Cycling days 150-155: Cuenca to Peruvian border
Trip Start Apr 07, 2010
120Trip End Jan 19, 2012
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But for this entry, this is how we went from Cuenca to the Peruvian border:
Day 150 (5/16/11): 0km
We stayed up late last night doing homework and the beds are comfy, so it was easy to sleep in until 8:30am. We take care of some more business and finally get out of the hotel room at 10am to go for a walk. We head over to the Mercado and find plenty of eateries to choose from. We try encebollado (fish soup with red onion and yucca) and another dish with a mish mash of chicken heart, beef tongue, intestine, potato, and coagulated blood.
Day 151 (5/17/11): 43km
We hang out with Cam, Summer, and their dog Toka all morning. The longer we stay in one place, the harder it is to leave – we’ve been in Cuenca for a full 48 hours and have gotten comfy. At 11:30am, we finally drag ourselves out of their apartment, go have lunch, and start making our way back towards the Panamerican Hwy. Along the way, we stop at a couple bike shops to check out what kind of tires they have in stock, but there’s nothing that would work for us. One shop has the Schwalbe brand tires that we’re using, but the ones available are just a little too wide. Oh well, we’re carrying a spare mountain bike tire for a reason…no point spending $40 on something else that would fit, but doesn’t look durable. As Yannick is bending over to show the store employees the bulge in Shirley’s tire, he feels his lower back get tight…uh oh…we hope it isn’t giving out again!
Day 152 (5/18/11): 105km
As we watch the sun rise from our roadside camp at 3,300m, the thermometer shows -2 degrees Celsius. We layer up and resume riding uphill. We shortly reach the ridge and are rewarded with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. Yannick’s back is still hurting a lot, which makes him walk hunched over…he feels like he’s aged 50 years in just a day. A strong dose of ibuprofen seems to help relieve some of the pain though.
After 30km of rolling hills above 3,000m we reach a gas station and take care of business: delayer, brush our teeth, refill water bottles, dry the tent, etc. One kilometer farther, we enter the little village of Reina de La Paz ("Queen of Peace") and treat ourselves with a hearty breakfast of fried pork, mote (hominy), yucca, and empanadas sprinkled with sugar. For some reason exercise seems to make us hungry! As we get back on the saddle, we can see how this place earned its name…it is really peaceful up here.
At 11:30am, we start losing elevation and at some point, we notice a lot of flying insects in the middle of the road. We are going too fast to stop and plow into the swarm of bees. We feel a few of them hit us and we freak out for a brief moment, yelling “beeeeees!” to each other. Luckily, neither of us gets stung. The road continues losing elevation and we drop 1,000m in 25km, down into a valley, which means that there is a big uphill waiting for us on the other side. As we get on our granny gear for the long ascent, the thermometer reaches 37 degrees Celsius…no, 40 degrees – that’s about 70 degrees Fahrenheit from this morning!
As we take one of the many breaks during the grueling ascent, we notice 3 cardboard boxes on the side of the road. A closer inspection reveals that they contain milk…36L of milk to be exact. We check the expiration date and it hasn’t passed yet and the milk containers are made of Tetra-pak, so we figure they should still be good. We open one to find out. Hmm, the consistency is right…the smell is fine…and the taste is cool and refreshing! We finish one liter on the spot and take 7 more liters with us. It’s funny how things work out for us – just yesterday we were talking about getting some milk because we haven’t had any in a while…and now we could have more than we can carry! And this is just one of the many times something has happened like this. Yannick jokingly says, “I think we could use a few bars of gold. What do you think?” Haha…yeah, right!
We continue uphill, about 14 pounds heavier and feeling a little bloated. After a stop at the next gas station to refill water, we ride a little further to reach another pass…then another long descent and long ascent. Sheesh, we’re climbing a lot of mountains today! We reach the pass at about 4:30pm and it starts to get chilly.
Day 153 (5/19/11): 103km
Awake at 6am, we pack up quickly before the school officially opens. Yannick says his back pain is a different pain than before – it hurts in his upper right butt cheek rather than his lower back and was slow growing rather than a sudden onset. He doesn’t think the ibuprofen is helping anymore, so he skips taking one this morning.
We eventually arrive at the highpoint of the road and see the city below us, making us excited…food! WE barely ate anything all day, not expecting there to be such an absence of comedors (small restaurants) and gas stations along today’s route. As we drop down towards Loja, we come to a roundabout and find that the city is another 1,000 feet below us and the Panamerican Highway continues above it. We see the good and the bad: it’s a good thing because it saves us from the extra elevation loss, but it’s also bad because it means we have to delay our much needed meal. The road begins to climb…again. We are so done with climbing, except this time it’s even worse…the road is under construction, so now we’re ascending up a hill on dirt and scree. Fortunately this doesn’t last more than a few kilometers; unfortunately, we pop out just a little too far out of the city and don’t pass by any places to buy food.
The road sign says it is 37km to Catamayo and we hope that all the traffic along the road is telling us there are other settlements along the way. It is a little passed 3pm, giving us 3 hours to get to the other city; doable if it isn’t all uphill.
At 4:30pm, we arrive at the pass…YESSS! Downhill to Catamayo!! We zoom down, down, and down, losing A LOT of elevation and arrive in the city just after 5pm. We have dinner, pastries, and ice cream and could eat more, but we’re a little worried about where we’ll sleep tonight. We go look for a school, but end up having a hard time getting permission to stay overnight – at one school, the director is not available; the second school is having a big parade and celebration, so we’d be up all night; and the third school’s guardian says he would let us stay, but we need permission from the director who will stop by at 7pm. We wait and the 7pm meeting is postponed to 8:30pm, which is really late for us and isn’t a guarantee that we’ll be able to stay at the school, so we go looking elsewhere and keep this as a backup option. We go find the Bomberos (firefighters) and Jose gets the okay from his boss.
Yannick’s pinched nerve isn’t doing much better today. After packing up, we head back to the parque central for some breakfast and catch up on the journal. So far, so good…but the hour that follows causes a lot of frustration.
At noon, we pass by a village where we decide to stop for lunch. At 1pm, we continue on our climb, a difficult task because of the heat and lack of shade for rest breaks. At 3pm, we reach the highpoint and ride along a ridge with absolutely stunning views of the valleys below – almost makes the ascent worth it. No, not really…we’re sick of all these hills! Soon, we come across some road construction men putting new reflectors on the highway. Yannick asks if we could use some of the tar to try to repair the bugling tire that we are now keeping as a spare. We have no idea if the tar will really work, but it’s worth a try. They slab some tar onto the iside of the tire and we use some plastic bags to press the peeling, shredded portions of the tire together and hang it off the back of Yannick’s bicycle to dry. We thank the guys and continue on our way.
At 5pm, we arrive in Catacocha, a city sitting high along a hillside. We make a stop at the gas station, which has a shower and soap, so we wash off and do some laundry before ascending into the city. The police allow us to sleep at their station, so now we’re free to take our time having dinner. Catacocha is a tranquilo city with a beautifully lit center plaza. We talk to a curous family for at least half an hour, answering their endless questions about our trip and our lives, but in the end, they still don’t quite understand why we are on this trip. Oh well, it is now 8:30pm and time for us to head back to the police station for some rest. As we turn the corner to the station, two little dogs come running at us and barking like crazy. They are just annoying little dogs, so we just keep pushing our bicycles up the road. We try to ignore them, but they get pretty aggressive and even bite Shirley’s pannier and drags her freshly laundered shirt into the dirt….grrr! They are lucky their owner steps out of the house at that second because they were about to get it! Shirley has had it with untrained, unruly dogs – this week, two others (on separate occasions), came running after her, biting at her panniers and legs. We’ve had a lot of dogs chase us, but these two actually made physical contact…so they got a face full of Shirley’s foot! She never imagined she could ever kick a dog before this trip, but these two really deserved it. She just hopes they learned not to chase cyclists again because they were lucky they didn’t get hit by a car this time! [sigh…]
Okay, time to calm down and go to the police station to get a good night’s sleep. Too bad there is a celebration of some sort starting – the music is fine…if we could actually hear it, but the really annoying LOUD guy yelling, “Arriba, rriba, rriba, rriba…” literal hundreds of times into the loudspeaker drowns out every second of every song. It wouldn’t have mattered if we chose to sleep miles outside of the city because we are sure we would still hear him. Even now, we can hear his voice echoing off the valley walls! A little passed 2am, it finally becomes quiet and we are able to sleep in peace.
Day 155 (5/21/11): 82km
We wake up at 6:15am, groggy from our short night and ride back to the city center to have some cereal with milk for breakfast and to dry the tent from the condensation it collected over night. We also tighten Shirley’s brake cables because we expect a long descent today.