Many rivers to cross
Date: 24th July – 29th July 2012
Where: Cuenca – Loja – Vilcabamba – River valley camp – Valladolid – Village camp – Zumba – Namballe
Distance: 4120 to 4252 miles
A short bus trip later through similar scenary to that which we’ed experienced for the past week took us to the City of Loja. The early arrival gave us time to sort a few niggling issues with bikes and use the excellent Ecuadorean post office to send another box home. A final day of tarmac took us to Vilcabamba where the life expectancy is purportedly 110. Coincidentally this was the number of days we figured the next 150miles would take us. Recent cyclist stories spoke of roads washed away by rain, chains breaking due to too much muddy hilly resistance, and much much bike pushing. The reality was similar, but also the most enjoyable week of the trip so far.
The road started with a short sharp muddy section when we both quickly acquired mud-sticks to clear out our mudguards of the clingy pebbly mud every few hundred metres. Pretty ironic! Afterwards a good concrete surface took us higher then lower, then higher…etc. At the foot of what we thought to be the one last big climb we found a perfect camp-spot by a river. Whilst the cooks (Sarah and Dave) cooked up another delicious quinoa-based dinner, Geoff sawed his broom handle into a bike-stand (We had both been amazed to see that a simple stick can hold up an entire loaded bike when we met Beat and Jacinthe on the road near Alausi). The next morning the four of us and half a broomstick headed up the hill till at last we approached the col. At this point the ever-present wind magnified and whooshed into our faces. In a matter of moments we were strung out: either turned around and blown downhill (Geoff), pushing blindly uphill (Marnee), blown off our bike (Sarah) or somehow overcoming the wind and making it to the other side (Dave). The concrete disappeared and a slow descent through rainforest ensued, with mud increasingly camouflaging our bikes. Finally we trundled into Valladolid to a nice cold beer and two ice creams each (Topsy Cono Flamas – our favourite). Here we washed our bikes staying at a basic residencial.
There was to be no more tarmac, only hills. Over the next few days we went up and down between river valleys, often fording rivers with varying degrees of dryness. To begin with Dave kindly went through with all the bikes, while we boulder-hopped. Eventually we tried our hand at it, invariably ending up with soaking wet feet. The mud was ever-present and was the main cause for pushing with there sometimes being so much mud that the wheels would no longer turn. One particular hill was outstandingly steep although Dave and Geoff managed to ride the vast majority of it till tiredness took over.
Reaching Zumba felt like a big achievement, only one more day’s cycle to get to Peru!
The next day we were at last certain that the hills in the distance were Peru. It looked the same as Ecuador (soon to be proved wrong!). Just as we could see the town of Namballe in Peru in the distance a short steep hill tested our legs to the max before an incredibly steep, rocky, and long downhill took us to the river at La Balsa: the border! We had heard this was a relaxed border crossing and it seemed to be going fine as the Ecuadorean security guard stamped our passports. We changed money and ducked under the bamboo barrier and crossed into Peru. Country number 11 J. The level of relaxation on the other side was a little too much though…it was a national holiday and all the plain-clothed border officials were sat drinking beer. Once they’d finished their beverage they slowly stamped us in and we were free to leave for Namballe.
Our first impressions of Peru haven’t been good: much poorer, noisier, dirtier and with extremely long and winding, but more shallow, gradients. Still, as they say, it can only get better, and with the amount of coffee drying by the side of the road at least we should be able to get a decent cuppa.