(119) A little cheer crossing Hemispheres
Deciding to take a couple days to catch up on my work I found myself back on my own in the hostel. It was felt different and hard but I knew it was coming and just had to get on with it. From here I would head north out of Quito and to the border of Columbia. I was keen to get my head down once past Cotachi city and make up for some lost time. I had been struggling mentally and physically in the south of Ecuador but having had the support from everyone at home, The letters I carry and an amazing friend having joined me I was feeling positive and ready for what lay ahead and a new country.
Wednesday 19th / Thursday 20th August
Once again it felt strange to be back on my own and I really missed the company. Everything went back to normal and was back on my own. It was nice to look back over the past couple weeks but not knowing if I would see anyone else from home until I returned felt tough.
I did however have Columbia to look forward to and a lot of work to catch up on before I left town.
With breakfast out the way it was time to get my head down and get some work done. It felt good to catch up a little but I knew I would never be on top of it.
The guys at the hostel were great to chat to and made the next couple days much more enjoyable added to this an unlimited option of what I wanted to eat from the numerous restaurants was great.
My home for the last few days with the beautiful mountains as a back drop
Being just south of the equator meant it wouldn’t be long until I was in the northern hemisphere and on to the home stretch even if it was a long one.
After 12 days of fun and early starts I wanted to make sure I had a couple early nights and rested when I felt tired. Not sure when I would have another rest day I needed to feel and be ready
Friday 21st August
By the time I was awake it had already gone 8.30am and I hadn’t packed or had breakfast. Surprisingly though I was ready and my bike was loaded by 10 although by the time I had said goodbye and faffed about it was close to 10.30am.
All ready to go with my new gear hub life should be much easier
As I left the city I thought that being in heavy traffic would be a nightmare but they seemed to be going at the same speed as me which made made my life a lot easier. It had been two weeks since I had turned the peddles and although my legs protested and my bike still felt heavy with a new hub it was much better. After a few short climbs I dropped 1 kilometre in height out of the city to the low plateau only to climb back up another 500 metres to drop again.
Dropping down into the central depression
The descent was amazing on the duel carriageway allowing me to get up a good speed but I knew the lower I got the higher I would climb. As I neared the river I spotted a couple cyclists coming the other way, so I stopped to say hi only to see another behind. They were group from France and were touring Ecuador on their way back to Quito. It was nice chatting to them and hearing what they have been doing. They asked how far it was to the centre and with my bike on the other side of the road I said it was roughly about 10 miles with two big climbs.
I felt bad I thought it was only 10 miles to town when it was 20 miles
On saying goodbye and stay safe I reached my bike to see I had covered 20 miles and immediately felt bad. Riding off knowing they’ll probably hate me when they found out they had to do double the distance from what they expected wasn’t great but then I would soon find out they had done the same to me.
Climbing out of the gorge that split the plateau
For me it was also going to be a climb from 2,000 metres to 3,150m although the gradient was ok having done one climb my legs were still trying to get used to this cycling lark. Being in the mountains there were a lot less trees giving me a nice view back to Quito and across to another volcano with its summit hidden by cloud.
As I slowly climbed heading ever northwards I was also getting closer to the equator and soon crossed it. This would be the first time my bike would be in the northern hemisphere for 2 years and it felt great. After all that has happened I was finally in the same hemisphere as home and felt like I was making progress. With no landmark to mark the line I just relied on the GPS telling me and a small cheer within me knowing I was sharing it with Sharon within me.
This was a significant moment and knew I wouldn’t have done this i it wasn’t for her motivation and support. It is this motivation and that from the friends and family that keeps me going!!!
It felt great to see the S marker and would be for the last time, from now on I would be in the northern hemisphere
With a little more climbing and my legs continuing to protest I reached the high point where the road then undulated. I stopped for lunch at 4pm as there wasn’t anything before and rode on to see how close I could get to Otavalo. Now that the road was less hilly my speed increased giving me a better chance to get to the town. As I reached a main junction I could see the town way below at the end of the lake sandwiched between two old volcanos.
Looking at these giants it made the town look so venerable
Even though the volcanos were dormant it was still incredible to see where people settled but with such fertile land it was understandable to see why. As I got close to the town with the sun setting I passed about 100 soldiers and a string of army trucks and wondered what they were up to.
Not wanting to take a picture of all the troops not really knowing what they were getting ready for I sneaked a photo of the convoy
I reached the town and rode down through the lovely lit streets and found a hostel. With market day tomorrow and hearing it was a nice town to stay I booked in for two nights ready for a day of adventure.
Riding down through the pretty streets to find a hostel
I turned the TV on to the news only to see there were more demonstrations in Quito, Guayaquil and Macas and wondered if the army were on standby for Olatavo. Having had a shower after putting all my bags in the room I headed out to wonder the city to have something to eat and relax ready for the market tomorrow.
Saturday 22nd August
I woke up knowing it was market day but I was tired and could early open my eyes. I stayed in bed until 9 and got up and breakfast and headed out. I was shown where the markets were and a few other sights but aimed for the animal market first.
These little piggies went to market! but first had cross the duel carriageway
The streets were alive with the hustle and bustle of market day with lady’s selling traditional lace, dresses to men selling hat, coats and goats.
I reached the animal market where they were selling anything from cows,pigs,chickens to Guinea pigs and puppies.The market wasn’t as busy as it should be due to many of the indigenous people demonstrating but it didn’t stop the cock fights which looked horrible.
Heading back into town it was the local handy craft markets that lined and packed almost every street. It was tourist shoppers heaven but for me I had no room and my bike was heavy enough, so I wondered the streets looking at all the nice things I would buy if I had the space.
The front of this building was amazing but was strange why they didn’t at least paint the sides
Being told there was a steam train in town my next stop was the station which wasn’t far but turned out to just be a local train with the steam train arriving tomorrow.
The next train coming in being overshadowed by the vulcan Imbabura behind
Not really wanting to stay another day after so much time off I headed to the fruit market to grab a large cup off mixed fruit and some strawberries then went to get some tea. It was a lovely town to look around and couldn’t have timed it better with market day. With the day drawing to a close it was nice to eat at a local restaurant and relax ready to get on the road once again.
Sunday 23rd August
It had been really great to have the time to look around Olatavo but now I needed to push on North. I had tried to get hold of Fabrizio but with no reply I set the coordinates into the GPS and set off on the highway north hoping the would lead me to his fathers house. I left the town for Cotachi City only to see it was just over 5 miles away. The road out of town was a nice wide duel carriageway which was great and soon reached the turn off for Cotachi city.
I started the descent to the river and found the coordinates took me to a house that ran along side it. I asked at the house for Fabrizio or his farther but they hadn’t heard of either of them so with nothing else I could do I headed back to the road and left a note plus the things he gave me to give to his farther behind a monument and climbed the 200 metres back to the highway. I felt gutted I hadn’t got to see them again but it was my own fault for not planning ahead more.
Rejoining the highway and with little in the way of trees it opened up the views across the valley. I soon reached Ibarra and having heard a steam train would be in Olatavo at two I reached the railway line and decided to wait to see it it came through. With time to spare I brought some lunch and sat by the road waiting. With lunch out the way and still having time I cleaned my chain, fitted new brake blocks to the rear brakes and fixed a hole in my waterproof rack sack cover. With no sign of the train I cut my loses and left at least pleased I had got some jobs done. I left the town heading east and continued to drop down the valley to where it turned up another valley towards the border. The descent was amazing with it mostly on a newly surfaced road and able to keep up with the cars.
Climbing above the next gorge
It was interesting to see these huge models on the side of the road
Once I turned the corner the road climbed slightly before dropping down towards the river and a police check point. Being a place where everyone stops there were fruit and snack sellers so I stopped for a cup of fruit. It tasted amazing and set me up for the road ahead. Looking at the map I could see I had a climb but how big a climb I wasn’t sure so I set off up the hill which went on for 10 miles.
With the sun getting lower the view across to the two volcanos becoming more amazing and made for an enjoyable ride. By the time I was getting close to the town of Mira I was tired and I had been on the road for a long time.
This small town of Mira was lovely and so unexpected
The late night and the big climb at the end of the day was taking it toll. I reached the town and decided to look for a place to stay. After a few minutes I arrived at a lovely place that was very cheap.
My very green home for the night
The room was perfect and with my bike inside I had a shower and headed out for tea. The town was really pretty and took me by surprise. Most towns seemed to look the same but this one was different and felt nice. Although I had wanted to get a little further I was pleased I’d stopped and should give me a better chance of a good rest.
Monday 24th August
As I tried to sleep I felt the room shake not really sure what it was. Hearing no cars or trucks I thought it must be a small earth quake. With the hours passing and still not able to sleep until my body gave in. I woke up shattered and knew I still had a climb ahead of me. Hearing my phone ring to see it was Sharon’s parents was amazing as I had wanted to speak with them for ages. It was so great chatting but I couldn’t stop myself yawning as I was so tired. Leaving around 9am I went into town to grab some breakfast which seemed to perk me up and got catting to the owner who was lovely even giving me an extra roll with cheese to give me some more energy. I left Mira and climbed out of the village along the same highway I was on yesterday.
This statue was massive
The road was good as it climbed through the woodland and continued for ten miles with a short descent as I neared the town of El Àngel. From here I had two choices either head for a town called Bolivia which took me south or continue though El Àngel on the road that looked like it headed straight for the town of Tulcan to the northeast.
On leaving town I passed these three
Deciding on the straight road I headed into the village and having just gone midday I stopped for lunch and no other towns on the map it was a good place to stop. Filled up with soap followed by meat with rice and beans I set off on the road to Tulcan that went of the north of the town. As I climbed up through the narrow streets lined with grey stone buildings the road ramped up to become really steep. Not being Tarmac as I was told I slowly climbed away from the town on the large cobbled road towards the summit.
The cobbles were huge and very lumpy making my progress slow
As soon as I left the highway the nature became more intense and the humming birds started to appear.
With no summit marked on the map I had no idea where it was or how high I would climb. I climbed all day and it was slow very slow. With the large fixed stones making it hard work and the gradient even harder I just had to plug on and keep the peddles moving.
El Angel national park
As I neared what looked like the summit loads of strange plants appeared everywhere. They were incredible and made the cold and cloudy day more interesting.
Espeletia pycnophylla in Páramo El Ángel
After a few more bends I reached a sign advertising some lakes so went in to have a look. I was met by a ranger called Edwin who said I should do the short walk and that everything was safe there as he was in charge. He was a really nice guy and had a face anyone would trust, so I headed off to the top of the hill and could just see the lake through the cloud.
I was surprised how cold it was at 3,846 metres when I had slept much higher in Peru
I headed back and he asked if I needed a place to stay because he had space at the cabin. I said I was going to Tulcan but with him being so kind and his invitation to stay along with it being quite late and cold I thought why not. It was really great chatting and could tell he loved his job, telling what he did and showing me some plants unique to the area one of which he made tea with.
Feeling hungry I got some food out of my bag when he said he had enough for both of us. With no power I set up my solar light under the beam in the kitchen and we sat and ate dinner while we chatted and as a treat we finished it by watching an episode of planet earth which he loved even though it was in English he still really enjoyed it and so did I.
Our room for the evening but with no heating and the rain coming in it was cold and damp
It had been a slow day and not covering many miles but it had been full of surprises. Leaving Tarmac for a bad road is never easy but the rewards of what there is to see often out weigh it. It had been so great to meet Edwin and have the pleasure of his great company.
Tuesday 25th August
As we were above 3,000 metres it was cold which I thought I would be ok at this height but with the daily temperatures getting higher my durability in the cold had wained some what. Wrapped up in my sleeping bag with my clothes on I woke warm to a cold damp day with Edwin making coffee. It was so nice to sit and chat and then to be shown outside to all the plants he had put in with handmade signs lovingly placed by each one. While we were talking he asked if I had felt the earthquake in the night which I had but thought I was thinking things. He told me it was from a nearby volcano that borders Ecuador and Columbia and said I would feel it in Mira. It was amazing that it had come from a volcano and not from the tectonic plates which made me wonder how stable the volcano really was.
He was keen for me to see the lakes but with the clouds even thicker the chance of seeing them became less then yesterday. I thanked him for his kindness and set off down from the summit towards the town of Tulcan and the Columbian border.
Edwin was a true star who loved his job and was proud of his environment.
As I wondered slowly down the wet track that lead back to the highway I spotted a girl coming the other way on her touring bike.
Not having spotted me I stopped and stood still seeing how long it would take her to see me. As she got closer I could see her spot me suddenly and was surprised. I said hello and were soon joined by her husband In what was a really nice long chat. They were from Austria and heading south to Argentina and so we talked in length about their ride and mine. We could have talked for days and were surprised we had already talked for over an hour. With them being so great to talk to we swapped emails and now feeling the cold we set off again in our different directions, them for Ecuador and for me was the border. They were so excited about me heading to Columbia and to be honest so was I.
Markus and Birgit who were so lovely
As the rain got heavier I got muddier and wetter but soon after a few short climbs I dropped down the last hill into town and back onto tarmac.
The last part of Ecuador before the Columbian border
With it being lunch time I looked for a place to eat and stopped for some dinner using up the last of my money before heading for the border.
As I was leaving town I saw this and wondered what life must have been like when there was friction between Columbia and Ecuador
Being just a few miles away I headed out of town, climbed a steep hill I’m sure I didn’t need to and dropped to the river and the Ecuador border control. Needing to buy photocopies of my passport to leave the country was weird and annoying as had already spent last of my currency I had left but I was leaving and there was no point in complaining.
Once stamped out I changed the $6 I now had into Columbian pesos and in return was given a wod of Columbian notes making me think Columbia must be cheep to have this many notes for so little.
I unlocked my bike and headed across the bridge and could see the river below.
There was something uplifting about leaving Ecuador and entering Columbia and it felt incredible.
It dawned on me that I was now in Columbia a country I had always wanted to visit and here I was. It was like a huge weight lifting from my shoulders but I didn’t know why. I had enjoyed the counties I had been to but I really felt like I was moving forward not only in distance and with Columbia being the last country in South America but also with dealing with my life. I wished nothing more then to have Sharon with me but if I didn’t start thinking ahead I would be pulled down by my past and I knew that would eat me up.
I knew I had to learn from what had happened and to take the good from it however hard it was. This was a big step for me but I wasn’t sure how long my confidence would last, I just had to stay positive.
Not sure what chores I would have to endure entering Columbia I went to passport control to have it taken from me, opened, looked at and stamped. With a 90 day visa I was free to explore and discover a country I was excited about.
Climbing out of the first deep gorge in Columbia! My last country in the South American continent
I climbed up a long hill from the river to the centre and judging by the number of hotels I thought it would be easy to find a place to stay but with each one full I ended up looking around for an hour before I found somewhere nice. With my things in my room and cats playing with my flags on my bike on the stairs.
These two were so sweet
Leaving Ecuador felt so good, not only did I ride through it but also had the chance and motivation to see some sites I wouldn’t have gone to see on my own. I was grateful to the welcoming nature of the Ecuadorians and it being so safe to travel but also to Amanda who had without knowing it come out at the time I really needed a kick up the bum. Although I had started to feel more positive then I had for a while, having a good friend come out and join me was exactly what I had needed. It could have been so easy for me not to be bothered and to tired to see anything but having someone join me who had always wanted to visit the Jungle even on crutches was perfect.
Leaving Ecuador felt weird as I had been in the other countries in South America much longer but it felt exciting to be in my last country on this huge continent.
I knew I wasn’t with Sharon and knew what ever I did wouldn’t bring her back but knowing how close we were I felt like a huge part of me was part of her to and I wanted to do this.
Having done little research into Columbia I was entering the big unknown, with a wild history of drug lords, trafficking with many killed in the process. Yet today it was known as the unspoilt country with beauty everywhere and the people desperate to show the world it had changed and was safe. I didn’t know what treasures lay ahead all I knew was the people were meant to be kind and happy and the landscape beautiful. I couldn’t wait.
Thanks for reading xx
Total distance cycled: 867miles / 1,395km
Running Total: 24,775 mls/39,836 km
Total altitude gain: 29,020 metres – running total: 381,001 metres
Altitude gain per mile: 33.47 metres
Totals from Ushuaia Southern tip of Argentina
8,627 miles/ 13,881km Total alt gain 187,216 metres