After our time in Cusco we were pleased to be faced with an hour long flight to Lima instead of the epic 22 hour bus trip. A four hour flight delay had the upside of us not having to pay anything extra for our bikes ( I think they were scared of us!) - which saved us over $100! Flying over Peru we were glad not to be riding - monotonous, moutainous and dry pretty much sums it up. Peru´s capital Lima (home of 8.5 million people) seemed to sprawl out forever beneath us. Overcrowding, unemployment and poverty is rife and we were glad not to be riding through the neverending slums. We managed to spend less than an hour in this hot desert city, pleased to find a north bound bus minutes after our arrival.We bussed all the way through to Loja- a small city in southern Ecuador. The bus trip was unremarkable except for Kate´s shoes being stolen. We immediately found the Ecuadorian people to be really friendly and although like Bolivia it is a developing country, Ecuador is far more advanced with excellent sealed roads and much better infrastructure.
We set off from Loja in the pouring rain, unfortunately having arrived in Ecuador in the raining season. We soon discovered riding in Ecuador is TOUGH! Constantly riding between 2000m and 4000m we were either grinding up steep hills or tearing down them - feels like there was much more of the up!! This combined with shorter days, cold, misty weather conditions and the savage dogs makes it hard going. We have learned to deal with the dogs with a combination of stone-throwing, yelling abuse and our dog dazer (thanks Shane!)......and if all else fails pedalling like hell and hoping we can out-sprint them!
We were both exhausted by the end of each day.....one evening after arriving at a hostel (as cold as we had ever been before) we lay in bed, eating chocolate and peanuts, had muesli for dinner and watched bad American movies! Despite the tough riding we enjoyed the steep Ecuadorian landscape, met some great people, and enjoyed camping with views.
We weren´t too impressed with the food in the rural highlands though...pig carcasses in varying states of decomposition were hanging up everywhere, and thats about all you could get!
The first major town we reached after Loja was Cuenca. The day we rode into town was challenging to say the least. After 85km and having crossed our 500m contour lines at least seven times during the day with minimal views we finally made it to the top of a 3800m pass. The visibility was terrible with thick mist swirling all around us. As darkness approached we realised we wouldn´t make it to Cuenca that night, but campsites amongst the muddy, steep pine forest were not looking promising. Suddenly a truck´s tail-lights appeared out of the mist as we realised the driver was reversing towards us to offer a ride. After a few seconds thought we agreed to chuck our bikes in the back and get a ride for the last 50km into the city. As we sat in the cab both relieved to be out of the freezing rain and mist I turned to check our bikes were OK......."Kate, did you take your front box off?"......"No. Oh shit!!" No front-box! Speeding along the potholed road the box Kate has on the front of her handlebars had come loose and fallen off.
The lovely truck-driver promptly turned back and we slowly drove back up the hill carefully searching for nearly and hour....with no luck. We were both resigned to the fact we had lost our wallet, bike tools, map, pump, warm clothes and our precious Leathermen (parting gift from Anna, Soph and Shane). We began planning our next insurance claim and trying to figure out how on earth we were going to replace these essential items. As we came to a main intersection before the city two truckies waved us down. Through some rapid fire spanish we picked up that these men had seen the box fly off, picked it up and waited at the bottom of the hill to return it to us! They were pretty overwhelmed with the two Gringo girls hugging and kissing them....it all worked out OK and we had a very relaxing couple of days in the lovely city of Cuenca.
Front box back where it should be...
From there we continued on our bikes up the spine of the Andes through Alausi to Riobamba.
After spending a night there we planned to go to a cool touristy town called Baños. Baños is situated under a very big, very active volcano that has erupted several times in recent years, completely shutting the town down. It is also famous for its thermal pools. When we asked at the hostel in Riobamba we were told that the direct and by far quickest road was closed following a recent eruption. We asked around a bit and a helpful man from the local bike shop said he thought it would be fine on bike, but wanted to confirm with a few other people. So we all set off on bike to the bus station where we asked about four men at the bus terminal, who all said that they thought it would be sweet on bike - a small amount of pushing required. We rode about 50km, descending down into a valley- the road gradually deteriorated and we were soon pushing our bikes through thick ash.....when all of sudden the road disappeared altogether! There was a HUGE canyon where the road once was- at least 150m deep with crumbling walls. Completely impassable!!While Ken stayed calm, I was less than happy...in fact furious! There was no option but to turn back, push through the ash and bike to Riobamba....all uphill. Luckily after 15km of climbing some locals took pity on us and we hopped in the back of their truck with our bikes. The guys at the bus station thought the whole thing was hilarious and were more than happy to take us and our bikes to Baños. We were glad not to be riding on the super busy Pan-American Highway with the crazy crazy Ecuadorian drivers. We spent several relaxing days in Baños biking to the jungle, swimming in a dreamy river, eating at a fabulous local restaurant and checking out the many nearby waterfalls.
These falls were awesome, so powerful! Some old chap had picked away at the rock for the last two decades so you could get right in behind the waterfall...
Matilda with another bloody knee after a low speed crash on gravel!
Ecuador´s next top model (eat your heart out Philippa!)
Having really enjoyed our time in Baños we set off north for Quito. We intended to bike a side loop (the Quilitoa Loop) on the way, which inlcuded several more high passes, with the highlight being a famous crater lake. We set off with fair views of the second highest peak in Ecuador (Cotopaxi).We had been warned the ride was tough and the weather very cold….and within hours we had found out just how tough and cold. At nearly 4000m, after climbing for four hours, we were caught in a freezing cold hail and rain storm with a puncture and rapidly declining enthusiasm. Shivering and barely able to use our hands to change Kate´s tube, I looked at Kate and said "Wanna go to the beach?" She looked at me and grinned through chattering teeth….within ten minutes we were heading back downhill!! The next afternoon we found ourselves in blissful Canoa. Canoa is a small, dreamy seaside town with a gorgeous long beach, gentle surf, warm water and lots of lovely but basic restaurants and bars. Finding ourselves a room with stunning ocean views we both agreed our early trip to the coast was a fantastic idea and the perfect way to end our South America trip. We spent our last week surfing, swimming, taking long walks, bike rides, reading, lying in hammocks, eating delicious seafood and hanging out with the locals and other travelers.
Matilda carving up
On our last morning we took some sit-on-top sea kayaks out hoping to explore some nearby caves only accessible from the water. After half an hour, we turned to paddle into the small rocky beach just as a giant set came in. Our boat nose-dived on a massive wave throwing both of us into the water. After righting our kayak and managing to scramble back on we decided to paddle out behind the breakers. The big waves continued and after just staying afloat over a few breaking waves one came crashing down right on top of us, capsizing us again. The boat hit my head in the process and Kate (the lifeguard), thinking me unconscious dragged me to the surface! Defeated, slightly concussed, but still laughing we abandoned the cave idea and headed back to Canoa, catching some much more tame waves on our next beaching.