Much has happened!
The past two weeks were shaped by the location and timing of Manna´s flight home. On November 2nd, we were in the capital of Ecuador and on November 14th we had to be in the capital of Peru. Eight-hundred and twenty miles apart as the crow flies, a distance that can be doubled when cycling, not to mention the absence of flat land between the Ecuadorian Andes mountain ranges. We would either have to take a bus or a time machine to achieve such a distance in this time frame.
And so, considering that it takes at least 5 days on a bus to get from Quito to Lima, we accepted the sad fact that we only had one week left of cycling together. How should we spend it? Should we blast our way down the Pan-American Highway, glancing at the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” as we gasped our way through the thin air, or should we veer from the traffic-ridden yet smoothly paved route and instead take the “Quilotoa Loop” which would spit us back out on the Pan-American just 50 miles south of where we had started – increasing our bus time? As usual, minimal traffic and heightened scenic allure won and we took a sharp right off the Pan-Am towards the Quilotoa Crater, a water-filled, active volcano just southwest of Cotopaxi.
But not before a two-day layover in Machachi, an unassuming town just on the edges of Quito´s sprawl. It was here where we had the pleasure of staying with the “bomberos”, the firefighters. The firefighters south of the US-Mexican border are known not only for their strong build and affinity towards that which is hot, but also for their hospitality of none other than cyclists! We had learned of this a while back but had not yet taken advantage of their open doors. We were not disappointed when we knocked on their gate and five minutes later were whisked into a room by two handsome firemen who told us to make ourselves at home, complete with a warm shower and a hot cup of tea. As it turned out, Manna came down with a cold that transformed his nose into a faucet with higher pressure than most others here in South America and so we extended our stay in Machachi to two days and found a restaurant that enjoyed filling their TV screen with the Simpsons and cooked up a wicked chicken soup. It was also here where it was revealed once again that while the tourists go to the “artesania markets” to buy the finest in alpaca weavings and ponchos, masks, cloths and jade, the Ecuadorians are busy in markets of their own purchasing Chinese piggy banks, Justin Bieber t-shirts and brightly colored hair-bands.
Onward to the Quilotoa Loop! Our final cycling days were a grand review of all the road conditions we had encountered throughout our tour, although with a much higher percentage of dirt, rocks, cobble, sand (this one is the new winner of the worst-kind-of-road-ever award) and steep grades. The moment we were off the Pan-Am, the traffic all but disappeared and once again we were folded up into the countryside that brings Ecuador its fame. The felt hats of the Quechua indians came into clear view as we rode through the villages along with the long double braids that turn women of all ages into youthful silhouettes. I stopped and asked a man how to say “buenos dias” and “buenas tardes” in Quechua (anji punja, anji chincha – unofficially) and was rewarded handsomely the next few days with delighted women who responded in a blaze of Quechuan phrases that I could only return with a smile. We even came across a man herding two small pigs while playing the flute. It is during these moments when I wish I could transport all of you beneath my helmet to peer from my eyes to share in such sights.
On our final day back to the Pan-Am we reached our highest altitude yet: 12,400 feet, but only after three false peaks and eye contact with many long-lashed llamas. Gasp…for…air. Following a luxurious fifteen mile descent into Latacunga, we hopped on the first of what would become six buses averaging nine hours of travel each and seven days in transit. But not before I finally broke down and got sick myself. Luckily, we were stuck in the pleasant and touristy city of Cuenca where Manna was left in charge of the purchasing of foods and meds in a city filled with locals who are accustomed to stuttering gringos attempting the Spanish language. And where I was left in charge of stumbling from the bed to the bathroom and back again.
Following partial recovery, we packed ourselves once again into a bus and descended into the coastal plains of Ecuador, the original banana-republic. All moves so quickly in a bus and I wanted nothing more than to yell at the bus driver “let us ooooout!”, pull our bikes from the storage and travel at a more familiar pace of 10mph. It proved fairly easy to transport our bikes and panniers onto these huge busing beasts and we also had a smooth transition across the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border together with a large group of Haitian men who rivaled Manna´s height. All was smooth, that is, until we arrived in the northern Peruvian town of Piura where suddenly the buses that were big enough to fit Manna no longer had luggage compartments large enough to carry our bikes. And so, reluctantly and with his calm encouragement, we put our bikes on a cargo bus and crossed our fingers that we would see them again twelve hours later in Trujillo. Early the next morning, there they were, gleaming in the dawn of day. In Trujillo, we were welcomed into the cyclist-world-famous home of Lucho, whose book shelves are piled high with “libros de oro” filled with entries and accounts of cyclists who have braved the Americas and passed through his home since 1985. We were cyclists 1,477 and 1,478. The same day we arrived, Manna boxed up his bike, we sadly separated out our gear, I left my bike with Lucho in Trujillo and we took our final night bus to Lima.
Lima, a beautiful and fast-paced capital city surrounded by the brightly colored box houses of the suburbs has given itself an impressive face lift in the past ten years, creating street-cleaning jobs, repaving streets, streamlining traffic lanes, although with a noted lack of bike lanes, restoring historic buildings, implementing “offensive honking” fines (a taxi driver informed me that this just began today and according to my ringing ears, has not yet had much of an effect) and generally taking steps towards being the winning the candidate for the 2024 Summer Olympics. How did Manna and I enjoy the capital? By heading straight to its Barrio Chino and stuffing ourselves with dim sum. Yum.
And then, like a puff of black bus exhaust in the face of a huffing cyclist, he was off. At 4:30am a taxi took him to the airport and our three months of joint travel was over. In another week, an even longer flight will take him back across the equator to begin grad school in New Zealand.
I will take a moment now that I am Sola in Lima, to reflect on what I miss:
– My mother (who is officially and fully retiring in two and a half weeks! Cheers!)
– Friends and family. Friends and family. Amen.
– Vegetables. Eating them raw, eating them lightly steamed, eating them period
– Finishing a morning face-wash with a nice, large gulp of tap-water
– Starting an evening shower with a nice, large shower-head gulp of tap-water
– Dogs behind fences, dogs on leashes, dogs that don´t care much for cyclists
– Wheelchair ramps
– Recycling, composting
– Putting toilet paper into the toilet instead of the garbage bin.
– The conservative use of car horns
– Democratic majority in the House
What is next? Well, I´m written-out for now, so I will just tell you that the near future involves a visit to a school on the outskirts of Lima as well as a German immersion school in the city proper, a long bus ride back north to Trujillo, and a cycling partner from Argentina named Axel.
Five days later. Here’s a pic of the school I visited:
Thank you Holger and Darinka!