Saturday 23 September
On south from the equator through Ecuador. Who would have thought we would need extra layers to keep warm here? This is high country, ridge after ridge of sharp, verdant mountains. We keep more or less to the Pan-American highway; there is little choice if we want to make progress. But this is a fabulous road – good surface and with very little traffic, it winds this way and that, climbing up to over 4000 m and then down again, swooping in great mellifluous curves and the occasional tighter bends. The riding is swift and sinuous, fast and fluid. But not too fast: the scenery is far too wonderful to waste.
This is not at all like the Alps. It’s on a much grander scale, although I feel somewhat disloyal to say so. Not like the Pyrenees either, these are ranges on steroids. And then some.
Riding out of Ambata we rapidly gain altitude to high pastureland. Then around a bend the volcano Chimborazo comes into view – immense, white and alone, hanging in the atmosphere up to 6268 m against a blue sky, reminiscent of Mt Rainier or Mt Hood in Washington State.
We ride on in two groups, towards Cuenca, the Spanish colonial city in the south of the country. It is an exhilarating ride, over 300 km, and with just a short stop for food and several photo stops it takes almost six hours.
I knew next to nothing about Ecuador. I’ve never met anyone from here, and I don’t think I know anyone who has been here other than Loose Nut Mark. I find myself grinning and giggling in my helmet (must be the altitude) – what am I doing, riding my bike through this most foreign land? I feel I need to pinch myself, and metaphorically I do – this is glorious. Many of the people are wearing traditional dress, black with bright colours and the narrow-brimmed Andean hats like small and stiff trilbys. It is common to see women in this get-up spinning wool as they walk along the streets.
Cuenca is a big city with an old centre where we have booked a hotel for two nights. It is time for Ian and me to get our bikes serviced. We have ridden over 10000 km since their last service in LA; we also need to get new tyres in readiness for some possible poor road surfaces in Peru.
Fortune smiles again; Ian has done some hunting on the web to find a suitable bike shop and someone unknown forwarded his details to Cristobal Morejon who owns what is clearly the standout bike workshop in southern Ecuador. There are only pluses here: Cristobal is an experienced mechanic. He drops everything to get to work immediately on our bikes, each of which gets a very necessary full service (you should have seen the air filters, choked with dust!) and a new set of rubber. And we meet several of his regular customers who just drop in. Amongst these are Patricio, the President of the Cuenca dual-sport bike club (i.e. on and off road), and Juan Diego, a lovely guy generous with his time who has ridden extensively in Peru and happily discussed the merits of various routes with us. Thanks to both of these guys, it was great to meet you.
Before we take our leave I get Cristobal to stamp my bike’s service book, which now shows one service in each of Cape Town, Newcastle, Los Angeles and now Cuenca. It appears to be having a life less ordinary! As he signs the service book, Cristobal catches sight of the previous stamp from Ryan Reza at MotoTech in LA with one of those “small world” exclamations: he knows Ryan. Although they have never met they have been in touch and Ryan has on occasion sent parts to Cristobal. Small world indeed!
So we have only had good experiences in Ecuador. I might have said “apart from the food” – Ian had a very interesting chicken soup (see photos*) – had it not been for some excellent steaks and tapas at a Belgian bar close to our hotel where we also enjoyed meeting an English and South African pair. Thank you for your message to the blog site Karan.
*NB With apologies: Several days of poor internet have precluded uploading of more photos. They will be added asap!