From the coast to the Andes

It’s ironic that I got sick on my last day in the Galapagos, a place that’s supposed to be disease free, and where everyone’s fumigated coming in and out, but such is life, and sure beats catching malaria or yellow fever in the jungle. Whatever I picked up gave me quite a fever and sweats for a handful of days and it’s taken me over two weeks to recover (still feeling weak today after 3+weeks later).

After a slow start, I left Guayaquil and headed to Montanita; a fun, laid back, cheap, surfer, party town, only 2.5 hours away, …that felt like a long, long ride. Under different circumstances I would have LOVED this place and plan to come back some day. Unfortunately this time around, my fever was at its peak and I ended up spending almost 48 hours in bed with the sweats and fever. I did make a few efforts to walk down the street and sample some excellent street food which included quail eggs, grilled bread dough stuffed with a hard boiled egg, encebollada (a fish stew), ceviches, muchos ceviches, pork from a half pig, and lots and lots of fruit smoothies to feed my illness, but was never physically strong enough to brave the surf,  hang on the beach, or party with the locals. …Next time.

that's mashed yuca behing the encebollada peeps...

big activity around the ceviche stands...

After two days in bed I decided to leave for the mountains, mostly because I couldn’t figure out how much of my sweats were coming from my fever and how much from the heat and humidity. Another reason, as stupid as it is, was that I was feeling a bit apprehensive and embarrassed to be spending all my time in my hotel room, in a beach town where everyone was partying, and I could tell people were noticing the gringo locking himself up in his room everyday. Whether right or wrong, the decision was made and I headed to the mountains.

The first day I didn’t make it very far but on the way spotted flocks and flocks of birds over what was probably a beach. I turned down this sand road in the general direction and found myself in a bustling fishing village. Not much to say except it super cool and check out the pics. …to the workin’ man, yo’.

Hug me honey, I'm smelling sexy today...

rough day for the working man, urrr... working kids


Afterwards I headed inland on some dirt roads that according to my map would bring me to the mountain foothills. I dead ended a few times and came across a bunch of flooded rice fields.

flooded rice fields

boys fishing in the flooded fields. (I found out later that the rainy season is not the best time to eat fish as not only do the rivers overflow but so do the sewage systems. Yikes.

A beautiful ride, but in the end I never made it to the foothills and stayed at sea level the whole time, only further inland so more humid and with more bugs and camped on the end of a muddy road, only to find out the next morning that it’s someone’s property but they were super nice and after the initial threatening  “who are you? What are you doing here?…” we parted laughing and smiling. Honestly, very cool people and great experience.

The next day I attempted some more “off the beaten track” roads but more of the same dead ends eventually forced me back on the highway after a 60 mile detour. As I pulled into En Palmes, I turned down a side street just to what was there and possibly get a coffee or pan, when I see Jean, the guy I parked my bike and stayed with in Guayaquil, waving me down. “what are  you doing here?” he asked “what are you doing here?” I asked. Small world once again. En Palmes was his home town and he was there for a funeral. He invited me to spend the night at his cousin’s house and being hot, tired, and still with a bit of a fever, I accept graciously and this time we attempt another cure. Beer of course! Between the two of us, we drink twelve 20 ouncers, bbq’d, and passed out by 10:00pm. Did nothing to cure me but a really fun time with the locals.

The next day I made it into the hills at last but I wasn’t as prepared as I thought. In a matter of 3 hours the temperature changed about 60 degrees (Fahrenheit). From the scorching, humid sea level, it went to freezing rain at 11,000’ in the clouds. Again a beautiful ride that at first showed tons of agriculture. Banana plantations, cocoa plantations, mango plantations, papaya plantations,… and instantly it changed to nothing but alpacas, goats and sheep. In no less than 30 miles the terrain changed from lush farm lands to harsh cattle landscape. It’s ironic but after 14 months and 55,000 km of travel, it took getting to the equator before I ever pulled out my winter riding gear.

I spent the night in Angamarca, a indigenous town with a ton of mystical history. It was a tiny town that a local had circled on my map, telling me the place was magical and had healing powers. After seeing and hearing all the local folklore, I suspect there’s some truth to it. It was tough to get to but I got a super warm welcome the moment I pulled into town. When I inquired about a place to stay I got pointed to a really nice women’s house and spent the night in a spare bedroom for $2.00 and got treated to dinner and some local gossip. This is one of those places I wish my Spanish was better. The locals were so friendly and I would have loved to share stories all night long but the language barrier just kept us to the usual 3 year old conversations. This place is worth googling as the stories and myths are fascinating.

what's with the stink eye?

A short lived break in the weather had me riding out of town in the sunshine above the clouds. Stunning scenery and breathtaking views started my day as I rode some treacherous, muddy and rocky roads (read horse trails) but unfortunately only lasted a few hours before the clouds rose and engulfed me again and I was back in my plastics. I made it to Laguna Quilatoa, a crater lake sitting 12,000’+ in the Andes at 12:30pm. My plans were to stay there but it was raining hard and the visibility was nil. The clouds broke for a few seconds revealing the impressive lake but my timing was all wrong. I could stay but by the time I would have booked myself into a hotel I wouldn’t have enough daylight to hike the 5 hour loop around the rim of the crater but there wasn’t anything else to do in the hostal so I’d be stuck for the rest of the day. …and honestly, still feeling quite sick and weak, cold and wet, and now feeling the altitude, the idea of hiking around the lake was not a high priority so after coffee and cookies I decided to move on.

I ended up in Latacumba after a tiring but beautiful, wet ride through the indigenous highlands. I should have stopped for more pictures but both my energy and the weather were not with me.

My fever finally broke when I woke up to a rare sunny morning in Latacumba and spent the day wondering around town. Latacumba is a combination of modern city and indigenous village and is a base for many extreme activities, mostly climbing. Not feeling physically fit to even climb a local conditioner, the idea of summiting one of Ecuador’s 6,000 meter peaks seemed like a pipe dream. I parked my bike and booked myself on a tourist trip to Cotopaxi, a 5,793 meter volcano, one of the highest active volcanos in the world with a stunning view of a perfectly round crater at the summit, as an alternative to riding there myself. I really wanted to summit her and made three later attempts in my time in Ecuador but alas the weather and avalanches prevented it from happening. Another reason to return to Ecuador. Our tour had us hike up to the snow level at 4,920 meters and to my surprise, even in my weak, weak condition, I made it up far easier than anyone else on the tour (it was still miserable) and the guide said I was fine to climb the summit.  Unfortunately we were in the clouds the whole time and the weather never let us see anything more than a few meters in front of us.

Now that I was clearly on the recovery, I found myself looking for something to speed it up…

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