It was time to hit the road after two days break at Cuenca. Some dirt roads were ahead and I neither knew how long nor the conditions of the road; compact dirt or gravel. The first section was a three day ride from Cuenca to Loja totally paved. On each of those three days, there was at least one 3000 metres pass and the first day was in fact 3500 metres. But because of the late start I had to stop around 70 Km’s in a village called La Paz at 3200 metres. There was a problem. This village had no hotels. I was reluctant to camp next to the police station because it was freezing cold. It was time to make a deal with the local school; a presentation for some of their students in exchange for a night’s sleep in one of the classrooms. The director agreed. This school was one of the poorest I have visited so far. However, the hot shower facility at the school was a surprise and a big bonus indeed. I was able to wash my sweat off before presenting myself in front of the students.
The first thing on the second day was an excellent downhill ride for about 20 Km’s, down to about 1850 metres followed by a climb back up to 3000 metres followed by another downhill to 2200 metres and yet another climb back up to Saraguro at 2500 metres – Andes in Ecuador at its finest I guess. From Saraguro it was another 75 Km’s to Loja a big town where I took a day off to recover. Two out of the last three days it rained and especially the whole 6 hours ride to Loja. It was one of the worst days in my trip so far.
The next section was Loja to Ecuador-Peru border. The first day out of Loja was yet again wet and cold. I had enough of it ; I stopped about 20 Km’s before the planned destination. Everything happens for a reason. The town Vilcabamba where I stopped was a gem, a spectacular location in the middle of the Andes. English seemed the main language and the quality of life seemed to have been dragged up by those who have settled here from the USA. I certainly enjoyed the coffee and good quality food here; way better than what I was used to at other places of the same sizes in Ecuador.
I had a late start on the next day since the coffee shop opened only at 1030 am on Sundays. It was worth waiting. The first climb of the day went fine and after about 2 Km’s into the second climb a pick-up truck reversed to say hello and I recognised the face. It was Matheu (from UK) and Stacey (from USA) whom I knew from the ferry ride between Panama and Colombia (they were traveling in a camper van from Oregon to Ecuador) about 4 months ago. They lived in Vilcabamba and were returning from a day trip to Palanda, a nearby town. I was reluctantly happy (!) to hear from them that the road ahead was not ridable on a road bike in some sections and I couldn’t resist getting back to Vilcabamba in their pick-up truck. Perhaps metaphysics was at work behind this chance meeting. Whatever the reason, it was great meeting up with them again. I enjoyed my stay at their house which seemed almost in the middle of a jungle; the home made chocolate was delicious, thanks to Stacey.
I decided to take a bus for the next 120 Km’s since the first half had unrideable sections and the second half of this section was dirt road which the rain made it worse. My sleek road bike tyres would cut through the wet mud like a knife through cheese. Right after the Ecuador-Peru border at La Balza, the roads were paved, well done Peru. I decided to take this border mainly because the other two border crossings led to roads in Peru that were notorious for thieves and criminals waiting for cyclists. Crossing the border along the mountains was the safest option.
The first day in Peru saw me riding from Namballe to San Ignacio, a 42 Km’s ride with a climb up to 1500 metres. There were several landslides which although cleared had left some thick slippery mud on the road. My worn out tyres had no grip and I capitulated at one point that too in front of a group of teenagers whom just laughed and stood there watching me hurting. However, my faith in humanity was restored quickly. Just around the corner I asked an old lady for some water. She showed the tap and emptied a bucket for me to use. She returned to her house and came back with two bananas. I accepted only one of them graciously since her house looked very poor and probably does not have much for herself. The second day in Peru was a great ride, a 110 Km’s ride mostly on some flat roads to the city called Jaen. I have been looking forward for this for some time since my route in Ecuador had almost no flat roads and it’s been almost 6 weeks since Cali in Colombia that I had any flat roads at all.
Some route details: The road from Loja to Palanda was paved. However between Yangana and Palanada, because of rain, there were several landslides and some sections of road were washed out. After about 20 Km’s from Palanda the dirt road begins which continues all the way to the border at La Balza.
Cuenca (533 Km’s): La Paz (71) – Saraguro (67) – Loja (75) – Vilcabamba (42) – La Balza (120 Km’s in a bus; Ecuador-Peru border) – Namballe (6) – San Ignacio (42) – Jean (110)