We do all we intend to do in Quito. We saw Tyndall’s parents and mine. We were invited to family fiestas and danced until the sun came up. We made new friends. We learned about growing food on the equator. We learned about milking cows and the market here for organic milk. We amassed ideas about what routes to ride south. We spoke Spanish. We spoke English. We met other bike packers.
It’s time to go.
Our friend Joe is about three days ahead of us. We first crossed paths at Chickenstock over a year ago. We think we can catch him. We have the
bright idea to ride the PanAm for half a day. After an hour I’m bored and Tyndall’s angry. Plan B involves a railroad. It winds through the countryside, intersecting the Trans Ecuador Trail. This will take us south, slowly. The trail has blissful high altitude riding and the occasional ditch to navigate through. What’s not to like?
We ride through indigenous communities. Women wave me on. Their gold jewelry sparkles in the sun, layers of brightly colored wool flap in the wind. Shy school children watch, wide eyed from the side of the road. A buenas tardes to a group of teenage boys in sharp red sweaters elicits a good morning and an I love you, despite the afternoon hour. They dissolve into giggles.
The wind blows. For 30 cents we buy two helados and get a weather report gratis. June, July, August: wind. Sometimes it herds us along, willy nilly, pushing us down the road. Sometimes it stops us in our tracks, blowing sand in every available orifice.
We camp next to a casita filled with cuy, this señor and his daughter sharing their space.
Clouds race across the sky. We pass up Quilatoa and it’s entrance fee in favor of Zumbahua. The weather is getting the best of us and we’re looking for some respite. I am sold on a hostel with a woodstove and giant tea pot.
It’s not likely the weather will change, but we need a break. The wind is intense. We listen to it blow all night.
Morning comes and we pack up, but I’m not ready to go. It’s too comfy here, and I hear the wind howling. We stay another night.
Cows are fewer here. Mostly llama and sheep dot the hillsides. Kids fly kites, perhaps celebrating the last day of school.
Dinner in Angamarca is the standard fare, plus beet salad. Dangerous or not, Tyndall can’t resist it. Our hostess won’t take our pennies. She insists on a nickel instead. Fog rolls in and the wind drops. We camp on a flat space behind the church.
It’s 2:00 am and Tyndall is up, paying for his adventurous appetite. The 3,000 foot climb planned for this morning will have to wait. Instead, we find Dr. Jose Gonzalaz of Cuba. He takes us in, no questions asked. I play board games with his daughter and his wife Eva cooks us dinner. Tyndall sleeps. In Cuba, Jose made $27 a month as a doctor. In Ecuador, he makes $50 a day. He would like to emigrate to Canada with his family.
Belly on the mend, Tyndall races me up the climb. I know he is feeling better because he wins. These two young fellows keep me entertained.
Please, could they have my bike as a gift they ask. Lo siento mi amigo, pero necesito mi bici. Please, could you buy me a bike then? I offer a short test ride but it’s clearly not what they are looking for. They peel off, we continue up.
Mist swirls around. In one comuna a brass band is warming up for the weekend fiesta. We pedal on, wanting to avoid fiestas this weekend. Truckloads of revelers speed by in the other direction.
We hunker down behind our handlebars, pushing for the pass before dropping down the other side, teeth chattering.
The cold takes us by surprise. Numb fingers are useless as we work to set up the tent. Numb lips must work twice as hard to inflate thermarests. Chimborazo plays peek a boo in the evening light.
The Trans Ecuador Trail goes to the north of Chimborazo. Dark clouds fill the horizon. To the south, blue sky and sun. We lived in Alaska long enough to know to follow the sun. In the rain shadow of Chimborazo it’s dry.
We’re tossed along by the wind, sometimes it helps, sometimes it hinders. For a moment, we consider pushing up to the refuge to sleep for the night. The moment passes and we go down. Down past the vicuñas, down past the cows and the potato fields and the cho chos. Down past the small comunas and into Riobamaba.
The first stop is the bus station. We’ll be in Cuenca in six hours.
Where we rode: Quito – Tumbillo – detour to El Murco – Aloasí – Toacaso – Guayama Grande – Zumbahua – Angamarca – Chimborazo – Riobamaba
We used bike lanes, the tourist railroad and the unfinished bus metro lane to exit Quito to the south. We picked up the railroad again in Aloasí and followed that to the Trans Ecuador route, with only a minor detour around gated hacienda land.