Sunday, May 19, 2013

our long way to Peru
We finally crossed the border with Peru. A bit reluctantly, as on one hand we got to like Ecuador so much and on the other we heard some stories of people having bad experiences in Peru.  But everybody lives their own story, so leaving all the prejudgements behind, we are here – in Peru!

But what a border crossing it was! Zumba seemed to be the most obvious choice for us – straight South from Cuenca and towards the Peruvian jungle, where we are heading now. The road on the map was beautifully drawn, all the way to the border marked as ‘secondary road, partially surfaced’. Not that we trust maps too much – you cannot trust any map in South America (some roads have been planned to be paved for years, but the money always disappear from the construction site and appears in somebody’s pocket; yet they are optimistically put on the maps as paved; and then other roads that are marked as unpaved we found with smooth brand new surface), but since in Ecuador they frenetically pave every single donkey track, we learnt that even the smallest roads, that we didn’t expect to be paved,  are already surfaced.

And yet in Vilcabamba, I had this feeling that maybe this road won’t be paved; we asked few people, including Police and Visitor Centre, but since it is very small border crossing and the road leads to nowhere, we got very different answers. At the end we managed to establish that the road is not fully paved; that about 40 more km is paved (to the top of the hill, which was good news, because at least we’ll climb n pavement), but then another 100ish km is dirt; that there are road works going on and so the road is being prepared for new surface so has been widen and smoothen. It sounded ok, however on the back of my head I had still this disturbing information I read in a guide that the bus ride from Loja to Zumba (about 150km) takes 6 to 7 hours! But I just thought it must have been written before they started paving the road.

So our plan was: day 1 Vilcabamba – Valladolid (60ish km), day 2 Valladolid – Zumba (60ish km), day 3 Zumba – border – San Ignacio (60ish km). But it didn’t go this way…

We completed day one, but….it took us 7 hours! First the hill – for the last two months in Andes we’ve been climbing may hills, but this one we won’t forget for a long time; at 44th km we finally stopped climbing and my speedometer was showing nearly 2000m altitude gain, but we gained it in less than 30km!, as over this 44km of climb there were few brief downhills. That could possibly be one of the steepest climb we’ve done! From there was ‘only’ downhill.  As we were told there was no more pavement, but as we weren’t told the road works were super intense and what were supposed to be smoothen dirt turned to be totally destroyed  by heavy-duty machines surface; add to this recent rains and you’ll get… mud until ankles!
15 hellish km downhill where we had to try hard not to slip and fall and break so hard that we were going downhill not much faster than where we were climbing. 
We thought we cannot go like this for another 70+ km, so the next morning we decided to take a bus. The 60km-ride to Zumba took us 3 hours! The road was bad and I just couldn’t imagine how it can get any worse, because we were told that the 14km-ride from Zumba to the border will take about 2 hours!!!

The next day my bum learnt how it can be worse…so both Google Map and our guidebook claims that it actually is only 14km, for me it felt like minimum 140km… The transport that goes from Zumba to the border is ‘ranchero’ (in Colombia called ‘chivo’), a poorer cousin of Guatemalan chicken buses. It is a truck converted to transport people, where the back where passengers are seated has open sides, wooden roof and rows of benches (cushioned, but it doesn’t really make much difference to me…). We put our bikes and pannier bags being last bench, so we had to seat on the back of the truck to keep an eye if we are not losing something on the way, as I said the sides of the ‘bus’ are open.  I knew it shake the most at the back of the bus, but we had not much choice. What a ride it was! Stones and holes, holes and stones, stones in holes – it didn’t stop even for a second! I had to hold myself with my two hands and press with my knees against the bench in front of me and yet I was thrown up in the air constantly.  My poor coccyx will remember this ride for a long time, the cushions were useless… And yes! This 14km ride took us 1:45 hrs!!!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Happy 20000 km!

Just before arriving to Cuenca the first number on our speedometers changed from 1 to 2. Perfect! A reason for treats and celebration! So since for quite a while we were craving the ordinary apple pie (an apple is an exotic fruit here, so an apple pie is something fancy and not easy to find), rather than buying local cream cakes, we made our own 20000km-pie :)

How was the ride from Banos to here? Beautiful! It was overcasted all the time we stayed in Banos; the day we left I was pretty sure we'll get wet. But, instead the sun was shining, the sky was blue and we finally got to see the Tungurahua volcano. We went towards Chimborazo (6300-and a bit m asl, the highest mountains of Ecuador and apparently - for its proximity to the Equator and the not that perfect spherical shape of our planet - the furthest point from the Earth centre) and we were pretty much climbing for three days straight up to nearly 4500m asl. So high and with the sky clear the views were stunning; sometimes we could see four different volcanoes at the same time, including mighty Chimborazo and perfectly conical Cotopaxi. 
Leaving Chimborazo we decided to cycle on PanAm for a longer time for the first time; and since past Riobamba the official PanAm heads to the coast, the road that keeps going straight South receives very little traffic and actually is very pretty; I can't get enough of Andean patchworked hills. 
Ah! And we got first broken spoke (Marta's rear wheel) :(