio, who has spent the last 7 years transforming what was once forgotten scrub land into easily the best campsite I’ve ever stayed at, offered me room and board for a few hours of daily labour and I thought “Why not?”. I was set to cross the border a little earlier than intended and the weather was rubbish so a couple of days working and practising my Spanish couldn’t do any harm. 10 days later I was still there.
With all the birthday jollities behind me I had a nice easy day heading south from San Ignacio. A forgiving incline gave way to 20km of downhill and soon I was down at the valley floor, only 400m above sea level, tracking the river as it zig-zagged south. With little to no traffic my attention was diverted by the legion of millipedes inching their way across the hot road and the eagles soaring above.
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.
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.
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.
As I prowled the one and only mean street of Sibundoy I spotted a stall selling really big juicy looking salchichas (sausages) and I simply had to have one. Thus I spent the following day writhing around in bed in a windowless room with a dodgy stomach and a fever. Thankfully after a cocktail of drugs and copious amounts of water I sweated it all out and the next morning I was feeling fresh and raring to go.
I’m not some fanatical fan of Miyazaki movies but, as was the case with El Hobo earlier in the trip, when I saw the name Totoro on the map I felt it was my duty to visit. So, after a couple of hours of bumpy roads I rolled into what turned out to be (surprise surprise) a very typical Colombian village. Not a catbus, nor even any catbus graffiti in sight. After some salchipapa and a surprisingly decent piece of fried chicken I went on my way.
If there was one section of Colombia that slightly worried me it was this: riding through the corridor between Palmira and Cali, respectively the 8th and 10th most dangerous cities in the world. While the chances of anything happening were tiny, I didn’t want to end up skirting some dodgy barrio come nightfall so I set of from Walter’s good and early to be sure. In fact I need not have worried. I shot like a bullet down the Pan-American Highway and by 12 o clock I was comfortably clear of both cities. All I had to do was find some lunch.