Deciding not to push on to Cajamarca proved to be a blessing in disguise when Miguel, noticing my beleaguered state, offered me a discounted room at his Tetem Backpackers. He proved to be an absolute mensch and the place, with its huge rooms and heated pool was the perfect place to spend a day off. If you’re in the area check it out!
A couple of days before I arrived in Chachapoyas I noticed some paint peeling on the frame of the bike. It was only later while giving it a clean I realised it was something much more serious. The welding at the join between one of the seat stays and the seat tube had completely cracked and the two were no longer attached. I went online to find out how bad this was and, much like how WebMD can make a mild rash seem like a virulent case of smallpox, the various cycling forums soon led me to believe that I had no choice but to give up on my frame or else suffer the dreaded “catastrophic failure”. There was never any mention of partial or slight failure, it just had to be catastrophic. It was clear that if I rode my bike again it would instantly explode and I would die. On the other hand replacing the frame would be time consuming, expensive and a logistical nightmare. As I lay there in my hostel bed I saw my whole trip flash before my eyes. Surely there had to be a way to fix this.
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.
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?).
Diomar showed me around the village, which didn’t take very long, and we visited a friend of his – a very nice lady who gave us warm milk fresh from the cow and, presuming I was an affable invalid with no understanding of what food was, showed me potatoes, spring onions and maize, repeatedly pronouncing the name of each, despite me already having said it.
“Ah, so you grow spring onions too?”
“These are spring onions. SPRING ONIONS”
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.