0062: Two Pigs and a Panda

0062: Two Pigs and a Panda

Still waiting for my parcel, I took a short bus trip to Baños.
A small town several hours south of Quito famous as a base for adventure sports.

Later though the rain cleared and I went wandering about.

As in all tourist locations, the local people sell some sweet treat as a reminder of your visit.
This is the first time I have seen it being made though. There were a lot of stores all selling and making their own version of Melcocha, as it is know.
It was delicious and usually comes in Coconut, Guava, Blackberry or Mint flavours. All hand made from cane sugar.



Later on, I met up with Tom. An Australian cyclist who was on not only his first visit to Ecuador, but also his first cycle tour.
He is also heading south to Ushuaia so it's likely we will cycle together for the stages through Peru.

Famous last words.
Tom decided to jump!

Trying to handle 2 cameras at once didn't result in the best video, but you get the idea!

Bridge. Rope. Gorge. Prayer!

My package eventually arrived in Quito and I got an unexpectedly large bill from UPS/Ecuador customs.
I wasn't happy, but at least I had my gear.
Unfortunately I was also sent some extra clothing and items, I didn't ask for, from home and was heavily taxed on them.
I will now have to post them back or give them away.
I simply don't have the space to carry them and also reserve a little for extra food if I need it.
Ecuador now takes the record after Costa Rica as the most expensive country on my journey.
It doesn't help being careless losing my jacket, but I also bought new chains for my bike and needing three made the purchase more expensive.

I packed my bags and headed south to Latacunga. Past the famous CotoPaxi volcano.

I spent one night with a host then continued west to Zumbahua.
This is a small indigenous town right on the peak of the mountains.
It was a long slow, steady climb up the mountain side and by the time I got above 3800 metres, I was starting to feel the effects of altitude.

That and exhaustion, dehydration and not eating properly again!
At 4000 metres, I stopped on the cold and windy roadside feeling a little dizzy.

With around 25 kilometres left to climb, I decided I would hitch a lift to the town as I was feeling very drained of energy at this height.
After a short wait, Alex, a lawyer from Latacunga picked me up in his truck and initially took me to Zumbahua, but seeing barely anything there on arrival, he persuaded me to continue to La Maná on the other side of the mountains. Another 60 or so kilometres away and a steep road with many switchback, thick fog and crazy driving, it would have been a great if suicidal descent on a bike, though I regret not riding it.
However, an hour or so later and a 3500 metre descent, Alex dropped me off in La Maná and the shock of tropical heat and humidity overwhelmed me immediately.
For the past few weeks travelling through the mountains of Colombia and Ecuador I have mainly been wearing extra clothing to ward off the cold.
Now suddenly, I was in 30C humidity. The sweat started pouring. Almost literally.

A night in a pleasant and cheap hotel, a delicious fish restaurant supper, an early start and I discovered a new perk of low land riding.
Several weeks of high altitude must have increased the oxygen takeup of my blood as now pedalling along the road to Quevedo, I was literally flying along, but barely out of breath!
Hyper oxygenated air is awesome!
Admittedly the land was mostly flat, but still I was feeling a slight buzz from speeding along the relatively short distance to my next host.

César owned a small compound along the banks of the river.
His noisy but harmless dog, 'Superperro' greeted me but soon calmed down. The dogs place was soon taken by 2 pig residents too. 'Big pig and little pig'.
You often sleep in some strange places, but I have never slept in in a vacant car garage with 2 curious pigs and a hyperactive dog.
The wonders of travelling!


César had studied engineering and design in Buenos Aires and had done some travelling himself. He opened his car restoration business a couple of years ago and is slowly building his empire.
He specialises in Honda.
Maintenance, repairs and customisations but is also working on a classic Ford pick up from the late 60's and owns the only registered Fiat Panda in the whole of Ecuador.

I camped in one of his empty warehouses.
With pigs grunting outside, the smell of the river and a Guava tree with plenty of ripe fruit outside and some distant neighbours who decided to have a party at the last minute, It was a slightly surreal but very comfortable night.

Cycling on, the next day I was headed to Manta on the Ecuador coast.
But this was still 2 days away and I arrived mid afternoon in San Sebastian.
A small town roughly mid way and in the middle of the Ecuador jungle.
After immediately establishing there was no hostel, I asked a restaurant owner for my options and she sent me to the Police station.
The officer on duty, Johnny was very friendly and helpful, but could not authorise camping in the station.
"You could go to Manta?!" said his colleague. It's only an hour in the car. There are plenty of hotels there".
After I explained that 1 hour in the car was roughly the equivalent of 1 day on a bike and I was exhausted having already ridden "1 hour" today, he looked a bit puzzled.

So I sat and waited for several hours for his chief to return and just watched the town going about its daily life.

The Police chief invited me to sleep in the cellar of the station but there was barely any room to lie flat amongst the strange objects they had collected. Truck tyres, A street light, some aluminium sheet, probably a road sign and a small box of broken beer bottles.
They could have also been the leftover props from a very crazy party?!

He would not let me put my tent up in front of the station where there was an unused car park space, so I asked the kind lady in the restaurant next door if I could camp on her patio after closing.
She told me she would be closing at 8pm, but eventually shut at 9pm. It was a little annoying as I had been her last customer was me and that was around 5 pm.
Still, Jordan, Anna and Mollie the kids neighbouring the police station came to keep me company and persuaded their parents to let me use their shower and gave me a toastie and a drink for supper!
Thanks guys!

The following day I packed up early, was given yesterdays leftovers from the restaurant for breakfast and I set off.
On the wrong road.....

Stealing Oranges!

Posted by The Road of Little Miracles on Tuesday, 18 August 2015

An expected few kilometres on a very peaceful but hard going jungle gravel road turned into an unexpected 45 kilometres and a long tough day.
But worth it.

Eventually, I did get onto a main road again and cruised along at super oxygenated speeds again into Portoviejo and a damned expensive hotel!
That knocked the wind out of me and $60 out of my wallet!
It seems nobody has updated the list of cheap hotels online and most were closed, under new management or simply didn't exist. Of course, the 15 or 20 requests I sent to registered Couchsurfing hosts fell on deaf ears, again.
And I could not find the Bomberos.

The road to Manta was wide and with my new superhuman cycling strength (and a tailwind and a downhill!) I started late and arrived quite early.
Same problem with the hotels though.
However, I found a scruffy $15 place a few blocks from the beach and spent a couple of nights there.

I also ticked off another of my milestone points and visited Montecristi and the place where they make 'Panama' hats.
These are a UNESCO protected product. Hats and other artefacts have been woven here for over 400 years.
The name (and unfortunately the copyright) Panama hats come from the early days of shipping the products from the South American coastline to the international distribution warehouses in Panama city where the local tradesmen tagged on the name and would then send these high quality hats worldwide.

The price varies depending on the skill of the weaver, the colour of the fibres and how fine the fibres are. The finer, the more intricate and longer time it takes to weave.
A 'clasico' might take a few weeks to makes. These are "trainee" hats. Coarse fibres in comparison, but still very attractive.
A 'Fino' would take 3-6 months to hand weave using softer, finer fibres and a 'Superfino' can take 6-10 months to weave using almost cotton fine threads and will set you back at least $1000 and quite easily double or treble that price in some cases.
But the workmanship is stunning. These are made by the grand matriarch or patriarchs of the trade and probably replaces their pensions.

All the hats can fold up and are supplied with a storage box.
The best and finest superfino hats will roll up small enough "to pass through your wedding ring" say the salesmen.
Mine was a budget special and rolled up to be about small orange diameter.
Still, I like it.

Sadly the trade is dying. Cheap imitations from China are flooding the market as with everything and the skilled weavers are getting too old. And the younger generations cannot see a profitable future in making hats.

Diego my host in Quito, had partly recommended that I cycle along the coast.
I had actually already decided to come this way anyway to relax at the beach and enjoy some highly recommended seafood for a short while. Before returning to the mountains and on, to Peru.
In hindsight, I can't decide of it was really worth the detour.
I guess you cant expect the whole world to be beautiful all the time?
But there were a few interesting things along the way.
By chance I was caught up by Tom as he was also following the coastal route. We cycled and chatted together to Puerto Lopez and almost became part of a cycle race the town was holding.

Tom had decided to continue on another 40km's or so to Montañitas. We met up the following day.

The beaches are either tourist traps like Puerto Lopez or Monañitas.

Though I did meet this 'little' girl on the road to Montañitas.

'Baby' Goliath Bird eating spider.

Posted by The Road of Little Miracles on Tuesday, 18 August 2015

And Montañitas itself and its hippy surfer culture.

I don't understand why so many scruffy rasta dreadlocked typically white skinned hippies want to steal trade from the locals by making bracelets and ornaments thinking they are being "Ethnic and ecological"
Stick them in front of a petroleum distillery and you can guarantee they will start a protest but they forget about the plastic cords and beads they buy and use and the Boeing 737 that brought them across the oceans in the first place.
Some of them are clearly talented, but train the locals, give them a skill and I might buy something and contribute to the wavering local economy, because when your money runs out or you get bored, you will get a Western union cheque from rich lawyers Mummy and Daddy in Manchester, Turin, Lyon, Montreal, Melbourne or Göthenburg and catch the next flight home.
You get a holiday and business class and the local people get nothing.
That does not seem very Eco-ethnic to me. More capitalist hypocrite...And yes, I am stereotyping, but it's my blog and I will write what I want... 😁

I continued south through almost derelict fishing villages with their ever curious and mostly drunk fishermen.
I was told of great fish restaurants and fresh seafood all along the coast. But saw mostly closed or shut down establishments outside the tourist towns and the couple that I did eat in didn't leave me in awe.
A sad reflection of what could be, with the right investment. The hippies and tourists don't visit these places but speed through on Wifi equipped and air conditioned coaches which also pass me by, too closely on the narrow roads.
And though fresh fish was on sale, I can't imagine carrying a 10kg Tuna on my bike!
Perhaps it's the wrong season.
I guess it didn't help that the weather was generally cool and grey too.

In Punto Blanco I decided to cycle along the beach as the sand was very firm.

and had a race with a local lad.

I cycled for about 8 kilometres before being blocked by a harbour wall.

I stopped for the most delicious Ceviche so far and also witnessed some migrating whales.

Later that afternoon, I arrived in Salinas. A peninsula seaside town populated by holidaying Guayaquil residents.

Quite a pleasant place but expensive, because of the tourism it relies on.

Another comfortable night in a scruffy $10 hotel and I stopped for breakfast on the edge of town.
I had a very nice fresh Mandarin juice and a Prawn omelette. But it was only when I was paying to leave did I notice how filthy the kitchen was and that the woman was chopping raw chicken and preparing cooked food with unwashed hands.

Alarm bells started ringing in my head!