Helped Along by Locals, Hardest "Push" Through Southern Ecuador into Peru : Cuenca, Ecuador to Jaen, Peru
Literally pushing fully loaded tour bikes up sloppy, muddy, rutted, bolder littered single lane "road" with the rain pouring and soaked through, one would have to wonder, "What in the hell are we doing here?" Guess we both are, truly, clinically insane...
Cuenca was a touring cyclists dream! Really stunning Colonial architecture, large enough to score dishes of Indian food, liters of real gelato ice-cream (oh yes we polished one off together every day we were there), pizza, but not so large we were lost in the chaos. We ripped off the Band-Aid and loaded up and headed south. Back on the road, ready for what was next around the bend. It took us about two and a half days to roller coaster the hills to Loja. The scenery was pretty distracting, even while climbing. Our first night out, we found a great spot under a giant tree a little ways from the road to camp and watched the sun set and shadows creep up the giant mountains in front of us. We scored breakfast at a gas station/restaurant in a small town the next morning and continued south stopping just before dark near La Chorera. We were struggling to find a place to camp as the hills had become so steep there was not good flat spots well hidden for a tent. As we chugged slowly up a hill, there was a family waving at us from their yard next to the road.
Ville rode over and asked if it were possible to camp in their yard and they welcomed us right away. The older couple, who's modest home it was, told us to sleep on the porch under the roof in case it rained. Sadly, we timed most of the ride in Ecuador through tons of wind and rain, so it was a challenge for our night camping as well as days of being soaked. The couple's nephew, his wife, and their two young kids were there and it was really special to be able to chat with them and get to know about their village. Then the local priest arrived and we were invited to Catholic mass down the hill, which of course we accepted. It was all I could do to keep from laughing as we sat in our pew with about 15 people from town, right next to 3 young boys trying so hard not to stare wide-eyed and open-mouthed at us. They were so curious! And when I asked their names, they became so shy they cowered behind each other.
After mass, we were given fresh, hot home-made tamales and coffee and watched the firework show in celebration of Virgen De La Cisne. Getting to play with kids and be treated as friends was incredibly special and both of us were so grateful (as we repeatedly are on this journey) to meet so many kind and generous people. Even though, by both our countries standards, these people were very poor and had "nothing", the feeling of community, love, and acceptance of each other was felt very deeply while we were there. The kids were happy, kind to each other, and looked out for one another. The mothers gave them the space to play without helicoptering around their every move. The older ones took care of the younger ones. Watching people, families, and communities and questioning "normal" is one of the greatest gifts of travel.
Early morning, as we waved goodbye to the family and up into the mist, we had a long day of misty, wet riding that took us by noon dropping down into Loja. We checked into a hotel, got showered and were slightly disappointed to discover Loja was not quite what we hoped or heard about as a city. It had been compared to Cuenca, just smaller, but was not at all as cool. It did however have a newly built castle that looked eerily like the one at Disneyland on the way into the city. We spent a day and headed on our way, not having great expectations for the next stretch to the boarder of Peru. We had heard from two separate cycling friends that this next stretch would be rough and it far exceeded those terrible expectations I'm afraid.
You know it's going to be bad when the "Road Construction Update" billboard on the side of the road is super faded as if it was thought about and long forgotten. That being said, the traffic began to drop off after the Gringo-filled town of Vilcabamba (yet another "eternal spring" cities that claims everyone lives forever) and we got a cheap room in a local woman's house in the tiny town of Yangana. The next day we climbed up into the National Park Yacuri, the scenery was fantastic and we were almost all alone in it! As we reached the top of the park, birds, waterfalls, butterflies everywhere we had to stop to take in all the views. Followed by a thrilling winding downhill that took us way down, down, down a canyon as the road slowly began to disappear and magically turn into not-car-graded gravel and dirt steeps. After again struggling to find a good camp spot with such steep hills, we pulled over to chat with a family in a three house, one church town, Canada.
The father, Stalin, was kind enough to open up the church and let us sleep inside. We enjoyed chatting with his three daughters, whom all helped grow, dry, and bag coffee beans. I got in the habit long ago of carrying everything from lollipops to cookies and stickers for kids and was able to share some with the girls and they were super excited. They were very shy around us, but were so cute running and playing with each other. All I could think was what a horrible little fighting sister I was and that I had not realized at their age how lucky they were to have each other. They obviously realized it.
Feeling good, with Google telling us we only had about 22 miles to the border, we rode out early all pumped and ready for Peru! Well, well, well, that's not quite how smooth sailing it went. First the pavement disappeared after a mile. Then as we crested the hill, the downhill was the the steepest we had yet experienced on this ride, stopping multiple times to give our hands a break from breaking so hard, fearing hitting boulders that would throw us over the handlebars, the occasional passing truck kicking rocks into our faces, all to look straight across the mountain at the jagged dirt road cut straight up the side of the mountain across from us in the baking sun. And, yes, that is where we crossed the river at the bottom of the canyon, kicked down to our lowest gear, and cranked for over an hour to get up the hill. By the time we reached Zumba on the other side of the mountain, with just over 22 miles for the day, nowhere near the border, and a splitting migraine, we had to get a hotel room and re-hydrate.
(STAY TUNED FOR MORE PHOTOS, WIFI IS NOT COOPERATING)
For some terrible reason, I have taken to getting migraines a lot and especially when I'm dehydrated. After wringing out my Buff a handful of times of sweat, it was apparent we were not taking in enough water for as much as we were losing and stopping was a great plan. I crawled into a dark room and we tried to get some sleep. The next day, my migraine was still full-on, it poured rain all night making the dirt road sloppy, and we contemplated staying put another night. Wanting so much to get through this nightmare and get to the promised land, Peru (where we heard rumors of pavement and normal grades again), I downed a bunch of Aspirin, ate some crappy food, and we saddled up.
We had a rough day of two more big hill climbs and descents in the pouring rain, a handful of times we had to literally push our bikes up sloppy, muddy, bolder-littered single-track "road" with flashbacks of the fun-filled Dalton Highway in Alaska in our memories from so long ago (if you missed that, read it HERE). Brakes squealing, we came straight down the hill into the border of Peru. After an easy stamp out, bike across the river and stamp into Peru, we were thrilled to discover the rumors of pavement were true! We got a room to dry off and clean off the mud in Nambale, 4 miles from the border. The prices in Peru have been some of the best we have seen, $3 for both our lunches and $6 a night for a hotel! And the people are super friendly here as well.
We had a glorious next day climbing to San Ignacio on pavement, followed by a giant sweeping downhill into a wide open valley, bright green rice paddies with giant mountains in the backdrop. And where the road in southern Ecuador went straight over mountains, the road in Peru followed rivers and canyons allowing for pretty sweet biking grades. The scenery in Peru was a full day of fireworks and as the sun began to fade, we pulled over at a small cafe on the river to get dinner and ask the super nice couple, Jose and Melva, who owned the place if we could camp. They were kind enough to let us camp on the floor of the open air cafe (there was not a sole there) and I was able to play with their baby chicks that were running around the place. Awwwwwww cute. Melva made us a giant rice and eggs breakfast and waved us on our way. We had a a pretty chill 40 miles today, hot now that we have dropped down and are hovering around 2,000 ft., but enjoyed a stop at one of the many roadside fresh-squeezed juice stops, and arrived in the busy city of Jaen.
We checked into a nice hotel, $11. Got showers, food $3. Getting blogged up. And planning a day off tomorrow to rest, recharge, catch-up with parents, and then we do what we do, keep on keepin' on! Oh, and in case I forgot to tell, my parents, Mango and Magoo, have airplane tickets booked and are meeting us in Cusco, Peru mid-October. We are PUMPED to get some family love and to get to check out Machu Pichu with those two recently retired wackos! YAY! We recently connected with our good friend, John, who has opened the coolest and best bicycle shop in Bend, Project Bike, who will be our go-to shop for goods and is sending some much needed parts down with my parents. If there is anything anyone wants to get to us. Like, maybe a motor for my bike, a pony, or a Farrari, please get in touch with us or my parents and they can bring it when they come. All right ya'll, off to bed. Thanks for following and being a part of our journey!
K.G. & Ville
In Huanaco, Peru. Battered, but still going south.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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