Welcoming hill, shelter at firemen, cheap food and cold outside… this is the introduction to another country – Ecuador
In the morning we firts realize that cold weather here and we wear lots of clothes when we start bicycling. We follow the advice from the men at boarder and go to see the local cemetery in Tulcan which should be extraordinary (we are a little skeptic to this information but it’s just 5 minutes)…
We are impressed! 7 hectares of perfectly shaped trees (some 80 years old) – forming walls, arches, geometrical shapes, animals or persons. 15 employees work every day and till they cut the last one, the first is again “hairy”. This place is really original world-wide.
We continue and sometimes is drizzling, sometimes the sun is shining, sometimes the wind is blowing – we (un)dress every half an hour. The police at the highway is detouring the traffic, but let us pass. After one hour of loneliness on the wide road we see 2 cyclists in the other direction … aaa, this is the reason – the road is closed because of competition :). With every next cyclist our cheering gets better.
After a pass in 3300m, pause for a cake in a village and 15km of ride with a car a perfect downhills follows. One part of the road road is under reconstruction so the cars pass in 10-minutes intervals – perfect for us… we go down, down, down, dooown … 20km and 1000m of elevation difference which means much warmer climate and different flora.
The village at the river doesn’t look very nice and we decide to try to get to Ibarra. Jan starts hitchhiking and second pick-up full of people and not with the biggest back stops. “Flat tire or other problem?” asks the sympathetic driver with a ponytail and mustache. “No, we are just too lazy to pedal uphill!” (it’s true, but we didn’t say it, just that we didn’t have much time left and the distance was too long). Meanwhile the whole family from the car is outside and we get to know why they are so empathetic and understanding and how is possible they can fit the bicycles so easy into the car.
Before 26 years he (the driver) went on his bicycle to Chile and back and his friend from Argentina to Colombia. They met on the way and this friendship lasts until today. The friend lives in Madrid and now he came to visit all his friends he made on this bike-trip. And yes, they were also cheating that way we are doing now.
I publicly announce now that after we get back home and I’ll see some touring cyclist struggling on the way, I’ll stop and help even if I’ll need to put his bike somehow on the roof – everything is possible when there’s a will.
We stop for an ice cream and we get a full bag of ova (plumb-like fruit). We say goodbyes in Ibarra and we are thankful we didn’t need to do this 1000m uphill pedaling. Then we go to look for the shop where the package from home is awaiting us. It is scientifically prooved that only 6 people are needed to get to anybody in the world. In our case our friend Kristian who have a Ecuadorian girlfriend was enough – we sent it to her family (thank you one more time!).
Seňora Martha is a nice smiling lady but as her shop with children clothes is perfectly serving the demand in Ecuador, we can talk just a while because of many customers, we make a photo and move to a hotel. After opening the package I see that there are really only tires, inner tubes, hammocks and knife but no surprise like Horalka (Slovak traditional cookies)!
Our breakfast next morning is expensive like for a king and small like for a super model. We change the tire and go to search for the abandoned railways. It was destroyed by an earthquake and never repaired. After 20 years the track full of earth and plants was discovered by cyclists – it’s not the fastest way of transport, but definitely much nicer than highway. 16km through villages and nature with modest inclines follow, one invitation for lunch (of course we accepted) and crossing of one big bridge… 7km of panamericana and we landed at firemen station. There is the most famous market of local arts in Otavalo. We resist to buy many things, but at the end leave with a full bag – the post office is closed so we add more to our already heavy-loaded bicycles.
Big uphill with 500m elevation, unsuccessful hitchhiking, downhill, uphill and … SOUTH HEMISPHERE! Ladies and gentlemen, we are standing on a new and modern GPS equator. It is less famous then the Spanish monument, but it is exact. Many lines are crossing the square and represent the paths of sun and sun clock. In the middle is a monument – big tube with a mirror in the base. 2 times a year (on equinox) the whole sun is reflected here. We also get a lecture about Earth, equator, track of sun, map projection and Coriolis forces (yes, they exists but you cannot see their effect as different direction of circulation of drained water – at least not close to equator. You can see the effect in oceans and because of them the circulation of cyclones on the northern hemisphere is anti-clockwise and on southern clockwise).
We continue… climbing on the wide panamericana with beautiful views and aquaduct under us. Totally destroyed we reach El Quinche where we sit half an hour on square and we realize this isn’t Colombia anymore – here the people don’t start to talk with us. Bad news is that the firemen station is in the next town but a man on the street assures us it is just one small hill, then flat and down…
!!! I swear, curse and don’t understand… he probably haven’t used bicycle or any other human-powered machine here, he is missing the estimation sense for inclinations and doesn’t understand that the merciful lie isn’t nice to a cyclist after whole day of pedaling!
After 7km with 80% of uphill, 15% flat and 5% downhill we get to the square in Checa totally physically and psychically destroyed.
But the firemen make our day – we get own room, can use the washing and drying machine, use kitchen and fast internet. They have a great view to Cotopaxi from the building and they are really nice people and offer us to stay as long we want. We move the next day, but we don’t hurry and leave at midday.
Again a railway track is planned for today – we join it 200m before the village. It is nice till the moment the path disappears under a slid hill and we both need to push one bicycle – memories on Cuba :). The dust on the road is ankle-high and we are dirty from it much higher. First 10km are slow drifting, pushing, pedaling and jumping in the nature and poorer villages. Then we join the official El Chiquinan track which is famous cycle-path in Ecuador. We are riding through nice nature and neat villages and pass three tunnels – one is that long and curved that we don’t even see the light at the end (it is a weird feeling to ride bicycle and don’t see anything).
After another 20km we reach Tumbaco where is another casa de ciclistas where we want to rest a little before the climb of Chimborazo. Kim opens the door and welcomes us here – he is a cyclist from Brazil. In Quito he was robbed and now he is waiting for new passport, IDs and bank cards here. And also he’s taking care of the house while the owners are on a vacation.
We can sleep in an unfinished garage under a next door house and because we have new hammocks we are looking for a place to attach them. With a knife we dig into the ceiling to get to the steel where we want to tie the ropes. After half an hour we hear noises from above us – ups, somebody lives there O:-) :$. Jan is scared that they will come and to bawl out that we just came and are already destroying it here. One hammock is now holding well, but we still don’t have the second holding point for the another one. There are bricks sticking out of the wall and we try them. The rope holds fast… everything OK :). Jan makes a trial, sits in the hammock and … snap … the brick flies over the room and hits him in arm and he is sitting on the floor … I just laugh and we are awaiting somebody to really come this time – this will be bad. But nobody comes and we go to sleep with the feeling we have destroyed somebody’s house – I in the hammock and Jan on the floor (after an hour we switch, because I feel cold).
We enjoy the next days – chat with Kim, Andy (cyclist from Scotland who started in Venezuela and here in Ecuador he broke his collarbone when his front rack got into the wheel and he flew over the handles), Mica – our Argentinian friend, Lee and Heidi (he started in Alaska, in Guatemala met her and stayed there 9 months, continued and in Colombia she has joined him) and Tom (guy from Holland who made more than 10000km from Argentina and his journey is going to end in Colombia). Great community, sharing of experiences and information, cooking together and generally a great time with interesting people. We also buy backpacks, gaiters and an outdoor scoop – getting ready for the climb of Chimborazo, buy calentadores (warm-up trousers as replacement for our forgotten pants – I sew mines 3 days to make it longer and narrower :D). Everyday we walk a little to get used to different movement. I visit a dentist and she repairs mine two teeth. We send a package home. Visit Quito – first time to walk in the nice historical town; second time we visit the geographical institute and buy maps and in the bus they steal our phone; and third time the taxi driver gives us a fake 10-dollar bill as change and we climb up Pichincha – the volcano above the capital and our altitude record so far … to 4100m with a cable car and then in 2.5hours 590m higher walking – the weather isn’t good, the breathing is more difficult, my hands are swollen but the rest is great. We make the former back top bags to front wheel and buy a green plastic boxes for my bicycle, go after the thieves from next house, meet Santiago and his family and after three “last days” we become cyclists again and we leave our second longest home on our way … we are a little bit sad.