Thursday, 23 July 2015

Portoviejo to Latacunga Ecuador

We had read that other cyclists had got a police escort through a particularly dodgy neighbourhood in the north of Portoviejo.  Although we had entered from the south and it seemed like just another town, we thought we had better play it safe and do the same.

We rolled up to the police station just after 6am and after some explaining of what we our broken spanish, we rode out of town with a police ute following closely behind, with its lights flashing!
We had asked for an escort just to get us through that part of town which was about 10km.  After 15km we were clearly out of town and indicated to the policeman that we were ok and thanked him. He was adamant that he would continue with us until the following village.  As we approached the village, he sounded his siren and from a side road, out came another police vehicle which promptly pulled in behind us.  Our initial escort tooted and waved and headed back to town.  We had a bit of a giggle but didn´t think much of it, assuming he would just stay with us for another 10km or so.  At the next village the same thing happened and it dawned on us that we would have an escort for the entire day! All 120km of it.  We stopped a couple of times to assure the policemen we were ok and it was no longer necessary to accompany us.  They took their instructions very seriously however and insisted they would be continuing!

We ended up getting to our destination of Pichincha earlier than expected as we had been too scared to hold the police up or keep them waiting. ... we were in two minds whether to stop as it was only 1.00pm but we were pretty tired from our 100 km timetrial ride, were starving and did not wish to let the police know we were thinking of continuing. We checked into the first hostel we saw and waved goodbye to our latest escorts ...

Debbie with the Police escort

Off to market!

A lovely man off to sell his bananas

Cacao plants and beans

The very wet beans before drying

The hostel we choose had no hot water ... in the past this would have been unacceptable however in the heat of the tropics it is not hot water we crave but air conditioning and lots of cold water. We sometimes need two or three showers in one afternoon just to keep our body temperature down .. (if there is no aircon) 

We spent the afternoon looking around the riverside town of Pichincha and enjoying some time out of our cycling shorts .. we are not sure if it is the heat or if it is because we had two weeks off our bikes in the Galapagos but our bums have been suffering since we left Guayaquil ....

We awoke to the sound of rain on the roof but were keen to make headway so were up and ready to go by 6.30am. By the time we had loaded up the bikes the rain had stopped. We cautiously headed through town praying that the police didn´t spot us and accompany us to our next destination. Luckily, noone was about and we left town unnoticed .... whoop whoop freedom ..

One of the many fruit stands along the road sides

Throughout our trip through south america we have been lucky to meet some very nice people but until today we had never been stopped and given something.  We had read about other cyclists who had been given fruit or something but it had never happened to us.  Until today that is.... We were drenched in sweat from the hot and muggy conditions and couldn´t believe our eyes when a kind man stopped us and handed us two bags of cold, fresh, fruit juice!  It was perhaps the best juice we had ever had.  Further up the road he came running out of a small shop with two packets of Dorito chips.  We thanked him profusely and pedalled on with huge smiles. 

It was sooo hot our lollies melted ...

We stopped at a stall later on and enjoyed a big piece of freshly cut watermellon for afternoon tea

This cute little boy helped us exit a town.... the signs in Ecuador are shocking and so confusing 

Debbie riding through the kms of banana plantations

Plastic bags over the many huge bunches of bananas

The road gradually climbed all day

Emma liked this lovely lady.  The cows in the tropical areas really are different

Bananas, bananas... everywhere

The higher we climbed the foggier and cooler it got. It was nice to cool down a bit.

We were not really sure of our destination today as one blog we had read stopped in La Mana and stopped the next night in Tingo which was 37 kms away but had taken them 5.5 hours to get to. We arrived in La Mana at 11 am so decided we would bite the bullet and try to do two days in one... From the blog we knew we had a decent climb on our hands but we were confident we could do it.
After a huge salad for lunch accompanied by a container of yoghurt we filled up our water bottles and hit the road once again.  

Emma kept an eye on the kilometers and Debbie monitored the altitude gain. We knew the next town of Tingo was 37kms away and at 2400 meters above sea level. We passed through the town of La Esperanza at 34 kms and 2200 meters and thought nothing of it. We were solely focussed on reaching the town of Tingo. The road was steep and unrelenting but we pushed on determinedly ..we were sure it was just around the next corner ... After four or five next corners and no sign of the town we asked some locals where the town was.. they pointed back down the hill and vaguely waved their hands around. They kept talking about La Esperanza but no mention of Tingo. We were so sure of ourselves that we rode on. After 40 kms and at 1600 meters we started to feel uneasy so asked some more people. This time they confidently pointed down the hill and assured us there were no towns up the hill for the next 20 kms or so... mmmm we were stumped but still continued on up the hill because we could see a road sign about 50 meters up the road. 
This is what we found ...... 
If only this sign had been at the entrance to La Esperanza as well !!!

It was now 6 pm, foggy and getting dark and cold (the above photo was taken the next morning) we couldn´t bear the thought of returning all the way down the steep hill to Tingo La Esperanza ... so we decided to ask some locals if we could camp on their front lawn ...

Lucky for us the second house we asked said yes and were very friendly and interested in all our camping equipment .. as we set up camp the man watched our every move with interest ...... they were very impressed with our MSR cooker and our dehydrated meals... 

Our glamping spot ....

The next morning 

Breakfast time ... porridge and coffee 

We had another big day of climbing on our hands as were heading up to 3800metres at the town of Quilitoa.  Because we hadn´t stopped at a town we were a little low on food so we were delighted to discover a cute little dairy farming village about 2 hours after leaving our campsite.

Look at these cool table and chairs.   Do you reckon you could make some of these Roge...

The fog increased as we climbed higher into the mountains.  We had glimpses of the road ahead...perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, as the road was steep and unforgiving.  The blog we had been following indicated that we had 34km to travel but 2400metres in elevation gain and that it had taken them 5 hours to reach Quilitoa from Tingo.  As time ticked by we began doubting their statistics as after 5 hours we were just over half way.  It was a tough day, not only physically but mentally too.

After what seemed an eternity, we reached the top of the pass at 3800metres and saw the valley stretching out before us.  Another rider had told us about a road shortcutting the main road to Quilitoa so we were ecstatic to find a signposted gravel road.  After about 50metres on the road we checked with some locals who indicated we should be on a narrow side road just a few meters from where we were.  We weren´t sure who to believe but after our last nights experience we thought we had better trust the locals.  Lets just say we spent quite a lot of time weaving our way across the countryside in the general direction of Quilitoa. Our patience was wearing thin so luckily we eventually hit a sealed road that was clearly sign posted 7km to Quilitoa. 

 Unfortunately those 7km were straight up... and it took all of our will to haul our bikes and bodies up to the town.
We paid our $2 entrance fee and checked into the first hotel we saw.  We managed to negotiate $30 for the room inc breakfast and dinner per night... instead of the $50 she initially asked for.  The room was amazing, with 2 big double beds with big white feather pillows and duvet´s and its own fireplace! ....oh yes... and hot water (we were back at altitude)
We promptly lit the fire and went up the hill to check out the crater lake, just before dark.

We enjoyed not having to cook ourselves and chatted to some fellow travellers.  We were thankful to have no altitude symptoms as many others were suffering.  We guess the last 3 months at altitude had finally paid off!

The next morning we set off to walk the Quilitoa Crater Rim Walk.  It was a beautiful clear morning and we had the lake to ourselves

Stunning views and very friendly locals along the way!

It was beautifully peaceful

Looking down to the valley where we were planning on cycling the next day.

At the highest point of the walk - 3900m
We met a friendly Brazillian guy who had never ever met a Kiwi.  He shared his mandarins with us and we shared our chocolate bar.

not scared at all!

not scared either!!!

The wildlife love us! 

In true Emma and Debbie fashion, we were not satisfied with the crater rim loop walk and decided to head off the main track and down a steep side track that wound its way to the lake 300m below.  We then sidled along the lake shore to join the main track back up to the village.

The locals believe the lake has no bottom... but geologists estimate it is 250metres deep!

Locals heading up the main track after what looked like a village picnic.  It was amazing to see the ladies walking in their traditional dress which includes high heeled shoes! 

The walk took us 4hours 45mins and just as we arrived back in town, the fog and drizzle rolled in.
We went and bought some local Tigua art to remind us of this trip and headed back to our room to light the fire and relax.  We were amazed at how tired and sore our quads were after 2 days of climbing from the coast.  We were pleased to have had a light day.

The next morning we celebrated Emma`s birthday.  Debbie made her a banana cake! yes, thats right.  A banana with candles! The table of 6 sung happy birthday in different accents and tunes... it was great.
We headed off on a brand new tarseal road that dropped steeply to the town on Chugchilan. It felt good to be back on the bikes, and even better to be heading downhill. We are not sure if we have told you before, but the hills in Ecuador are a lot steeper than Peru. Once again we set ourselves a challenging goal of reaching Latacunga that day.  Although the first third of the day was downhill, the middle third was all up!  We began to doubt the sanity of setting such a goal. We had a bit of everything today. Tarseal, gravel, cobblestones, sun, rain, wind... but there was no traffic and the scenery was stunning.
The day was pretty much head down, bum up but we did stop for an icecream and a sticky bun. We finally hit the highpoint and rolled down the last 40kms through Saquisili onto the busy panamerican highway and into the colonial town of Latacunga. It had been a big day and we were happy to find a nice hotel and not to be camping on the side of the road.
We found a nice italian restaurant and enjoyed a nice birthday dinner of pizza and red wine as well as a fresh crunchy lettuce salad. Something we haven´t had in a long time.

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