Dinner on the Road

Dinner is a slowly evolving single pot meal. It began as rice and lentils. Originally red lentils. The red lentils would cook down enough that they dissolved into a pot of rice creating a nice thick meal. This soon grew old. We started adding bouillon for a little more flavor. Beef or chicken. Whatever we had. This too, soon grew old.

image

Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

We moved on to concentrated mole flavoring and eventually found tomato sauce. The tomato really adds a lot of flavor and umami to the dish. Our “Mother” dish.

Red lentils were replaced by standard green lentils. Not by choice but because they are all we can find south of the border. They don’t cook up as well as the red, adding a little crunch to dinner. They are, however, cheap and nutritious.

Variations on the mother dish are numerous. In Mexico and Guatemala we bought tortillas, cheese, avocado, and onion.  The mother was used as a warm filling in the tortilla while the other ingredients were diced and put on top. For a special treat, one can warm the corn tortillas on top of the pot while the mother is cooking. 

image

Additional variations include cracking two eggs into the mother when it is half cooked.  Oil, if you have some, adds richness to the dish. Soy sauce can create a nice contrast to the rich tomato.  Salsa can replace the tomato sauce in the Mother to make Mother Casera.

When really lucky, a nice host will provide the weary cyclist with fresh greens from the garden. Add carrots, broccoli, and onion to the Mother while cooking. Drop in two eggs half way through and stuff the pot with swiss chard. Force the lid on and let everything steam together. This is high dining.

image

Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

image

Tomato sauce has all but disappeared in South America and has been replaced by Salsa de Tomate. Don’t be confused, it’s just Ketchup. It’s also terribly sweet and doesn’t work in dinner. We have tried. The Ecuadorian Mother has become pasta (cooks faster at altitude) and cream sauces. Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Corn being two staples. Toss in fresh or dried veggies when available.

image

Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

Clean the pot by adding two cups water and any available tea. Jamaica was widely available in Mexico. Horchata is the tea of choice in Ecuador. Heat to a boil, swirl to clean, and enjoy.

image

Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

Vuelta de Cotopaxi

The number of people riding north to south through the Americas by bicycle seems large. The number of people bikepacking through the Americas as we are is small. Not many people choose dirt roads, two tracks and single tracks. When we have the opportunity to ride with other like-minded cyclists for a couple days, we seize it.

Dean and Dang arrive at the farm Sunday. Monday they take the bus to Tumbaco to ship items ahead, south so they don’t have to carry them. We ride our bikes to Pifo to source stove fuel. If the pintura doesn’t have it, the ferreteria will, it’s just a matter of finding the right one. After five tries we get lucky. At the grocery in Pifo Tyndall finds Ecuadorian peanut butter, a whole pint for $1.85. It’s a steal, and comes in the usual, suspect, unlabeled container. It’s fine.

It’s Tuesday and we all pack up and ride out, bouncing down the cobbled farm road in a line. We meet the milk truck at the bottom and pull over to let him pass before crossing out onto the highway.

The highway riding is short lived and then we are climbing up towards Pintag.

Mid morning salchipapas give us a boost. Fresh bread is bought and stashed away for later.

While at the farm, Tyndall acquired loads of GPS tracks. We’re following what’s been named The Family Route. Dean has what we call The Horse Trail on his GPS. The Family Route is meant for towing kids in two wheeled trailers, we’re told. Easy peasy. And it is, until we go off on a grassy lane, down a ditch, and through bottomless pits of mud. Perhaps The Family Route is meant for the dry season? Perhaps the families here are made of tougher stuff than we are?

image

image

We climb and climb and climb and then find an abandoned house to camp at for the night.

image

Parts of Cotopaxi peek from behind the clouds. We supplement our dinner with dehydrated veggies from the farm.

The road continues up. We dodge mud puddles and cow paddies. A jeep passes, full of fishermen out for the day with a guide. The fishing is great he says. Tell your friends. There’s big trout to be had in Ecuador.

We pedal on, picking our way through a boulder field and up to 13,500 feet. I stop often, taking photos and wishing for more oxygen. The Chia seeds from breakfast are waging a battle in my intestines. I thought these things were supposed to be good for me. All the open space makes me giddy.

image

image

image

image

The road continues down, but we’re directed up to the top of a knoll and across a grassy slope, towards Tambo.

image

There’s a hacienda there and we set up our tents behind an old earthen wall, protected from the wind. Business is slow as this section of the park is technically closed due to volcanic activity. Five dogs patrol the premises, joined by a herd of alpacas in the morning.

image

Cotopaxi is out, and then it’s not as clouds are whipped up the valley. We join the clouds in their journey, but at a slower pace. It’s like riding on a golf course, but with a few more obstacles. We should have brought some clubs, and found a caddy.

image

Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

I wish for a horse, but none appear. Onward.

image

image

Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

image

Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

From the top, we look down and see our road. We part ways, Dean and Dang continuing south to Latacunga while we start looping back north to Malaló.

image

The road funnels us down into a ditch. I lack the energy to get out. Instead, we stretch our remaining food and make camp for the night. A big pot of tea goes a long way.

Hot breakfast in Malaló replenishes calories lost. The road seems lonely now, but we ride fast, climbing up one more time on the park road. It’s wide and gravel and almost boring until we dip off onto a double track. We keep heading north, reconnecting with our tracks from two days ago.

image

image

image

Back at the farm, I say hello to our new neighbors and reacquaint myself with the outdoor shower.

image

image