After Quito we had the choice to make- to take the coast, the mountains or the amazon rain forest. We chose the amazon, I am so glad we did, it was a truly special part of this trip, something completely different to anything else so far. Taking a road that has only been tarmaced for the past few years there is still barely and traffic, each night we stayed with beautifully kind and gentle people. I ate plantain cooked in so many different ways, and we got chased by more dogs on this road than on any other point in this whole journey, but still I loved it, and I can not believe the adventures this trip continues to provide.
Here are the pictures that belong with this post.
19th March – Banos to Veracruz
Baños means baths in Spanish, the town became a popular tourist destination due to it’s thermal springs, and being surrounded by a valley. I didn’t spend much time there on account of going back to try to climb Cotopaxi, but the thermal baths were a treat. The thing I do enjoy about these tourist places is being able to eat foods like pizza and falafel for a few days. We’d been couch surfing with some nice local boys, staying in the house were a bunch of Argentinian backpackers and a Russian girl, so it was a truly international affair.
The route that day was mainly down hill but still pretty rolling all the way to Puyo, dotted with tunnels and waterfalls and heading into the rain forest it was a beautiful ride, our progress was delayed pretty heavily due it raining most of the day, we made it past the town of Puyo but couldn’t make it much further due to another down pour. We found a place to sleep at the church in the village of Veracruz. We were obviously grateful for a bed for the night but this was one of the filthiest places I have stayed, there were dead insects all over the floor in the bedroom, the bathroom disgusting, and I had to leave the mattress in the night to sleep on the floor due to constant itching. The priest’s sister also lived there but she seemed to be more bothered about watching television than anything else.
20th March Veracruz to San Juan Bosco
This day it really felt as though we were heading into the amazon, the forest became more dense and we crossed so many roaring rivers, it was also it was pretty humid and hot, and the first day for a long time we were able to ride without rain. This part of the country is noticeably poorer than the rest of the country, there doesnt seem like much work at all. It was strange, we just were not used to the heat any more. Villages are more few and far between on this route, and only the bigger towns are marked on the map, so it means asking locals about what lies ahead when planning food stops and places to sleep. That day we had so much fun, we took so many pictures, just thrilled with our change in landscape, we were so happy. Every day we ask for the same plate of food, being Vegetarian means the choice is usually rice, eggs, plaintain and maybe lentils or beans if you are lucky. When this arrived we were truly happy and delighted, it was a real treat, it was also so much that we took it away for dinner too.
That evening we decided to call it a day when we arrived at a tiny village, just as it started to rain, we headed off down some dirt track trying to find a school building or church when some locals beckoned us over. They said we could stay with them for the night. They lived in wooden cabins on stilts with little gutters they had dug to keep the rain away from there home. In these wooden houses it seem that people live in one of the cabins and have their kitchen in another cabin, people say it’s safer not to live in the same place as the gas stove, especially with children around. We went to bed really early on account of our filthy sleepless night the night before
21st March – San Juan Bosco to Sucua
The following morning we were sat around chatting to the family, they are Shuar people, an indigenous group from this part of Ecuador, and speak their own language. The father was telling us about some of their own traditions when he got out his headdress (corona, or crown) which was made out of toucan tail feathers, he told us he was a shaman, and could help heal all sorts of physical and psychological problems, and regularly performed ceremonies with ayuwaska, the hallucinogenic cleansing ‘remedy’ which is pretty popular in these parts. The mother gave us some of the artisan jewellery that she had been making before we said goodbye. What special and lovely people.
That day was mostly down hill to Macas for lunch, before it poured it down again, we then headed up hill and then flat for 20km before arriving in the town of Sucua and checking into our favourite accommodation, the firestation (bomberos). We had hot showers, wifi and set up camp in the meeting room. They offered us the bunk beds but we preferred to have our own space. That day was marked with the news that our family cat of 19 years, Teddy had died. I had said goodbye to the old girl before going away but her passing was still really sad news. A family pet is a link to home and childhood and their passing is a reminder that things will always be different when I get back. RIP Teddy girl.
22nd March – Sucua to Metsakim
Into the wild even more, a day marked with stopping to buy fruits I cant even remember the name of, and again more late afternoon rain. We stopped that night in the tiny village of Metsakim, stopping at the first house we saw to ask if there was an public building we could sleep in, we were given the wooden church house. The family we got chatting to was made up of the village teacher (the school consisted of 21 children aged between 5-12years old) and his wife who worked as a nurse in the nearest town. The village had an undercover and lit basket ball and football court, as most of these small villages seem to. They were such lovely people, Johanne played football with the whole family whilst I did bike repairs. The family fed us dried plantain and eggs, washed down with plantain juice, and we shared stories about our respective lives.
There are so many insects around that we mostly sleep in our tent when indoors, save being bitten in the night or have cockroaches crawl over us in our sleep. I think this night though we must have kept the tent door open at some point as Jo woke me in the night freaked out by the cockroaches crawling all over her. I stoically picked out 5 giant cockroaches from the tent before we could get to sleep again, oh the joy of nature! The mum explained to me that plantain in the amazon is as significant part of the diet for the people in this part of the country that corn is to the people who live in the mountains. She told me about her job going to give vaccinations to people who loved rurally, sometimes walking up hill all day to reach these villages. I told her about my job as a community children’s occupational therapist, travelling to homes and schools in Hackney, quite different community working.
Whilst cycling this route the road is dotted with signs which say things like ‘water is life, do not contaminate the rivers’ ‘the forests are the lungs of the world, look after it’ ‘wildlife is not food, do not hunt’. There is no litter on the roads and I didnt see anything that made me sad about the future of the planet, people and the government seem to be trying their best to live and maintain the rain forest. I have been told by many people though that there is a lot of petrol and other fossil fuels within the amazon, and as politically Ecuador moves away from the USA, it moves towards China who are keen to exploit these natural resources.
23rd March – Metsakim to Limon
More plantain for breakfast, and more artisan jewellery as presents, these people are so kind and generous, and it’s always sad to say goodbye. The kids were so polite and they all seem to do a lot to help their parents out around the home, so different from our own lives, I didnt even unload the dish washer until I was 16, what shame! That day I had zero motivation and we gave up in the town of Limon. This was one of the first times in south America that we paid for a room whilst en route. I just had such a strong desire to lie on a BED and watch some TV and just not have to talk to anyone, so for $5 each we did just that.
24th March – Limon to Sharup
Energised after our restful night we headed off into the wild again, some pretty tough hills made us glad we had stopped at Limon the night before. That evening we had no goal of a place to sleep, we continued up a tough hill in the late afternoon sun, with amazing mountain rainforest views. We asked outside some houses for a place to camp but just got rejected, so we decided to keep going as far as we could in the last dusk light. We made it to a tiny village. All the children playing football just stopped and turned to stare at us as we cycled into the village. We asked to speak to the leader of the village, knowing the protocol by now. It was Christian, a guy my age who made us feel incredibly welcome, he told us the village had welcomed a number of cyclists in the past, and they were happy to help. We slept in a spare room in the school building, with our tent up. The word for teacher in Spanish is Profesor, and everyone in the village just knew the teacher as Profe (when I asked what his name actually was no one could tell me). Late night chats with the Profe, he hold us too about how he worked as a shaman at weekends, performing traditional ceremonies.Seems everyone here is a shaman.
25th-26th March – Sharup
The following morning we packed up and wheeled our bikes out before we changed our minds. The whole school (23 children from 5-12 years) we crowded around us, and Christian had told us he could take us for walks in the rain forest if we stayed. We couldnt leave. Hiking in the rainforest was magical, every plant Christian seemed to know it’s medicinal benefit, and if it would be eaten. It was hot and boggy and of course it rained, we took shelter under a giant banana leaf before continuing. We made it up to his uncle and aunts home, they lived at the top of the hill in the depth of the forest. Here I was given the drink of Chicha, made with fermented yuka and served in a giant seed, and stored in a dried out butternut squash, totally surreal. My face was painted with the seed which which provides red paint, and we ate more plantain, wild forest lettuce and Christian’s aunt gifted me a pineapple, so sweet. The waterfalls were beautiful but it was the hike there that was just incredibly special. That night we slept in a clearing in the forest, with a fire and a bed made of giant leaves. The profe preformed one of his traditional shaman ceremonies for us, making me feel like I was so far away from any world that I knew. I always loved the BCC programme TRIBE with Bruce Parry, and now I was living it. I was attacked by biting ants that night, it was pretty painful but I thought it funny until I could see the concern of Christian and Profe.
It must be so hard for the teacher to differentiate the curriculum for all of these kids, either way they seemed to be provided with pretty good books, and the Ecuadorian Government provides free breakfast to all the school kids. The kids were amazing, they would just wait outside our room for hours until we came out to play with them. They just looked at us as if we were magic, I racked my brains to think of games we played at school and they wanted to learn. stuck in the mud, ladders, and what’s the time Mr. Wolf. They were having so much fun though… one night some hay was delivered to dry up the school field, it had become so boggy in the rain, instead the kids built it in to piles and had jumping contests over it. They made houses over it, and then suddenly one of them set this giant pile of fire, they were all daring each other to stand in the smoke as long as they could, and begged me to take their pictures standing close to the flames, then the boys started jumping over the fire! So far from our risk adverse indoor lives in the UK, the adults didnt seem to be bothered at all.
That evening they performed some of their traditional Shaur dancing for us. They were all so incredibly shy so the performance didn’t last long at all, but we were incredibly humbled to know this was the first time they had performed to anyone outside the village.
And this chance arrival in this tiny village with the population of 80 just sums up what is possible by riding a bike. This trip is more than I ever imagined, riding a bike opens you up to experiences that you could never imagine or recreate, never pay for, and most importantly never forget.
27th March Sharup to El Pangui
We left the village with incredibly heavy hearts, the kids asking us why we had to go and when we would be back, they left their school and chased us down the road. I will never forget their faces and will always wonder what will happen to their lives. There is not much work where they live, people eat food that is grown in their land, yuka, plantain and fruit, they drink water infused with plants they find in the rain forest, they all own chickens which provide them with essential protein. Many of the villagers leave for the cities to find work, some, like Christian return, and are keen to maintain their roots, their language, their medicinal shamanism practices and traditional dances. I hope that these people are able to maintain their own identity whilst having fruitful and happy lives. We climbed some hard hills before a huge down, arriving in the town of Gualaquiza, it was just a small town but it seemed so huge after our days in the village. The landscape had changed, it was more tropical and humid again, and flat for the first time in a long time. We arrived in the town of El Pangui, we asked at the church but the priest refused us. We later got hunted down by the priest’s secretary who told us that the reason we had been refused was that the preist was worried people would gossip if he invited 2 women to stay in the church with him. The secretary said we could come and stay in her home, down some unpaved road on the outskirts of town. Two of the children gave up their beds for us and we were cooked a giant plate of rice, potatoes and eggs, there is no way we will ever starve, people are always ready to feed us.
28th March – El Pangui to Zamora
Another giant plate of rice, pototoes, eggs and bread before hitting the road. Big hugs goodbye and being told we would always be welcome to return, my heart never stops being warmed by all of these good deeds and well wishes. I am going to have to be such a good person forever to pay pack all this kindness. I got pretty burnt that say, it was so sweaty my suncream just melted off me, it was so humid, but a mainly flat route meant that we made it to Zamora really early. We got refused with the bomberos due to lack of space and were waiting outside the church for an answer when a woman came over to chat to us. She was a primany school teacher, about my mums age, she said we could come and stay with her if we wanted. Lucie was a beautifully sweet and kind person. She gave us amazing food and a bed for the night. She said her life was just filled with the same thing each day and the same faces, and she was excited to meet us, and wished that she could come with us.
29th Zamora to Loja
Lucie woke early to feed us toasted cheese sandwiches, eggs, and fruit salad, she got a bit teary as we said goodbye. We left by 7:30am that morning, as we had 40km of uphill ahead of us. A tough day which really made the knees ache. During these sorts of climbing days it’s just a case of putting your head down and getting on with it, and trying to get your brain to check out from how difficult it is. I call this ‘Lenny strength’ like the character Lenny from ‘of mice and men’ who was full of strength but had no brains. That feeling of getting to the top of such an ascent is amazing, the the 15km of down hill that followed was thrilling. We arrived in the town of Loja where we are staying with a couchsurfing host called Juan. We were pretty zombified so spent the evening watching a film and eating snacks, it feels so good when you’ve really earned it.
30th March to 1st April Loja
Loja is 200km from the Peruvian border, and the last real town of any significance. We have spent the last few days here updating our blogs (trying unsuccessfully to upload pictures as we do not seem to be able to find any fast internet, so bear with), doing some work on our bikes, and well just doing what we tend to do in towns on our days off…. wander around, eat lots of baked good and sleep. I can’t believe Peru is nearly insight, for me it signifies getting really ‘into’ south America, and is going to be so different from anything else. Ecuador has been a delight. It had a lot to live up to, following on from my beloved Colombia but we were met with such warmth, kindness and such different and beautiful landscapes, I feel truly lucky for the experiences I have had here. Thank you Ecuador.
- Cotopaxi – riding and climbing
- Handle bars