Dated: 12 Oct 18
As I made my way towards Quito in my stomach clutching bus ride I ascended the steep out rim of the Amazon rainforest. Ever morsel of land flat, steep or vertical was covered in a dense blanket of vegetation. Occasionally this vast forest was broken by a sheer face of exposed grey rock down which waterfalls plummeted before being lost in the green depths of the valley floor below.
But cross the Amazons watershed into the valley in which the urban sprawl of concrete, exhausts and people that is the equatorial city of Quito and things have miraculously changed. Gone are the thin wisps of cloud hanging limply above the canopy, in there place a lung choking smog draped over the city. As I leave the urban sprawl behind I feel like I’ve smoked a pack of fifty which doesn’t help as the air is thin up here.
I find myself in a series of wide open valleys the sides of which extend up into vast mountains and it is my first taste of the Andes and they don’t mess around. Up and down it goes, it is slow progress. And all the while the mountains seem to be growing around me. I amazed it is possible to cultivate crops this high, some of the peaks seem to have an earthy patch work of tilled soil extending almost to their peaks. I have never given Ecuador to much thought, rainforest, cocoa beans and the launch pad for the Galapagos so I’m slightly surprised at how bloody cold it is in the mornings, the fact that I cant feel my toes, how high it is and just how many snow capped volcanoes there are.
The day before I reach Peru two things happen.
Dogs are for ever chasing me, it seems that there is no greater joy in life than chasing bicycles. Like postmen we are fair game to canines across the world. They harry my progress multiple times a day and to be frank , it can be bloody annoying. Although they are all bark and no teeth now and again they make me feel uncomfortable but more often than not I am concerned for their safety as they chase me along the busy roads.
Well today it finally happened, a bark followed by a dull thud, I look back over my shoulder and a lab based stray is doing cart wheels down the road, he’s chasing bicycles in the sky now. My only solace is that it was quick and that I didn’t have to go and finish the job with my pillow; better that than a prolonged agonising affair, there are no vets here. His partner in crime still makes for the chase either not noticing his friend doing gymnastics down the street or not bothered. I’m surprised this is the first time this has happened and I thought that I might think “tough shit, you deserved it” cause it is a constant nuisance, but as a dog lover who has on multiple occasions considered adopting one of these street dogs, I can’t help but show some remorse. At least he died doing what he loved.
I’m on a push to make up some ground and reach Cusco asap, but that is a fair way south and over the border in Peru. To get there I decide to break out of the mountains of central Ecuador and hug the coast. Perhaps easier said than done. The air is crisp and clear now that I’m out of the humidity of Colombia. The snow capped peak of Chimborazo shadows me as I crest my first pass of the day at 3500m. At 6263m it is the heighest mountain in the country. I descend a fair bit and resent every metre down for I know what’s coming. Several hours later Ive made my second 1000m plus climb of the day and made it to just shy of 4000m. That’s not to far off the highest pass in he Pamir Highway yet when I reach the likes of Bolivia I know there is more where that came from. The Andes aren’t messing around.
My reward the decent of all descents down to sea level where I have a dull flat few days to Peru. It does come at a price though. A very wet one, you see all that fresh clear air in central Ecuador is owing to the fact that the clouds dump their load on the seaward slopes and lowlands of coast. Wet wet wet.
The second incident. The rain continued as if to reflect the sombre mood after the dead doggy, the surface is slick with oily water from all the traffic headed for the border. I swerve to avoid a rut and before I know it I sit heavily on my bottom on the rather hard tarmac as the bike clatters to one side. I’m lucky that I’m not riding bicycles in the sky, fortunately the bus driver behind was quick to brake. I have a few stand offs with over taking traffic which is nothing out of the ordinary. Later I see the aftermath of yet another crash, for no apparent reason from what I can see from craning my rubber neck as I roll on by. Between that and when leaving a roundabout later that day to the sound of screeching behind me as some numpty who wasn’t looking had to slam on the brakes with a cloud of smoke to avoid taking me out I cant help but think how vulnerable cyclists are on the road. Ah well not to much longer left now!