DAY ONE HUNDRED AND FOUR
Lobitos to Cancas
Distance: 56 miles
Av speed: 10.6 mph
Moving time: 5 h 12
Trip time: 8 h 20
Bottoms feeling slightly better after yesterday’s much welcomed rest day we are just about ready to go again with refreshed minds excited for the prospect of finally conquering Peru!
Today was a really enjoyable day cycling along a deserted dirt coastal road that weaved its way up and down through sand dunes and endless donkey oil pumps. After a few hours the road became tougher and tougher to ride, we instead opted to ride along the beach. With the wind behind us and the sun shining we couldn’t have been happier to be riding on a smooth sandy beach, a far cry from the noisy fume filled roads that we had been up against for the past week.
After stopping for lunch in Mancora (weird again to see other ‘Gringos’) and being chatted up by two ladies we are fairly sure were prostitutes, we pushed on for a final few miles, finding a hostel in Cancas on the beach, much to the relief of Jim’s tummy!
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND FIVE
Cancas to Arenillas, ECUADOR!!!!
Distance: 80 miles
Av speed: 12.6 mph
Moving time: 6 h 11
Trip time: 8 hours
Today felt like a huge milestone, as we finally said adios to Peru after four weeks to the day since we crossed the border from Copacabana, Bolivia.
We arrived both expecting a huge challenge yet leave somewhat in shock at how hard the last few weeks have been. First, we took on the Andes, enjoying the challenge but at the same time struggling up huge mountain passes for hours on end, with the knowledge that we would have to go and do it all over again the next day. This was undoubtedly our biggest mental challenge thus far, although this is closely followed by the last week of 12 hours riding a day in the arid and hot landscape of northern Peru, which definitely wasn’t flat! Yet to have cycled the length of Peru in four weeks is a huge achievement that we are both extremely proud of and we are now hoping things will get a little bit easier from now on J.
Our last day in Peru started well as we were on the road early, at that time of day when the sun makes everything look perfect and before there were too many cars on the road. And for a change, the coast road that we had envisaged after Lima actually came into being. Rather than a road 2 miles in from the coast and through steep mountains, we hugged the coast all the way before turning off to Tumbres, the last city on our Peruvian leg of this journey. The road was smooth and flat, but we were both seriously struggling with the heat, that has got hotter and more humid each day we have drawn closer to the equator, with the lunch time temperature reaching 30 degrees in Tumbres.
We then followed the road to the border, just south of the frontier town of Aguas Verdes and before we knew it our surroundings had completely changed and we were in Ecuador. The Peruvian desert had vanished, being replaced by endless green and miles and miles of banana plantations. Although quite early to say, at least in the northern parts of Ecuador things might be a bit nicer, cleaner and more welcoming for two tired cyclists. Not that Perú wasn’t, but after long days in the saddle the relentless car horning and stray dog attacks did sometimes wear pretty thin. So far not one unnecessary horn nor has a dog even barked at us! Result.
Arriving in the town of Arenillas at 530 we weren’t able to do all our admin jobs in time before nightfall so opted for a gritty hotel, but after a day of cycling in 30 degree heat a freezing cold shower and a fan was a huge relief.
We are still struggling from the aftermath of our week long challenge as well, and so a bit of extra sleep is definitely crucial if we are to be up to the test of the next few days. We are hoping to start the climb the day after tomorrow back into the Andes from Babahoyo. This includes a 100km uphill climb from sea level right up to 4,300 metres, which will be our longest and probably hardest climb of the trip! So Peru was tough but it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier, although we wouldn’t change that for the world!
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SIX
Arenillas to Cocoa plantation south of Las Mercedes
Distance: 88.46 miles
Average speed: 13.7 mph
Moving time: 6 h 10
Door to door: 9 hours
As our last full day on the flat and the main road we were keen to get in as many miles as possible, so that we have more time to enjoy the mountains and volcanoes that will be incredible.
Since we are both still feeling the effects of last week so the start was a bit slow and we weren’t on the road until 930, but our fitness at this altitude really has astounded us and we were able to get nearly 90 miles in a pretty short time with slight headwinds.
Again, we loved just how green everything was, spending the whole day cycling through banana plantations as far as the eye can see. Parrots and birds of paradise were everywhere, and this was just on the main road, so we can’t wait to get off it and see more nature. Our only complaint of Ecuador thus far, (again not a horn or dog bark!!) would be the unbearable heat. From about 10 o’clock in the morning to now, (currently 8:15pm) we have not stopped dripping from toe 2 top. Fortunately, when we’re cycling there is enough breeze to make things a bit easier but as soon as we stop everything is drenched in sweat. Not sure how the Ecuadorians put up with it as we’re told it is like this ‘todo el ano’. (all year!)
With banana and cocoa plantations everywhere it was hard to find a camp spot but eventually we accepted our fate and our now sleeping in the middle of a cocoa plantation. Lots of bugs and mosquitoes and we are still sweating, very much looking forward to the mountains again although getting there is going to be tough. Listo !
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVEN
Las Mercedes to Roadside camp spot 15k south of Pallatanga
Distance: 66 miles
Av speed: 10.3 mph
Moving time: 6 h 7
Door to door: 10 h 52
It was a little daunting knowing we were today going to be leaving the flat coastal road and start our climb up to 4,400m above sea level. As we turned inland the heavens opened and at first we enjoyed the excuse for a free shower but as the rain became too much we pulled into a petrol station, slipped on our waterproof socks and ponchos. As soon as we got back on the road the rain stopped, typical.
Although we have read so much concerning the steepness of Ecuadorian roads, our welcome back into the Andes and the wall of tarmac facing us still came as a bit of a shock. In just 15kms the road rose sharply up to 1000m, although the lack of hairpin bends meant there was absolutely zero relief for the whole way up.
Shrouded in mist and clouds, drenched by tropical rain, battling some serious humidity and covered in exhaust fumes by slow lorries struggling nearly as much as us, it felt like a truly herculean battle with the Andes, as if she was saying come on guys you really didn’t think it would be over that easily!
It was a huge relief a few hours later to stumble across an abandoned road side shower, meaning we wouldn’t be going to bed as smelly as usual and with our spirits much higher after a bruising day.
Struggled to find a camp site as the climb was so steep but eventually ended up next to a quiet stream just off from the road.
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHT
Roadside camp spot to Laguna de Colta
Distance: 51 miles
Av speed: 6.4 mph
Moving time: 7 h 31
Door to door: 12 hours
Waking up we knew today was going to be one of the hardest days of the whole trip, cycling from 1000 metres all the way up to 3,800 metres in 40 miles of unceasing uphill.
Unsurprisingly, the Ecuadorian Andes really didn’t disappoint as our legs were on fire all day. Upon leaving the town of Pallatanga, the road became increasingly steeper, until we were virtually out of the saddle for the next 10kms until the road evened out a tiny bit. Exhausting work, especially knowing that we still had so far to go.
What perhaps made things even harder was that much of the day was spent with zero visibility as we broke through several layers of clouds. This meant we couldn’t see where the road was taking us and that no valley views or mountain peaks could distract us from our task.
After freezing cold rain and headwinds for the final 5kms we made it to the top as it was getting dark, both completely exhausted and desperate to get back in the tent. A 10 mile descent took us next to Laguna del Colta where we passed out exhausted. A tough day but this is what it’s all about and something to be very proud of when we look back on this trip.
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND NINE
Laguna de Colta to Ambato
Distance: 52 miles
Av speed: 8.9 mph
Moving time: 5 h 20
Door to door: 9 h 25
Waking up to the messages that Jim’s sister Sophie had gone into labour meant for a seriously exciting day!
As we hit the road the first thing we saw was the very disturbing site of bald guinea pigs being put on a skewer to be cooked for the locals breakfast, luckily we weren’t very hungry. Excited to hopefully see Chimborazo volcano, the peak being the furthest point from the centre of the earth, we headed off the main road onto the more scenic biking route. Sadly the weather was not on our side today so the only glimpse we got was a tiny bit of snow half way up the volcano. Although a little annoyed we took this route for no reason in the end it didn’t matter at all. Half way back down to the main road the text came through! Sophie and Tinks (Jim’s sister and brother in law) had a beautiful baby girl called Ottilie! What a very special moment! After few happy tears and a call home we made it to Ambato where we bought some celebratory ice cream and treated ourselves to a hostel! A very special day indeed!
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND TEN
Ambato to Laguna de Limpiopungo in Cotopaxi National Park
Distance: 57 miles
Av speed: 8.4 mph
Moving time: 6 h 26
Door to door: 10 Hours
Extremely grateful for our night in Hostel Pakari and 10 hours sleep we felt ready for a big day, looking forward to the climb up to Quilotoa. Our optimism was soon dashed however as the weather gods again were laughing at us with it pelting it down. So back on were the waterproof socks and ponchos before we tentatively ventured out into the miserable grey day.
Things soon went from bad to worse however as Jim, who has been struggling with a runny tummy for two weeks, didn’t quite have time to pull his shorts down before the unthinkable happened. As the rain continued to pour this was definitely one of the lower points of the trip although quite easy to laugh off once everything was sorted.
One pair of boxer shorts lighter we continued along the road that runs parallel to the Pan-American highway, cycling through small villages and fields of waving farmers. Again, luck was not on Jim’s side as a dog managed to sink its teeth into his leg. After months of being barked at and chased one finally got what it wanted, but fortunately it was nothing major and Jim lives to fight another day.
All was going well after this until, sat with a huge ice cream sundae and a coffee we realised that Cotopaxi National Park shut at 3pm, meaning we had 40 minutes to cycle 20kms, or we wouldn’t be able to get to the camp spot at the foot of the volcano.
Already tired and weary this took everything we had left in the tank, especially with the last 5km being a big climb up to the park entrance. Telling our legs to shut up we managed to reach the park for 20 past, dripping in sweat but rewarded as one man was still there to allow us entry.
Shattered we continued up the climb another 14km to 3,800m and the closest you can camp to the volcano although sadly we couldn’t see more than 10 metres in front of us. Praying the sun will finally come out tomorrow.