The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through
A Book by Bob
"Something is only a problem if you THINK you cannot solve it."
Chapter Twenty Two
Ecuador: The Final Frontier
From Talara to the boarder the road remains relatively flat, paved except for
numerous washouts, where the road follows the washout and becomes sand and
rock. Since leaving the Canyon Del Pato just east of Trujillo, about 300
miles ago, the cycling has been largely uninteresting, except for the
unbelievable erosion caused by El Nino. With still another 100 miles to
before the boarder, I'll knock out 40 or so today, then stop for the night
in Mancora, with the objective of reaching the frontier tomorrow night.
Feeling very lethargic and run down, running solely on the adrenaline
of fixing my tire and making the western most point, I checked into a hotel,
then popped out for some dinner. While in the restaurant I sat with a local
man who for some reason was showing me his hands, and some of the scars he
had and how he got them, and what a tough life it can be here. I took a
keen interest, having studied a little about palm reading, and proceeded to
tell him little things about the different lines in his hand and what they
meant and a very basically how to interpret what it meant when two lines
crossed. Much to my surprise, he confirmed that most of what I told him
had been correct, and he bought me a coke in appreciation, so I paid his
dinner tab, and reassured him I'm not an expert, and should not be paid for
idle conversation. Just as I was about to get up and head back to the hotel,
two people came out from the kitchen and asked for their palms to be read.
Much to my surprise they asked in English for they had been studying abroad
for two years. This was a humorous opportunity begging me to take advantage
of, so when they held out their hands, I poured a little ketchup into each
palm and spread it around. The two girls didn't understand at first, and
actually thought it part of the reading process. But when I explained the
play on words ( only works in the English language ) of RED and READ both
pronounced the same, they thought it was more funny then I did. After a
quick clean up, I apologized and gave them a quick reading then excused
myself, for I was in desperate need of some sleep.
I didn't think any more of the palm reading thing until I was walking my
bike out to the road the following morning to continue on, when about 25
people came running over to me, all with the same request! I said OK 10
bucks each, line up, first come, first serve! NO, that's not true. The fact
was its hot, I'm still tired, very tired actually, hepatitis is everything its
cracked up to be, I don't have the strength for crowds, and I just want to
make some progress down the road so I can go home. I tried to explain to everyone the best I could
in Spanish that I only read a few books on this, I was not an expert and
certainly not qualified to give readings, but this all fell on deaf ears.
It's amazing peoples desire to know the future and what they are willing to
believe. Not having the energy, but not wanting to be rude either, I
promised one comment to each person and no seconds. Surprisingly it went
rather quickly and everyone left with a smile on their face which in turn
left one on mine too.
After my morning ego boost I had the strength to cycle to Tumbes, the last
big town before the boarder. The road passed several beach communities,
as it intermittently paralleled the coast. Some places there was sand, other
areas, reeds and tall grass went right to the waters edge. The water was
finally warm, with waves 6 inches or less, and semi clean, but nothing
enticed me to jump in for a swim, although my illness may have played a
part in that decision. Also there were many small fishing dories, as this is
how many locals made their living, and of course all the restaurants had
plenty of fresh fish on the menu.
Reaching Tumbes was a personal milestone, seems like just last week I was
nervously roaming around this town carrying my bicycle in a box, trying to
find a bus to Lima. It feels different now, not just because I've been here
before but because I'm familiar with the culture, the atmosphere, the people.
I know where to eat and how much everything should cost, and I'm not nervous
or intimidated any more. It's my opinion that it takes at least a month to
adjust to a new culture, before you can start to appreciate its idiosyncrasies.
I feel sorry for people who travel to a foreign country for less than 30 days.
They will return home with a still biased view, for they have not had time
to abandon their preconceived notions or their strong desire to compare
things to home. Its unfortunate that we in America don't value foreign travel,
we know so little about the world. How many people have heard of the country
Djibouti? How many know its located on the west coast of the Red Sea? I
watched the film "Baraka" and I thought to myself, how little I know about
the world and the infinite number of different realities out there. To stop
travelling, to stop reading and to close my mind to them would be to limit
the wonder of life.
If any company is looking for good sales people they should recruit some
of the money changers in Peru. These guys don't understand the word no,
yet are polite, persistent, and have every reason in the book why you should
change with them. Even when caught in a scam they hold true, and steadfast
to their claim of honesty.
Tumbes is busy and bustling tiny little boarder community, with about 20
people asking you repeatedly to change money. In an effort to get rid of
them I tell them I'm from Turkey and only have Turkish lira, what's the going
rate? They looked at me strangely and gave me the rate for dollars. Finally
I gave in and bought some Ecuadorian Sucres. He gave me the quote which was
fair, then I handed him 20 dollars. The rate is 5000 sucres to the dollar,
but he only handed me, 90,000 sucres. I politely said you owe me 10,000 more.
He showed me his calculator, it read 90,000. I punched in 5000 times 20 and
sure enough, it read 90,000. I have no idea how they can possibly fix their
calculators to do that, but I figured it was worth two bucks just to see it.
Also it would be futile to argue with a calculator for even when I showed him
on my hands that 5 times 2 equals 10 he refused to admit an error.
I had to go back about a half mile to get my exit stamp at the customs post
which is just before the town, return to Tumbes, then cross a decapitated
one lane bridge. The 100 foot bridge was an interesting experience, Cars,
busses, trucks, chickens, goats, cows and motorcycles all crossing together,
each direction taking its turn. A police officer with a whistle and two flags,
one green one red, stood at either end, collectively orchestrating the
procedure. Wonder if animals traveling alone need a passport? Once in Ecuador
I was informed the customs house was 5 miles down the road even though I saw a
sign that said policia customs control here, I was told correctly. I got my
stamp and proceeded into the last country on my cycle trip.
Once again I stop and look over my shoulder at another legacy behind me. What
a great feeling to have seen. felt and experienced such a fascinating culture
Before this trip Peru was just another blob on the map, while now it, along
with the rest of South America, has become a part of me. Before I left home I
did a lot of reading about Peru, but when I got here it was still very foreign.
Now its a familiar place, a place I can relate to. Reading about a place is
fun an exciting but not the same as being there. It's akin to reading about
a kiss. Until you actually engage yourself, its a foreign concept.
In Peru I covered about 2500 miles including the jungle detour and I can
only say that if anyone is interested in some serious off road cycling
without having to leave the road, through unimaginable scenery, then look
no further than the Andes of Peru. Avoid the northern part and the entire
coastal region and travel during our summer June, July August. Its challenging
Shortly after entering Ecuador I noticed some interesting changes. People
shouted hello mister or hey you instead of Gringo! There was less begging
and a little more color to everything. And gradually over the first 20 miles,
the landscape became jungle like, with banana leave as far as the eye could
see. Ecuador is a potentially rich country, that produces a lot of oil, coffee
sugar, cocoa, rice, Potatoes, wheat, barley, oats, all kinds of fruit, and
also leads the world in banana production, but as I've discovered often times
the richest countries are the poorest. I never did understand the politics
of bananas. There are so many different kinds of bananas, many different
sizes offering a variety of tastes and flavors, but we only get one kind. why?
Also how come we never find the foot long or even longer, Papayas that are
so plentiful in tropical regions? Perhaps I should start my own import
I proceeded into the city of Machala, and got a hotel room with no windows,
no light, and a fan that rotated at 3 revolutions per minute, cooling the
room down to a comfy 90 degrees. Nothing I like better than a hot stuffy
room with no light. But it served its purpose, for I did some laundry, used
my stove for the last time, and got rid of all excess food. I also did a
major trim down, got rid of my stove, pot, cup, silverware, fuel bottle,
a couple of books, and a tin of sardines I've been carrying since the
beginning of the trip just in case. It's so hot here, and so crowded with
towns and restaurants that are very close together, I won't bother with
cooking again, or anything else that becomes more of a burden when its hot.
Due to the lack of lighting, I also used up the rest of my candles to
illuminate my liquidation process.
Snow-cones are a great thing to eat when you're already suffering from
Hepatitis and you're in a high hepatitis and malaria area with a lot of
excess standing water due to the El Nino conditions. It's hard to resist
a 20 cent snow-cone which is piled extra high with lots of tasty syrup
poured over it. Really brilliant idea but since I was already in a
delirious state, I wasn't exactly being very cautious. What's a little
life-endangering, sanitary condition issue when you're already half-baked?
In the morning, I came out of the hotel to have some fresh juice from the
woman I had bought juice from the night before. It seemed as though she
was working around the clock. The juices were unbelievably good.
You name a fruit or vegetable and they'll make a fresh juice for you
for somewhere between 20+40 cents a glass, depending on the size. You could
also have the fresh fruits blended together with fresh cream and sugar
for the same price. Perhaps I should have ordered up more of their Aloe
Vera juice to try to help myself get better instead of indulging in the
snow-cones. She had a huge Aloe Vera plant growing next to the counter
and she would just break a branch off and toss it into the juicer with
whatever you wanted.
The entire low lands of Ecuador are poor, with badly constructed and never
maintained shacks built on stilts, just in case of flooding, and the roads
are in a permanent state of washout. The road north from Machala equaled
those of Peru, which were the hands-down winner for being the worst roads
I experienced in all of South America. There were potholes 10 feet in
diameter and at least a foot deep. For a paved road, it was amazing that
about 85% of the pavement was torn up, missing or just generally bad.
The worst part of this road wasn't the physical condition, but the fact
that it was jam-packed with cars and buses spewing evil toxic fumes into
my face. On top of the pollution, in their over-anxious attempts to get
to their destinations, they were gyrating all over the place, weaving left
and right, swerving across the road without warning to avoid potholes.
This was particularly hazardous for us poor cyclists buried in the clouds
of dust and smoke, barely visible. I felt like one of those ducks in the
target shooting galleries just waiting to be picked off by one of the
marksmen. Other than that, the two days along this road were absolutely
therapeutic for anyone suffering from hepatitis.
When I got to the fork in the road that lead, left down to Guayaquil and
right up into the Andes, I pondered the decision until the answer came to me
in a red Mercedes. It was a guy from Colombia traveling alone. He owned a
circus that was currently performing down in Guayaquil and he invited me to be
his guest for a performance and gave me directions to where it was. Besides
that, Guayaquil is in a high malaria zone and it gave me another chance
to catch some rare, exciting tropical disease to complete my collection.
I cycled the 10 miles into Guayaquil and found the circus in the huge
parking lot of the fairgrounds. As soon as I arrived, my Colombian friend
spotted me and came running over with exuberant enthusiasm. We put my bike
in one of the trailers and he brought me around to meet his family and all
the circus performers. I was really disappointed that I didn't have the
energy to socialize with them for they were really entertaining and
playful. They settled down to watch a video of the performances to see
how they can improve the show. It would have been fascinating to watch them
work but I was too exhausted to join them. Since it was too hot in the trailer,
I laid my tarp and sleeping bag out on the ground and passed out.
I left my gear with them the next day and cycled out to explore the city
which is about the same size as Quito, if not a little bigger. I made
it down to the river walk and it reminded me of New Orleans with all the
palm trees and the sultry heat hanging in the air. The river was nearly
cresting its banks, full of logs, branches and debris left over from the
El Nino floods. The river flows southward between the coastal mountains
and the Andes mountain range about a mile wide at this point. You can imagine
how much has been washed down into this river from all the flooding.
The most interesting thing for me in the city was the artwork on the
buildings. There were several buildings around the downtown core that
had 3-dimensional abstract sculptures that rose out from the walls. It
makes a big difference when cities encourage and support urban artworks.
The other great thing about the big cities is that you have an opportunity
to enjoy some variety of cuisine and I found myself salivating over a
delicious Chinese meal at a restaurant owned by an oriental couple.
Luckily, the illness hasn't dampened my appetite, yet.
I made it back to the circus in time for the 8:00 performance. I had
a front row seat to watch all the lions and tigers and bears, oh my.
They also had trapeze artists and jugglers and other acrobats. The
ultimate thrill came when they dragged me out into the center of the
ring and strapped me to a board to be their victim for the knife throwing
act. It was with some trepidation that I put my trust in these performers.
I could just imagine traveling almost 7000 miles by bike through South
America only to have a knife slip and wipe me out in front of the crowd
of spectators. Fortunately, his aim was true and the knives landed about
a half-inch from my body - one on each side of my head, one under each
arm, and one between and on either side of my legs. Like a visit to
the dentist, they treated me to a free cotton candy for my bravery for
not crying with fear during the performance.
In the true South American spirit, everyone was eager to stay up that
night socializing and laughing and having fun. I on the other hand was
only able to make it to my nest and pass out again for I had used up
my 12 hours of energy for the day. The pattern seems to be that I can
manage to run at half-speed with adrenaline for about 12 hours as long
as I can get 12 hours of sleep to recharge. My friend's children had
fallen in love with my Minnie Mouse and after preserving my mascot for
the entire trip, it was time to hand it over to some worthy keepers
since I was into the home stretch. I unstrapped Minnie and handed it
over the 4-year old girl who exploded with a joy beyond any that I have
I was happy to leave Minnie in such loving hands as I turned my bike
towards the Andes and made it over the rotten roads as far as Naranjito, in
one day. The day was miserable, and the town had nothing to offer
other than a place to lay my head for the night. The miserable road
conditions continued for the next day up until I reached Bucay. Bucay
is the end of the jungle conditions, the end of fried plankton and the
end of the agricultural delicacies of the lowlands. From this point
on, I'm back in the Andes atmosphere as the road climbs very steeply
and the scenery changes from Jungle to short scrubby tundra conditions
over the next 60 miles. It was easy to find restaurants, water and good
places to camp along this stretch of road. Because its dark by 6pm I prefer
to set up camp around 5:00 PM, get to bed early, score my 12 hours of sleep
still be up with the sun and on the road again. The nights were just below
freezing, however I was so exhausted I was able to sleep without any problems.
It took about 3 days to make it into Riobamba.