The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through
A Book by Bob
"In my life I have learned more and expanded my awareness more during
times of illness
than at any other time."
Chapter Twenty Three
Malaria, Quito and The End Of The Road
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The daily grind continues, grinding out the miles as I climb the Andes for
for the last time. The roads are very steep, the steepest I've seen in south
America so far, and also are among the busiest. This is understandable for
Ecuador has the highest population density on the continent. On the plus
side of things, most of the roads in Ecuador within the Andes are paved, which
cannot be said of the lowlands on either side of the mountains. The Andes
are very narrow in Ecuador on average less than a 100 miles wide, and
surprisingly most of the wealth of the country lies in the mountains, which
I suppose explains the paved roads.
I really don't mind cycling up hill, it offers the best chance to see and
appreciate the scenery and the change in climate, vegetation and geography.
However during the second day of the climb, the clouds and fog and rain
moved in blocking out the scenery. This compounded with my strength, being
only slightly less than that of a gnat due to a mysterious rise in body
temperature. Just then a very slow moving truck came up behind me with a
convenient handle on the back end, obviously placed there just for me, so I
grabbed on to it and then stared into the passenger side rear view mirror
till I caught the eye of the driver. When our eyes met, I gave him the
thumbs up sign to let him know I was there, for safety reasons and to get
his permission. He gave a big ole smile and reciprocated the same sign. I
think the thumbs up signal is the internationally recognized indication of
approval or like, except in scuba diving when it means to surface. This is
an important notation to make just in case I ever happen to try this
I held on for about 20 minutes as the driver took the turns slowly in a
gratuitous attempt not to lose me, and frequently checking to see if I was OK.
Then I had to let go, my arms couldn't take it anymore. As I stopped to massage
my left arm, I couldn't believe what happened. The driver upon seeing I let
go, pulled the truck over and stopped. I quickly cycled up to the drivers
side window to thank him, when he said no, I wait for you! Normally I would
of not kept him or delayed him further, but by now I realize I'm not a well
camper, and certainly not wanting to insult him by refusing his generosity,
I quickly went around to the other side where there was a foot rest and a
hand rail, secured myself so as to distribute the strain, then gave the thumbs
up sign again. After another 20 minutes or so, we crested the top of the hill,
then I instinctively let go. He passed me and started to speed up so I started
waving my arms frantically for him to stop, which he did. Than I quickly rode
up to the driver side door again and gave him my last chocolate bar, and I
told him how grateful I was for his kindness. It's amazing how sometimes
just when you desperately need a lift, god reaches down and hands it to you.
What a blessing this truck driver was, now I feel bad having spent the last
9 months cursing everyone of them as they pass spewing exhaust and dust in
From here I coasted down into the picturesque city of Riobamba and into a
hotel bed even though it was only one in the afternoon. For the next 36 hours
I enjoyed the violent chills and raging fevers that come with the mosquito
borne gift of malaria. I'm not quite sure what makes the body shake so much,
and why I feel so cold, despite being in layers of clothes and sweaters and
under half a ton of blankets, while my face feels like a red hot grill and
my body temperature is 7 degrees above normal. I think I burned up more
calories shaking in one day than I do from a whole day of cycling.
After 2 days that seemed to drag on for 2 months, I miraculously felt better,
decided to venture out to see the town. I walked up to the center then climbed
a nearby hill to an observation lookout point where the snow-covered volcano
and Ecuador's highest peak at 6310 meters ( 20,800 feet ) Mt. Chimborazo
stood tall and majestic over the rolling green countryside. Here I met 2 Swiss
guys who have been trying to climb this mountain for two weeks now, and
even though this is the end of August, the best and driest month for climbing
in this region, this year mother nature has not cooperated. They told me
their routine for climbing Andean peaks: first pack several days worth of
food and supplies and maps of which they already spent days studying and
planning the best route, hire a local to drive them to the base, where they
spend all day hiking to the refugio to wait for good weather. In Ecuador as a
rule, they start climbing at midnight, so as to reach the summit by 8 am. The
reason for this is they need to be back down to the refugio by noon, because
high winds, clouds, meaning no visibility, snow and dangerous conditions
almost always develop on the mountain top every afternoon. This pattern is
normal providing the weather is fair, during storms its that way all the time.
They told me for the past two weeks its been stormy almost continuously. He
estimated the wind to be over 200 miles per hour! And I thought Patagonia was
bad. The frustration came about because the 4 days they spent at the refugio
it was stormy the day they returned to town it was sunny, this happened 4
consecutive times. The determination of mountain climbers showed clearly as
they said they were going to try again tomorrow. Good on ya mates.
I still needed to rest much more, but with the altitude, this town was too
cold to be able to recuperate. First of all, there was no heat and secondly,
it wasn't possible for me to get out and get some fresh air. Feeling very
tired yet having enough energy cycle onward, I thought I should try to move
myself closer to Quito and find a town that was more therapeutic for me.
According to the map, it LOOKED like an easy half-day downhill run into the
town of Banos, but NOOOOOOOO, I should be so lucky. That would have been an
an easy break but nothing is that easy in the Andes. Not only was there a
strong wind blowing up from the Amazon (all wind blows uphill on the Andes)
but there were several climbs that seemed endless along this alleged
descent. This road must have been modeled after a rollercoaster with
3-400 foot hills and dips. I had the added pleasure of dodging around the
washouts along the way. If I hadn't been ill, I probably wouldn't have
even noticed the hills, but today it took me about twice as long as it
should have and it was near dark by the time I rolled into Banos. I
really loved the signs directing people into Banos. I passed a fork
in the road and about 100 yards later, I came upon a sign marked "BANOS"
with a huge arrow pointing downward. I stopped at the sign and looked
down where the arrow was pointing and saw a large ant hill. This couldn't
possibly be it. I looked the opposite direction, up the road but it
curved away from where the arrow was pointing. There was something
seriously not right about this so I stopped and pondered for a while.
Finally I decided that the downward sloping road that branched off in
the other direction back at the fork must be the only meaningful
interpretation so I backed up the 100 yards and headed down the other
branch from the fork. Luckily my keen sense of intuition had lead me
in the right direction this time because that sign was certainly no
Banos is North-east of Riobamba and is at least 1000 feet lower. It's
nestled in a big valley with steep vertical cliffs of lush greenery. It is
also known for it's therapeutic hot springs and waterfalls. The warmth
from the jungle rises up into the valley to warm the air which made it
significantly more comfortable for me than Riobamba. I arrived in town
around sunset and dragged my tail around hunting for a suitable sanitarium
to rest in. A few tourists had highly recommended a hotel that
had a great garden courtyard with a view of the mountains and waterfalls.
The second floor balcony overlooking the courtyard was well equipped with
hammocks for lounging in. This was the perfect place to rest and try to
will myself back to health.
I asked for a room on the first floor because I didn't have the strength
to carry my bike up the stairs or negotiate the stairs everyday while I'm
here. I wheeled my bike into the room and collapsed on the bed where I
stayed for the next 5 days. I became very ill, unable to sleep, fever, chills,
all the good stuff. For 3 days I had a bucket to pee into for I lacked the
energy to make the 10 foot walk to the toilet. I don't think I ever endured
5 days that were this uncomfortable, where each night I felt so bad that I
really wasn't sure if I was going to wake up. A feeling that led me to
understand and comprehend my own mortality.
For those of you who are interested in the biological details of Hepatitis,
it might be of worthwhile to venture into the graphic description of my
poor body. Apparently, it takes hepatitis about 2-6 weeks to manifest it's
symptoms and I didn't really know what I had at this point. However, I
suspect I had made it into Banos just in time because the first two days I
was there, I was shocked to find that my feces had become completely white.
We're not talking beige or some faded out brown color - this is WHITE as
in pure chalk. And it was solid, not runny much to my surprise given the
way I felt. I was also shocked to notice that after I had drank a coke,
the pee that came out afterward was the same color as the coke. This was a
very odd feeling not to mention worrisome as it continued to alternate from
the dark Coca-Cola brown through various shades of dark yellow. This
continued until well after I had returned to North America. I personally
didn't notice on myself, but I myself had turned a lovely shade of cheery
yellow once the jaundice had set in.
On the sixth day I had enough energy to venture out of my room and into the
kitchen and eat something more than bananas and bread but only for a couple
of hours each day. What a difference, up till now 12 hours of sleep would
give me enough energy to get through the day, now 12 hours of sleep gives me
just enough energy to go to the toilet, cook a bowl of plain rice or oatmeal,
clean the pot and return to bed. Its only now I've come to the realization
that my trip is just about over! I knew that I had to get myself home, but
I had to improve enough to get myself to Quito first. Each day I'd wake up
and try to evaluate whether I could make my escape, only to fall back down
onto the bed.
On the seventh day, rather than resting, I resolved myself to the reality
that I had to bring myself to the care of a physician. Going to a doctor
is absolutely the last thing that I want to do, but common sense reared its
ugly head, got me out of the bed and down the street to the nearest doctor.
Usually, an excursion to a doctor is one of the most aggravating experiences:
making the appointment, waiting in the waiting room and being a victim to
their policies and procedures. I was greatly relieved to walk in the door
and speak directly with the doctor without having to run the gauntlet of
a receptionist. He asked me questions and examined me for about 5 minutes,
took a blood and stool sample and told me to come back in an hour for
the results. One hour and $3.00 later, I walked out of his office with
a diagnosis of Hepatitis A, an intestinal parasite and (luckily) the
mildest form of Malaria, but otherwise I was OK. He also gave me a
prescription for the parasite which I hesitated to have filled until
I had a chance to get a little stronger and get a proper translation
on the medication. The only other thing I could do was rest and watch the
characters that flowed through the hotel.
Also staying at this hotel was Delila, a lecturer ( university professor )
from England , on a 3 week bicycle trip around Ecuador and traveling with a
violin. She just arrived last night, after cycling all the way from Quito
in one day! That's an impressive 100 miles over mountainous terrain. She
recommended taking a bus from Latacunga, about 50 miles south of Quito,
because the high volume of traffic and narrow roads make it dangerous as well
as unpleasant. Her company made for some great conversation as well as
evenings where the whole hotel was serenaded with pleasant violin music.
She also played some Irish jigs, and I thought what an interesting contrast.
She told me the difference between a violin and a fiddle, is the way its
played and the different emotion that its played with played. Just before
she left, she gave me a book that she just finished, to read while I was
recuperating. The book called " Psalm At Journeys End " is a
story about the lives of the musicians who played on the Titanic as it
went down. On the cover is a violin that has just sunk below the surface of
the water. I thought what an appropriate book, for I'm at my journeys end
with that sinking feeling in my stomach. I thanked her and told her how much
I was going to miss the evening concerts, and wished her a good cycling trip,
and told her to watch out for Alycea and John-Paul.
Also staying at the hotel was a guy from Peru who made flutes and spent each
afternoon constantly blowing the same note trying to get just the right sound.
He also blessed the hotel with our own private Zamfir concerts each night.
And then there was the galloping Gourmet, a guy from Venezuela who bounced
around the kitchen each evening demonstrating supreme culinary skills and
sharing the results of his talents with whoever was hungry. Boy did I regret
being ill the days he was there. I did sample a few things though, so as not
to hurt his feelings.
In addition to this cast of characters we had a women who spoke for an hour
each morning and an hour each evening in tongues. I don't know how she does
it, I asked her to show me, but I couldn't master the technique. She said
its a form of meditation and helps her to relax. I think most people would
agree that when it comes to relaxing, nothing works better than the old
fashion technique of having a beer, an orgasm and a cigarette.
Also the two climbers from Riobamba showed up, with the good news that they
finally made it up Mount Chimborazo after 4 trips up to base camp and 13 ,
nights in the refugio hut waiting on good weather. Just goes to show you can
achieve anything you want to if you stick with it long enough. You can never
fail at anything until you give up.
After 10 days of sleep and bland diets I thought I could continue on, so
I packed up one last time, paid my hotel bill,50,000 sucres wow! Ten days
in a hotel with my own room, a kitchen, a hammock in a jungle like courtyard
with a view of the mountains and waterfalls, and live music every night all for
$10.00. That's my kind of hotel bill. Ill be spoiled when I get back to the
states where hostels costs about 15 bucks a night. Hotels that cost more
than that don't exist in my world. If they did my trips would be a lot shorter.
I cycled out of the most memorable town on my journey and back into the Andes.
After about 3 hours I realized I've only been running on adrenaline created by
the desire to cycle into Quito, and that my energizers needed replacing.
This can only be done with about 3 months of continuos rest. This is not
unusual because after a long cycle trip, it takes me about 3 months to fully
get back to normal. I did manage to make it into the city of Ambato. It was
here I realized that cycling in this heavy traffic is no longer fun, Another
70 miles of cycling is not worth endangering my health for. So without
hesitation I rode into the bus station and caught the evening bus into Quito.
This was not easy for me for I swore I would never take another bus again, I
wanted to cycle all the way, but it was only a two hour ride and when I saw
how many trucks and busses and cars were on the road, I realized Delila was
right, and this was the right decision!
The bus got into Quito well after dark. I grabbed my bike, and started walking
towards the street. About 20 taxi drivers all wanted me to go with them, I
make room for bike no problem, but I politely assured them, having just cycled
from Ushuaia over the past nine months, I can surely pedal the last two
miles into the" old town " and find a hotel without too much difficulty.
Not understanding my point they insisted but I make you special price, no
problem. Knowing the futility in saying anything in English, I said in
English I admire your persistence but no gracias and rode away.
Not knowing the way or having a map of the city, I just kept asking people
to point towards the old part of town, which I knew was close. It took me
about 20 questions but I made it, checked into the cheapest hotel in the
book, (can't break from tradition, now can we) brought my bike into the room
and implored the lady at the desk to bring me a plate of plain rice. Seeing
the dark yellow where the whites of my eyes used to be, and the I'm about to
die look on my face, she was more than happy to, even offered me more, but
I assured her all I needed was about 14 hours of sleep, and I'll be fine.
After almost 15 consecutive hours of sleep I still felt very weak and tired,
thankfully my fever didn't return, but I knew it was time to go home. I
checked out of the hotel paying the women double the total bill for taking
the time to make me some rice. She said it was not necessary, but I insisted
that it was and left before she could argue further. The first stop was the
much awaited post office, ahhh mail at last. There were several letters,
but the one that interested me the most was from a long time friend who lived
in Ontario Canada. The letter was full of excitement, saying that she had
some vacation time and would like to meet me in Quito and travel around
Ecuador for a couple of weeks. Swell! Just when someone is ready to travel
with me, I have to go home.
So the first thing I do is go to an Entel building ( Entel is the only place
you can make long distance calls ), and try to get a hold of Jennifer to let
her know I'm not going to be here, and how sorry I am to disappoint her. I had
written her 2 months earlier saying come down to Ecuador for a couple of weeks
you'll love it! I never thought she would actually do it, and now that she
finally built up the courage to travel, I had to cancel. There was a huge
line up at Entel, 37 people to be exact. After half an hour wait someone
told me the line-up was for domestic calls, international were on the other
side, the side without a lineup. Jennifer agreed to a collect call only for me
to discover that I still had to pay 25 cents a minute in addition to $2.40
a minute on Jennifer's bill. Either way Entel doesn't lose out. Jennifer's
first reaction was get me up to Canada as soon as possible to get well,
but her second reaction was less altruistic since she was pretty ticked
off about missing out on the adventure. Not only was she really
psyched up, but she already had the HepA vaccine. She also had contacted
my friend Christian who I met in Los Andes Chile, and who lives with his
parents just north of the Airport in Quito. Jennifer said I should call
them as soon as possible for they are expecting me. WOW, and I thought I
was a stranger in strange town. So the next call I made was to Christian
who, being so happy I was in town, said, Ill meet you at the airport at 6 PM
and escort you to our house! I'm a happy camper with only one more major task
to accomplish, getting my air ticket changed.
I stopped in at a travel agency who told me I need to deal with the airline
directly and gave me their office address. Walking through the streets of
Quito I was reminded of how people in Peru and Ecuador drive with one hand
on the horn. These drivers believe that if they drive more than 60 seconds
without using the horn, the car won't work. They blow the horn for no
reason at all, like they are driving in a parade. One guy told me he would
drive with a flat tire, but would not leave home if the horn didn't work. Some
say its a habit, others say no one ever stops at intersections and they
want everyone to know they are coming. Either way the people of south
America are impervious to noise, and can't understand our need for peace
and quiet. I think the single biggest annoyance for me on this trip, well
largely in Peru and Ecuador, was the noise of continuos car horns, making
New York city during rush hour seem like the library.
Finally with a splitting headache and a zero tolerance level for obstacles,
I made it to the airline office where naturally the guard would not
let me bring my bike up. So I told him that I liked his tie, and that it
made him look professional, then proceeded to walk right past him, and quickly
pushed the elevator button. Just as he was about to grab my shoulder, while
continuously telling me I can't bring my bike in the building, the elevator
opened, I jumped in, looked at him with a big smile and thanked him for
his help, then I told him, don't worry, see it fits, no problem and quickly
pushed the 5th floor button. He didn't know what to do, this probably never
happened before, he just stared at me, and I waved and smiled as the door
Much to my surprise, the airline office was nice, clean, modern with computers,
printers and even a distilled water cooler. The staff was very friendly
but there was a small problem, no seats on this flight for 2 weeks! Needless
to say this is not what I wanted to hear. I gave her my help me or I'll vomit
on you look, and told her it was imperative that
I return home as soon as possible and that I was willing to fly into any city
USA, making as many stops as necessary, with as many layovers as necessary.
She played with the computer for 45 minutes before sending me through Panama,
Houston, Newark and into Toronto. But I would have to wait for 3 days. Also
remember when I first arrived they lost my luggage for 3 days and presented
the agent with the form and asked if they could waive the 75 dollar change
fee. She agreed and handed me my ticket home. That event signified the
importance of seeing the good in all situations. With a smile on my face and
renewed strength I cycled off to the airport to meet Christian. God is
certainly watching over me on this day!
I arrived at the airport and stood out front and thought, I DID IT ! 280 days
ago I stood here looking out into the night thinking where I was going to
sleep for the night, and how long before my bicycle gets here and wondering
if I'll make it to Ushuaia and back. Seems like its only been a few weeks.
I feel like I've grown and expanded my horizons more in the last nine
months, than through all 4 years at university. I traveled Brazil, Venezuela,
and Columbia on previous trips and between the two I feel like I know South
America like most people know their home town, well almost. I feel more
familiar with geography, climate, culture, history, the people and proved to
myself that most of the stereotypes of this great continent, like most stereo-
types and PREjudices, are simply are not true. Foreign travel is by no means
a waste of time or just a holiday, its perhaps one the best investments you
can make in yourself.
After waiting about 20 minutes Christians brother Lewis and his friend
arrived, on bikes of course, and together we rode to their house. On the
way we stopped at the farmacia to fill the prescription for my intestinal
parasite. The exact same drug will cost $ 80 dollars in the states while
its only 26,000 sucres or about 5 dollars here! Their house was on top of
hill which I was too tired to cycle up, so I walked my bike up apologizing
for my wimpiness. Naturally when we got there, his mom escorted me into
my own room/ hospital bed where I would lay for the next 3 days. Recognizing
how ill I was they took excellent care of me making sure I had enough to
eat and drink. These people were fantastic, and being all avid cyclists,
had a real interest in my trip. So we spent several hours each evening
sharing stories of past cycling adventures. Lewis even went out to a bicycle
shop and procured a box for me, the proceeded to disassemble and pack all
of my stuff in the one box for the flight home.
After 2 days of 20 hours of sleep each day, what a pathetic house guest
they must think I am, I thought I should get some air, so I asked Lewis and
his friend if they minded walking with me to the post office, so I could
post a letter, they were happy to. We walked for about a mile, making several
rest stops, each step I felt a little weaker, and when we got there the post
office was closed, swell! They said no problem we will post it for you later.
I just sat down on the curb, unable to go on. I knew my hepatitis has finally
caught up with me. We took a bus back to their house ( 10 cents a ride ) and
I slept till it was time for my flight.
The whole family got up at 4am to serve me breakfast and take me to the
airport. These folks were true friends, who understood the important things
in life, helping other people. They were strangers to me, I just happen to meet
their son for a few hours one evening in a foreign country. I found this
kind of hospitality throughout South America, A continent that deserves
a lot more positive exposure than its been getting. I hope that my trip
helps to expose the other side of south America, the side that's rarely
seen, the happy productive side, and that my story leaves a clearer picture
of the life and times in America, the other America! Several times I was
corrected on that, when I said I was from America, they reminded me that
this is America too.
I might criticize the states a lot, and some of my opinions might sound like
I've lost respect for the country and its odd choice of priorities, but that's
not true, I only want it to be an even better place. I just wish that my home
country, the United States of America care a little more about people and
a little less about profit. Good or bad, rich or poor it doesn't matter,
when the plane touched down in Houston, I thought to myself there's
no place like home!