(116) Continuous climbs to Cuenca
Having finally made it to Ecuador felt great but with my kit starting to fall apart wasn’t a great motivator. I was excited to feel like I was heading north and making progress but I hated it when things that should be reliable went wrong. Needing to stop and try and work out how to fix it took time and it annoyed me. I knew that it would work out ok in the end but it took energy of which I was low on.
Thursday 16th July
After thinking I was away from all the bugs then finding I was getting bitten I searched in torch light I managed to get rid of the little mite and get some sleep. Being in such a public area I knew I would have to get up early but I did sleep really well. Pitching my tent under the roof of the basketball court had proved to be the right choice after hearing the drops of rain on the roof getting heavier. I got the kettle on while I packed my things and the young lad from the night before came to say good morning.
It was nice that he did that as it left a good feeling for the country and what might lay ahead. I set off for Zumba just after 9am and started to climb. The road was steep and would drop at little then climb again. I noticed my new GPS was playing up and showing a screen I hadn’t seen before.
It was more of a programmers screen and wouldn’t let me access the menus and wouldn’t record data. I found by stopping and turning it off then on would work and then sometimes it wouldn’t. It was rubbish this was happening to my second new Garmin 64 as I wanted to record my whole ride. I ended up pulling out my laptop and although the computer now didn’t pick up the GPS it did stop the problem for now.
I reached Zumba around 11am and looked for a hotel to try and sort out the many issues I was having. With the problem still with my hub and the GPS it was a good place to try and get the ball rolling. Once I’d found a place I started my jobs and have a shower. It was so humid here that any climb left me soaked to the skin so I wanted to get everything clean.
Pleased I had decided to stop with a down pour within minutes of reaching the hotel
I went out to get some lunch and unlike Peru there were mini super markets
everywhere. After spending ages in Jaén looking for a dish sponge I could have brought a thousand in any one of the shops here. After doing a little work and catching up on a few things I headed out to get tea to hear a band playing. I headed for the sound and found a military band playing in the square with a small group of young kids dancing in a ring in front of them. The band were brilliant and such fun to watch, making my evening much more entertaining. Making the most of it I had my tea next to where they were playing so I could sit and watch while they played there last tunes. I hadn’t planned on stopping in the town but it had surprised me what a nice place it was and how amazing the way it was nestled deep within the dark green mountains.
Friday 17th July
Waking up after a restless night to not feel well again wasn’t a great start and what with the road being so tough I knew it would be draining. I knew I could have stayed another day in the town as it was nice enough but I wanted to get to Loja. I drank my bottle of yogurt to try and settle my stomach and took my things out to load my bike. With my hub playing up I checked my emails to find I had a reply which was amazing. With the news that something could be jamming the centre clutch didn’t sound good and as I had already done an oil change I was unsure how to proceed. I set off anyway and only using the gears that worked and I climbed out of the town and started the steep descent the other side.
I could see the road north wasn’t going to be flat but it was beautiful
Me on a climb still smiling
Seeing a zig zag road climb up through the forest on the other side of the narrow deep valley I knew it had to be the road but it looked steep. Once at the bottom and crossed the river I started the climb and soon found it was as steep as it looked.
A jungle roundabout who would have thought it
I got half way up the hill and not feeling great I suddenly I needed the men’s room. With my bib shorts on I first needed to take my shirt off and take off the straps that held my bib shorts. At this point of pulling my shirt over my head it ripped in half. I was gutted as the shirt had lasted since the start and held a certain sentimental value. I did however chuckle to myself as I stood on the side of the road semi naked with half my shirt missing but with a nice new one in my bag I pulled it out and continued to climb looking very smart indeed.
Almost at the village perched in the saddle
I was however feeling totally washed out and the sweat was pouring off me as the humidity rose with the sun out. With the recent rains the road was really sticky making the going really slow and with the sky’s getting darker I knew it was going to rain some more. As I rode on I stopped at a waterfall as I spotted loads of butterfly’s which were stunning.
They were amazing and so many of them. I even had a massive one land on my camera so I couldn’t take a picture of it.
A Siproeta stelens
Feeling tired and annoyed I had been told that the road was concrete only to be in soft sticky mud so when I reached a tiny village I stopped to pick up some biscuits and a coke. The people were really friendly and chatted while I sat resting. I set off again with the storm heading towards me then saw something on the road. What? it couldn’t be? It was! It was only a concrete road ‘yes’.
Watching the next rain shower move on
looking back at the road
I slowly rolled on to it and suddenly it was like someone letting go of the back of my bike. I had covered 16 miles by 1 pm and now I could make up for lost time. As I rounded the corner I could see the road disappear off into the distance climbing slightly but not up and down like it had been.
The road ahead following the many contours
The road was a mess and was incredible to see these machines at work
After passing a load of huge landslides I dropped past the diggers and trucks and back on to the Tarmac to the small town of Palander where I decided to stop for dinner. By this time it was 3pm and I had covered 25 miles but it felt good to stop and eat as it would save me cooking later. I knew I should eat more but with a bad stomach I wanted to take it easy. I set off out of town and other then the odd landslide or earth section where the streams crossed the road it was good going. With the sun setting at 6,18pm, I rode to 6.10pm and saw a good place on the side of the road. I had made up a little distance and was pleased at how far I’d got considering my condition. One of the good things about it getting dark early and camping is that it forces me to stop and rest and rest was what I really needed.
Saturday 18th July
It was a dull grey cloudy day with the mist slowly lifting up out of the valley leaving portholes into the world around me. I lit the stove while I took five minutes to absorb my surroundings and rest. The tent was dripping with condensation and I knew it would never dry with it being so damp so I packed everything up and got ready to set off. After seeing huge spiders webs, large snakes and fire ants I banged my shoes hard against the floor to check the inside to find a huge ant drop out with massive hooked mouth. Pleased I remembered to check I pushed my bike back to the highway and set off up the climb.
It had already started to rain by the time I reached the first small village where I grabbed a few snacks and wait for the worst of the rain to pass. After half an hour I set off again and onto the main climb. I still wasn’t feeling great and the climb felt hard with mud sections that slowed me as the soft mud sucked on the tyres. As the mist turned to light rain I passed landslide after landslide with some section where parts of the new road had broken away and had dropped, some of which had totally disappeared down the mountain.
As I climbed the rain seemed to get heavier turning in to a torrential down pour. Although it wasn’t really cold I was soaked through to the skin and my hands were going numb. I stopped every now and then to ring my socks out then ride on ever climbing.
I reached a false summit to drop a little only to then climb to another. I was starting to shake with the cold and knew I needed to eat something. I opened my pannier and got out a packet of biscuits but I couldn’t open them. They were in a thin plastic packet that a 2 year old child could open but I couldn’t feel my hands and hadn’t got the strength in them. I would rub my hands together and move my fingers but they had been so cold for so long gripping the handlebars I just couldn’t get them to work. After chewing the plastic with my teeth I finally got into the packet and ate half. The effect was incredible and I could feel the energy pick me up. With the rain pouring off my hood and the wind now battering me I reached the summit which was lower then I had thought and started to descend. Noticing my breaks were loose I stopped to see that my rear blocks had almost warn out after only changing them a few days ago. With long steep descents I tried to use the wind to slow me by standing on the peddles and making myself as large as possible. I reached the town of Yangana around 3pm and asked where I could eat. Once again after descending soaked through I was shaking with the cold. I went to adjust my rear brakes but again my hands had lost all their strength and feeling. The guy brought me food and a hot red drink which was incredible. Just with food inside me and a warm drink I could feel normality coming back.
Heading out of town feeling much better
When I left the restaurant I felt a different person and could adjust my brakes with ease. Feeling refreshed I set off for Vilcabamba around 4pm and after being told it would take 4 hours to cycle I made sure I looked for a good camp spot along the way but would just have to see if I could make it. Seeing a couple climbs ahead I got over the first and started up the second.
Looking north to one of the last couple climbs to Vilcabamba
It felt steep and tiring and I needing to stop every five minutes to get my strength back. Once over the top of the second climb I found that it was all down hill to the town. By this point the rain had stopped and the sun was starting to warm me. I reached the town totally dry apart from my feet and found an amazing hostel. I knew I needed to stop for a day and with the town looking nice I settled in for the night. With a party in the square I went to look and watched for a while but I was exhausted and so headed back to sleep and regain some energy for the ride North.
My bike out side the room ready for a day off
After feeling rubbish yesterday I woke exhausted. With no energy I stayed in bed for a while before getting up to make the most of the laundry service in town. Once dropped off I grabbed an ice cream and went back to see if I could get my hub to work. After a clean then loosening a bolt I had been told about I went for a test ride but was still the same. With the bike clean I would try again tomorrow and rest today. Having picked up a few nice things to eat in town I had a nice lunch and relaxed. With everything dry and the food bag cleaned I reloaded it with nice things then I spent the afternoon watching a film and swimming in the pool. I was pleased I’d stopped but being there on my own was lonely and would have probably done something else if I had company. Still not being well was probably good thing I had to rest and an early night was what I needed but having not done anything with the blog I sat and picked some pictures. By the time I was done it was gone midnight and my early night was now late. With 25 miles to Loja I knew even if it was tough I would make it and rest if need be.
Monday 20th July
After a good rest I was ready to go. Even though I still wasn’t better I knew I’d be ok. I met the owner who gave me some ideas for Ecuador and what the road was like ahead. He said that I had a big climb to Loja and that it would be very long and steep. After a good breakfast I set off on a clear sunny day, dropped out of the village and started the climb.
These two were so sweet
With an good gradient I was soon at the top wondering what the fuss was about. It could have been that I was rested and had food inside me but It felt good. I dropped the few miles into Loja just in time for dinner and found a place to eat.
Enjoying the nice descent before the city
With carbonara on the menu and being something I hadn’t had for a while I had to go for it and it tasted amazing. With an ice cream to wash it down I was full and ready to ride on. I had thought about finding a place in the city but with it not really being that interesting I decided I would ride on and make up some distance. Setting a new route in the GPS I set off out of town and was soon on the outskirts when I hit the biggest hole in the world. I’m sure I saw lava at the bottom it was that deep but it dislodged my rear pannier meaning I had to stop. It should have been at this point that I noticed I was on a dirt road which should be a main highway but then the road to the south would change from concrete to dirt. I rode on a while then the alarm bells started to ring. This wasn’t right and didn’t feel a good place to be. I was annoyed I hadn’t been focused on where I was. I asked a lady where the correct road was and she told me I had to return to the city and turn right. This took me an hour to retrace my steps and get on the right road. I stopped for a drink and an ice cream to refocus and start the climb out of the city. From what I could see the road went over a pass far off in the distance. I kept climbing above the city and over the pass to drop slightly then to continue to climb.
Climbing above Loja
Now being on a good road I felt like I was making good progress even with the mistake and pushing on well after I should have camped. I stopped at a house with a lovely family outside who gave me water for cooking then rode on with the light almost gone I saw a gap in a fence that was on a bend between some trees. This would be a good place with drivers looking around the bend and not into the gap which was perfect. With the tent up I made sandwiches for tea and relaxed at which point the owner arrived and I asked if it was ok to camp. Being more then happy I settled down for the night and a long day tomorrow.
Tuesday 21st july
My nice camp for the night
It had taken a while to get to sleep and I woke up feeling exhausted. I had dreamt a lot in the night and woke to a cold grey cloudy day. I was left undisturbed the whole time and set off around 9.30am to climb the last bit to top. The road dropped away steadily going in and out the small combes before starting to rise up the next hill.
It was hard work riding down into the combes the climb out the other side
The clouds cleared to leave a nice day and not to hot but I was tired. After each climb came a descent and then followed by another climb. I was feeling dreadful and along with stomach cramps and no energy I pushed on. My progress wasn’t helped by the fact my peddle bearings had now worn out and my hub only working in certain gears but I was moving forward if a little slow.
Looking at the map I had a climb over a pass just over 3,000 metres then a descent to a river followed by a short climb to Oña. I reached the pass around 6pm and with 21 minutes of light left I descended the last 10 miles to the river.
Almost at the top with the light fading and the temperature dropping
Once at the river I then had a steep climb up to the turn off to a village where I asked some locals where there was a hotel. I was told the way and started the long steep climb into the village at which point I was feeling terrible. Having the same feeling I had in Hueraz with the sweats, light headed and dizziness I knew I had to stop and sit down. I climbed the short hill to the town square brought some salted crisps, a coke and a few sweets and sat on the pavement so if anything happened I would be ok. The crisps made a huge difference and so I asked where the hotel was with them pointing back down the hill to the main road. I couldn’t believe I had climbed up this long hill for nothing. Listening to the instructions more clearly I knew where I had gone wrong and was soon at the hotel. I met the owner and his family who were so lovely and even cooked me tea while I played games with their 3 year old daughter. It was a good place to stop and rest and I was pleased at how far I’d got after feeling so ill and still climbed over 2,000 metres that day.
Wednesday 22nd July
Waking up and feeling more normal was a good start but then trying to add a card to my PayPal account then being locked out of my online banking wasn’t. It was however early enough to sort it out order a few things that I needed and have breakfast by 10am. It had been really nice meeting the family that owned the hotel and made it feel more like a home.
My bed for the night in a lovely hotel
I set off out of the village as the sky’s blackened and it started to spit. As I rode north I could see the road drop in to a deep gorge then climb out the other side and continue high above where I was. I knew I had a pass to get over but I didn’t expect such a descent before it. From this point my day pretty much was made up of climbing and more climbing. It was hot to start with and looking across at the village it seemed to be trapped under a rain shower pretty much the whole time I climbed up the first kilometre.
Rain moving in behind me
Looking back down to the deep gorge with Oña in the distance
I stopped for a snack which perked me up and rode on to stop in a small village called la Paz to have lunch. With large sweet corn on one plate and what was pretty much crackling for dinner I sat as several heavy rain showers passed over.
Feeling pleased I had timed my lunch stop to perfection, (well luck really) I set off and continued to climb. I would reach 3,300m then drop a little then climb to 3,400m then drop and at around 5,45pm I reached the summit after about 30 miles of climbing. With the low cloud covering any views and making it chilly I started the descent to Cumbe.
Reaching the summit and seeing a rainbow was lovely
I dropped around 300 metres when I came out under the cloud and with a short climb started the main descent to the town. Spotting 4 people on mountain bikes ahead and with the amount of weight I had on I flew past with ease waving as I did. I reached the town and waited for the bikers who were a local family on really nice mountain bikes. It was great to meet them and chat but with the fading light I needed a place to stay. They told me I needed to continue so I said goodbye and set off. After about 15 minutes I spotted a chicken restaurant with loads of space and out buildings around giving me a place to eat and sleep. I asked the owner If I could camp in one of their buildings and being more then happy I sat down with a large piece of chicken on my plate and looked up to see the Tour de France had just started on the television. I was in my element !!!! I had cleared the pass, I was feeling better, I was eating a lot of chicken and I was watching the tour. How much better can it get :). Tomorrow was a day off once I’d ridden the last bit to Cuenca and time to rest for a few days before dropping into the jungle which I was looking forward to. Ecuador was amazing when I entered but with hill after hill all looking the same and not feeling great I was looking for a change and a rest.
Thursday 23rd July
Having camped in the building left me undisturbed and well rested. While the kettle was on I packed away my things and loaded my bike.
Making myself at home
There was something nice about boiling the kettle on the camp stove and somehow it tasted better. I set off around 9am and continued to drop to the junction for Cunca. The road from this point was busy with the cars and trucks being kind but I didn’t miss being on busier roads. As I neared the city I met a lovely french couple on a cool tandem and stopped to chat.
It was lovely chatting to these two and interesting to see their bike
They were riding from Bogata to Lima using the buses on the bits they didn’t want to cycle and riding the bits they did. They were lovely to chat to and great to get any tips for the road ahead. With the traffic so heavy it took a while to cross back over the road but once I was across I made my way slowly getting closer to the centre. Once in the main square I started to look for places to stay but all were really expensive. I had been looking forward to a few days off but with the prices of a nights accommodation being so much I was starting to wish I hadn’t bothered.
Searching the pretty streets for a hostel
With a little more searching I stumbled upon a hostel that had a good place for my bike and a lovely room that was really cheap. I couldn’t believe my luck and how nice it was. With hardly anyone there I was surprised it was so empty and with the hostel just half a kilometre to a massive supermarket I headed out to buy all the nice things I had been missing.
I Don’t think I have ever seen strawberries so big
This shop keeper was looking a little to relaxed
Once through the checkout I soon realised just how hungry I must have been. I could barely lift the bags and wondered how I was ever going to get through all the food I had brought. Once back I set to work on the blog and catch up on emails. I knew I had time which was nice and I had managed to reach Cuenca well before I thought I would. This made me relax and being in a hostel I could afford with enough nice food to feed an army I was happy.
Friday 24th July
Trying to break my day up with a little sight seeing was good
This is a Panama hat press
Today was a day of getting my head down and getting through some work. With a nice breakfast I found a nice place to focus on my work and try and get through my jobs. still having the issue with my hub, I received another email from Rohloff saying they would send out a new exchange gearbox which was incredible. I made a call to Amanda who was planning on flying out to ride with me in a few weeks and managed to arrange for the hub to be sent to her which would make the exchange less complicated and expensive. Having got so far north and having around 14 days before Amanda arrived gave me the option of getting further north and even to Quito. With Cuenca being at 2,500 metres above sea level meant a descent of 2000 metres to the amazon basin then a fairly flat road to the north through the jungle. This should not only give me time to see the jungle but also make good progress north and a break from the numerous mountains. With a day off planned for tomorrow so I could look around the city I made the most of the day getting as much work done. It was good to stop and feel a new sense of energy as it was just what I needed.
Saturday 25th July
With a day planned to look around the city I got up and headed out for the main square to start with the new cathedral which was built in 1557.
The Cathedral inside and out
This building could hold up to 9000 people and was used as the main icon for the city of Cuenca. This cathedral and the surrounding churches and monuments have made the city a world heritage sight and it was’t hard to see why.
I could have spent hours looking at all the detail in each church but It would have been hard to take it all in. It was lovely looking around the town wondering from place to place seeing the city and even the clear blue sky. It had also been a good break before I set off again and headed for the jungle.
Still having about five tons of food back at the hostel I headed back to make a feast and chat to some of the people staying. I liked it there but I was ready to leave and see what lay ahead.
With my last night in the city I headed out to find there was a firework display on out side the cathedral. The structure was made from bamboo which was incredible but it still didn’t stop the odd one from falling off.
Having entered a new country had given me a new lease of life but getting sick again was becoming a pain in the backside. 🙂 I was excited about Ecuador but the road from Loja was slow, tough and not as interesting as I thought it would be. Maybe it was because I was tired and sick but what ever the reason something had to change and I hoped the jungle would help. With little in the way of birds, insects or any real kind of wildlife and being so close to the amazon the only solution was the jungle and I couldn’t wait. Cuenca had been the perfect place to stop with its beautiful buildings and vibrant night life and in turn had helped me get back to normal and look forward to what lay ahead.
Thanks for reading xx