Category Archives: Ecuador

Ecuador: Day Nine – Viche to Atacames to Sua

We all agreed to make an early start today to get to the coast, our final cycling destination, in time to enjoy the luxury of a hotel, a pool & the beach. We were therefore heading back up the rocky track at 7.00 & I was happily singing to myself within minutes of hitting the main road & the thought of a challenge overcome.

Tragedy struck mid morning when an open backed truck ran into John Lyons & Kevin plus Doc Helen & Duncan of DA.

John, we now know was probably killed outright, Doc Helen was hospitalised & very poorly for some days in the hospital in Quito but is now home & will recover. The other two were only slightly injured but Kevin was heavily traumatised as he saw the whole thing as were others who saw the aftermath. The driver ran away but we understood was subsequently caught. No one cycled after that & we were bussed to the hotel to be told later in the day of the death & the plight of Helen.

Most of us subsequently went to John’s funeral in Jersey where we were joined by hundreds of his friends & admirers & there were simultaneous ceremonies at the hospital where he worked & also in Ireland where he hailed from. His family were amazing at the funeral & his son & daughters gave glowing eulogies about the John we all knew & loved – he was such an upbeat, funny, kind & considerate guy who brought light & joy wherever he went. Even at 5.30 in the morning & on the steepest hill, I can attest to the fact that his humour was still 100 percent intact & the fact that he was at the back of pack so often was merely that he was encouraging those less capable & in need of a little humour & support.

The rest of the trip is a bit of a blur & for my part & many others was just an all out bid to get home early, although that failed after a 12 hour delay out of Quito put us back to the original plan.

On reflection, we had such a great group & although the trip was not as well organised as it should have been & we had more than our fair share of illness, we all remained great friends throughout & there were a lot of laughs & uplifting moments.

Many overcame personal discomfort to achieve great things & despite the altitude, the extreme temperatures, lack of sleep, the grinding climbs & the punishing travel schedules, there was little in the way of moaning & lots in the way of just getting up the mountain & laughing, when the slightest opportunity presented itself to do so. It’s the way John did things so maybe like the S&D, it became infectious.

Brian Frith

December 2009

Ecuador: Day Eight – Rio Blanco to Viche

Looking out in the early morning light over the mounds of the tents was surreal. Pity I didn’t have my camera in working order as it would have made a great photo. I passed John Lyons on the way to/from the loo block this morning & I told him to be careful as there were mirrors on the wall – I’d frightened myself silly looking into one.

It was dry when we broke camp but mercifully it was quite overcast & what could have been an unbearably hot ride was quite tolerable & we had the joy of riding miles along newly laid concrete whilst the main traffic struggled along the broken & potholed road to the side of us.

We had what was described as an undulating morning (sort of pretends no hills) but it was quite pleasant through large & small farms with interesting countryside although a scary degree of de-forestation. We had a decent lunch at a roadside café although catered by our own guys & I was feeling a lot stronger when we set off for the afternoons ride & managed to push hard to the last of our camping nights, a river side stop down a long rocky road. The river itself didn’t look too inviting but after we’d pitched tents in a steamy banana plantation & got thoroughly hot, it was the only place to be & after carefully negotiating the rocky stones we sat for an hour or so, passing round the shampoo & enjoying the cool. The really organised guys rocked up with cold beers so enjoyed true luxury.

Alistair provided a little light relief by swimming across the river & then trying to return against the fast flowing tide. Even walking a long way upstream left him way downstream by the time he was back, but it did provide some entertainment & we fell just short of auctioning off his belongings.

Having been told it hadn’t rained for 4 months in these parts, many of the group pitched tents on the concrete forecourt (which meant they couldn’t use the outer rain cover) but I hadn’t the energy to consider redoing ours, so we stayed in the ‘jungle’. However I did set up a pole across a couple of trees & hung my (much mocked) yellow canvas bucket at one end with a supply of water for mornings ablutions plus my towel & other items, to dry. Feeling pleased with my efforts I hit the sack at some ridiculously early hour. During the night, I managed to convince myself that the noise on the tent was the palm fronds, but no such luck, it had rained & not only had my laundry not dried but the whole lot had collapsed into a muddy heap.

It was without a trace of regret that we began to decamp for the last time this trip in the drizzle of the early morning.

Ecuador: Day Seven – San Miguel to Rio Blanco

The ‘A’ team had taken off early to make up the lost cycling miles whilst the rest of us were to be bussed to the start – a wood yard where the resident family regarded us with amusement. Throughout the trip we seemed to pitch into people’s yards & workplaces & be welcomed without any resentment. I can only presume the local guides passed over a few dollars for the inconvenience but these were certainly welcome stops.

The day started well & we had a good morning in pleasant countryside through fields & farms & on good roads which eventually took us to an idyllic riverside setting. Lunch looked good but I decided on the bare minimum as I was battling a less than great constitution at this point & I found a shaded spot under the trees for a most welcome sleep.

The river scene was wonderful with a couple of local ‘mamas’ handling an enormous pile of laundry which they beat with great wooden paddles & local kids leaping around in the river. It was too much for many of our group who couldn’t resist joining them & Trevor went so far as to try out the ‘rope into the river’ ride. Had he broken it we could well have had an international crisis on our hands as it looked as though it had been there for centuries.

The afternoon was hot & hard on dark tarmac that gave off so much heat. However the night’s stopping point was excellent & consisted of an attractive bar/restaurant & we were to camp in the field surrounding it. It was just so great to sit on a shaded terrace, with a drink & catch the small amount of breeze from the elevated position we were in. We could also look down the long dark road & cheer/heckle the rest of the Group, as they came in.

After pitching tents there was a luxurious moment when we all ‘showered’ & seldom have I seen such excitement. In fact the ‘shower’ was a guy on the roof with a hosepipe which he directed onto the person below. It was sheer bliss, but has it been so long since we left the luxury of our en suites & hot & cold running lives that this now equates to luxury? The toilets were not quite so impressive & involved a dusty walk with a bucket, in order to get water to flush.

Dinner was again good although many of the Group were now suffering from mosquito bites which were causing immense irritation in the heat & sitting around at dusk seemed to be a call for dinner, not just the humans present.

Ecuador: Day Six – Pifo, centre of the earth – San Miguel de los Bancos

Mercifully it was dry when we woke but still very cold with many in the Group having not slept & having spent much of the night tripping over guy ropes as they waltzed the S&D quick step. Today’s plan was to be bussed through Quito to the official ‘Centre of the Earth’ where one could straddle the equator, have the obligatory picture taken & then resume cycling on the Westbound stage of our journey. In the event, the only thing I straddled was the loo at the centre, a particularly popular pastime where pleasantries, hand wipes & toilet paper were exchanged along with related friendly banter. We were becoming a rather sick group but never lost the ability to laugh or exchange the most intimate of details without a trace of embarrassment.

After doing our tourist bit, we set off in the most amazing heat, a mass of cyclists terrorizing the midday city traffic as we headed on black tarmac up a steep & gruesome climb of some 6km. From this perspective it’s hard to find much positive to say about Quito. As we toiled up the hill, there was no joy to be found in looking left into the City as it was just to look into a grey dustbowl.

The climb also took its toll on a lot of the riders & there was probably an hour between the front & back riders on that relatively short climb. From here on, there were more & more of the group exchanging bike for bus.

Having made the climb however, we then had a long descent & with some amusement found ourselves at a traffic toll booth with lunch being served from the booth! However lunch is lunch & no one was grumbling as we lounged around & enjoyed the break. There was however a problem. The road ahead was under repair which meant that our support trucks couldn’t get through & would have to take a 3 hour detour. The cyclists would be allowed to go through, but of course would have no support & the bus option was not open to anyone who ventured forth on this option.

Onwards then & some while later we found the roadwork where the workers cheerfully helped us in & out of a couple of 2 metre ditches & we were on our way through some lovely countryside, a long downhill & finally a long, slow climb to the rather lively town of Nanegalito. The plan was then for a further 8km climb to our designated campsite but for some reason this never materialised & ultimately it was decided that we would be put into a hotel for the night at a cost of $8 per head.

I was part of the final group to be bussed but managed to while away a couple of hours in a local bar before a truck found us & took us to the hotel where, after some worrying moments (not enough beds) we were found beds & I had the pleasure of the company of John Lyons & Brian Ellis. Gus recalls the evening as one where he spent much of the evening in the loo, in massive discomfort & suffering from the very worst symptoms of S&D which by now was pretty universal.

Under the circumstances, even grotty beds, shared showers & loos & the chance of a decent night’s sleep were much welcomed over the alternative. We had a mediocre but acceptable meal in the hotel restaurant & the group that met for breakfast the following morning looked infinitely livelier than those of the previous couple of days.

Ecuador: Day Five – Baeza to Pifu

The day started out wet & miserable but strangely helpful as were immediately into a long climb of around 40kms up to Papallacta at 3270 mts. The DR guys didn’t perform at their best today as a 3km water stop became another 3 kms & then yet another 7 kms – psychologically awful as you try & gear up your efforts dependent upon the next rest stop.

There was further confusion later as we anticipated a 16km climb after lunch, only to be told we’d arrived & would be bussed to the top. All very confusing on a day that was full of brutal climbing into weather that was desperately cold & wet, towards the top of the Andes.

However when we did finally arrive, there was lunch & a hot spa, so weary limbs were rested in the knowledge that the rest of the ride (save the ‘A’ team who decided to ride the peak) would be down the other side to the nights campsite. En route I did see an accident that was chilling – a large truck had failed to make a bend & had plunged hundreds of meters into a narrow gorge with a fast flowing river at the bottom. This country doesn’t do ‘elf & safety in abundance.

I found I had a signal on my phone at the summit & took the opportunity to phone Judith only to find myself surprisingly emotional – not quite sure where that came from, maybe the altitude.

The ride down from the summit was an amazing experience at speeds of up to 70kms (I’m told) for some. I had 6 layers of clothes on my upper body & was still quite cold but found it very exhilarating amongst such majestic scenery. The ‘A’ team who followed however were somewhat later, certainly colder & by then the rain was setting in so I suspect their experience was not so great but nevertheless heroic.

With hindsight, a little better planning would have seen us stopping at the spa overnight, all riding the summit & going onto a campsite infinitely quieter & more suitable than the one we were about to pitch on – not a good night!

The site chosen was by a school & we had the use of two tiny rooms which were to lose electricity for a period of time. It was cold, became exceedingly wet & stormy & many of the tents which were pitched in the water course, began to flood & had to be moved. Many of the group by now had severe S&D & the few toilets were being used in overdrive.

As soon as our tent was up, Tony was inside & asleep for the night & only awoke to have a cuppa & to stagger across the field to the loo. With the sound of heavy trucks constant throughout the night this was definitely a low point, as illustrated on a couple of the photos you’ll find on the link shown on the ‘photos’ page. I dread to think what would have happened if we’d had multiple tents flooding, wet sleeping gear etc as there was no provision for drying & we had already accumulated more than a comfortable amount of wet gear.