It has been a funny few weeks for us. Ever since Cusco we have spent as much, if not more, of the time off the bikes than riding them. It wasn’t through our own choice most of the time what with being ill, the weather and the passport debacle. We’ve spent lots of time waiting, replanning our plans and having to recover from illness that riding bikes was the last thing we wanted to do, which sucks! So when we finally had Ben’s emergency passport in hand we set off for the border and for the first time in a few weeks we felt genuinely excited. The thought of having a new country to explore gave us a renewed motivation to ride our bikes. ¡Vamos a Ecuador!
The Pan American Highway from Piura to the border wasn’t the most inspiring landscape to ride through. It was hot and flat but it felt good to be back on the road and making progress northwards again. It was no different to riding across Argentina and it reminded us why we were here and that we are pretty lucky to be doing what we’re doing. Riding bikes through nice places everyday and having so much freedom is pretty cool. Piura to the Ecuador border was only a two day ride and the difference when we crossed over to Ecuador was striking. The dusty barren ground of northwest Peru gave way to the lush green landscape of Ecuador in only a few kilometres.
Ecuador was off to a good start when the border guard stopped us to have a chat and welcomed us to the country. You could tell he was really proud and passionate about his country as he wished us a good trip and give us recommendations about where we should visit. He was a cyclist himself and even offered to buy our bikes off of us! (We politely declined his offer as we still have a long way to go.) It makes such a difference when people are friendly and it made a good first impression.
The friendly, welcoming nature of the Ecuadorean people continued over the next four days as we rode from Macara, the really nice border town, to Loja. We made a last minute decision to take a back road to Loja thinking it would be dirt and as such, much quieter than the Pan American. What we didn’t know was that it had been recently paved. It proved to be a good choice regardless of the surface because there weren’t very many vehicles and we passed through some nice rural towns. The people here were all interested in what the crazy foreigners on bicycles were doing in their town and didn’t hesitate to come over and strike up a conversation. This is so reminiscent of our time in Argentina and Brazil where you couldn’t stop for more than a few minutes before someone asked where you were going and where you’ve come from (usually one and the same question!). We like these random encounters with the locals as it’s an excellent opportunity to practise our Spanish.
We had organised to stay with a Warmshowers host in Loja and Veronica was the best type of host. She took us to some great places for food, showed us the city and we shared some beers, even though she was busy imminently opening her new restaurant. It was a really good few days of rest, food and socialising, but it was yet another place that we could have easily stayed longer. We’ve had a few places like Loja that have had a cool vibe and felt like they would a nice place to stay. One day we might just stop in one of these places and not leave for a long while!
Riding between Loja and Cuenca we opted for a mix of the TEMBR route and the roads as biblical rain made us want to seek shelter whenever possible, and in a welcome return there are regular bus stops along the road. It took us four days in wet and foggy conditions that reminded us of our first trip by bike around Wales (in summer), even down to the pine forests and rolling hills. We were lucky that on our first night we made it to the Bomberos (fire station) that we knew cyclists had stayed at and they offered us a place to sleep even before we’d asked. The office floor made the perfect bedroom and we fell asleep to the sound of torrential rain. It’s hard to find the motivation to camp in the rain when you’re soaking wet (we think so anyway). If there’s an opportunity to stay inside, we take it.
The rain eased off on our last night on the road and we were able to wild camp in a small pine plantation. It was the perfect campsite: hidden from the road, flat and surrounded by pine trees. Ben was so happy! The only thing was that it was really foggy so the misty pines looked a bit eerie and the tent was wet the moment it went up, but the temperature didn’t drop below 10 degrees even at 3300m. Such a difference to the freezing conditions and lack of trees, let alone forests, only a few weeks ago.
Now we’ve got a few days in Cuenca, Ecuador’s third biggest city, to dry everything out, explore the city and plan the next few weeks of riding the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route (TEMBR). More on that next time, but for now we’re enjoying riding bikes again and looking forward to seeing more of Ecuador’s mountains, volcanoes and dirt roads. So excited!
Until next time,
Steph and Ben