It turns out we were only about 200 ft (60 m) from the peak when we set up camp in the dark last night. The projected GPS elevation profile has been consistently wrong, so there was no way of knowing we were so close to a descent.
Unlike last night we were not fogged in and we had a great view of the valley, mountains and road ahead. Since entering South America, we have encountered some impressive civil engineering road projects and this route through the Andes Mountains was no exception. Unfortunately, in this part of Ecuador, it seems the focus on carving out a road took priority over any type of rock and soil stabilization. There was evidence of landslides at multiple points along our route.
More than once the road narrowed a single lane due to landslides, even where the road had been previously paved. The day felt like an obstacle course where we avoided heavy machinery and dump trucks working on the road, used footbridges to cross places where deep water made crossing it a bit dodgy, and avoided rocks used as lane closure barricades.
Despite the impediments to progress, we were treated to sweeping panoramas.
Some of the communities and towns we pass through are isolated. We wonder about the effects the road will have on the towns, both positive and negative. The impact that roads have reminded me of a book I read that my friend, Joe P., recommended to me a few years ago, The Last Cowboys at the End of the World: The Story of the Gauchos of Patagonia.
We pushed our bikes several times again today when the steep grade made it impossible to stay on the bikes. People we meet along the way often ask us how fast go and how much distance we cover in a day.
I can answer with some certainty that I move uphill as fast as a fat kid pushing an empty wheelbarrow.
I know this because today, during one uphill climb, we passed a boy pushing a wheelbarrow. He increased his pace to a trot to keep up with me so I began talking to him. He asked the standard questions: where are you from, where are you going, etc. I inquired about his family, what grade he was in, etc. He told us about the town up ahead, where we could get water and food.
I stopped to take a break and to wait for Sarah to catch up. He pushed the handles of his wheelbarrow to the ground and sat in it, with the front wheel creaking as it spun in the air.
Upon arriving and meeting our new speedometer, Sarah offered him some galletas (cookies) which he eagerly accepted. This is one change in attitude we’ve noticed since being south of the border. No child refuses food of any type. Sometimes children may be shy but “stranger danger” seems nonexistent.
We stopped at the town school “Louis Pasteur” to fill up with water for the night before looking for a place to camp. The principal indicated that they get many cyclists stopping at the school, a handful over the past month. We inquired about camping and he indicated that the courtyard was ours for the night. School was out for summer so we would not be interfering with classes in the morning. The schoolyard had sweeping views of the valley below and it was easy to see why the town was named Bellavista.
It was not long before our tent attracted the attention of a handful of local children who took turns inspecting our gear and bikes. We entertained questions and told stories of our trip while Sarah cooked a dinner of spaghetti and vegetables, somewhat of a novelty compared to the typical local dishes based on rice, a starch (potato or yucca) and some type of meat or fish. When offered some of our dinner, all of the children tried it and the majority said they liked it.
Typical of children everywhere, one boy said he did not like the vegetables.
camped in the school yard camped in the school yard
camped in the school yard
camped in the school yard