Highest highs and lowest lows

Katie sleeping off altitude sickness as we wait for a bus down to El Corazón at 1900 meters.

Katie sleeping off altitude sickness as we wait for a bus down to El Corazón at 1900 meters.

Over the past seventy-two hours, some combination of the three of us has been exploding from multiple vectors simultaneously. We’re attributing it to altitude sickness, hypothermia, beef intestine soup, or the soup that included a chicken head and both feet per bowl. For James though, we actually think it was the blackberries we bought yesterday morning at the market. Regardless the culprit, we’re resting another day and then making a beeline for the coast.

After yesterday’s market, we hitched in a ’99 Toyota pickup from El Corazón to Simiatug. Our original intent was for me and Alex to rest and recover another day, but we also owe our decision to thick pasty mud brought by the rain, narrow cliff cut roads, thick fog, and the imposing 1,000 meter rapid ascent. Simiatug, drenched in afternoon rain and with no public roof in sight, felt dreary and unwelcoming. We immediately hitched another 45 minutes uphill to Salinas de Guaranda, sharing the $12 pickup ride with three college students who live in Salinas. Arriving there we immediately felt “back in the book!” (that is, the town we’re in is listed in Lonely Planet). Sometimes we love tourism!

Before James fell ill (the worst in over ten years), we strolled the cobbled hillside streets, ate little fried breads with sugar from a street vendor and admired alpaca ponchos. I’d stopped to ask an older man sitting on a porch where he’d bought his, and his companion interjected that he had a shop up the way. Napoleon and his wife Gladice walked up with us to open the small locals’ shop normally closed on Sundays and shared with us the town’s history in salt mining. Hardly anyone speaks English, and it’s been a welcome relief that our Spanish has flooded back to us. We can’t begin to share all the ways just asking and chatting with the locals has enriched our trip.

In El Corazón we learned pure cane sugar is traditionally given to newly weds, which makes our gift from the schoolmaster in Las Pampas make so much more sense! This time we got away with small, managably-sized candies. Also in El Corazón, while eating a 10pm dinner in a small stall adjacent the weekly market, we met a woman who’d seen us cycling in the pouring rain at 4100 meters the day prior. She, her husband, and her children were driving to the weekly market and couldn’t believe what we were doing nor how it worked that one woman was riding sandwiched between two men. She said we looked freezing cold and miserable and said there are much better roads in Ecuador (like paved ones!). We’ve seemed crazy to a fair few people now for seeking out these routes and have already gone through two sets of brake pads in just 289 km.

A few notes on our first blog post… One, the spelling of psychedelic was as we found it on the marker board. Two, we neglected to mention the guinea pigs in Jutan-Loma were free ranging and completely nonplussed by their tabletop fate as long as we tossed them banana peels. Three, we were very excited to see tracks from other cyclists on the road to Isinlivi until we realized they were imprints from cow tethers being dragged behind cattle. Most importantly, we want to mention that we owe our well orchestrated departure from Quitó entirely to the help and endless generosity of the aunt and uncle of our good friend from the Dolphin Club. Life would be much more difficult and wildly less enchanting without such good friends.

Alex has six days left with us, and we’re hell bent on making sure he sees a blue footed boobie, preferably while laying in a hammock, drinking from coconuts. We learned the Inca Trail between Riobamba and Cuenca is only passable by foot and horse, which has yet to stop us, and this time opted for the coast and Isla Puna instead. But first comes soda crackers and Sprite.