Monday, May 25, 2009

Andean Grooves

(Cuenca, Ecuador - Chachapoyas, Peru)

What an amazing stretch of riding we`ve had these last few days!!!

After a wonderfully recuperative stay with Lyria and Gabe (during which time we mostly just lounged around surfing the net and watching contraband DVDs on Gabe´s hi definition projector) we took to the pavement once again and headed East into the mountains. As Grace told you in the previous post, the road was an absolute nightmare of fog and cold and after a long and stressful ride we finally broke free of the clouds and entered Cajas National Park. Interestingly there is a steep fee of $10 per person to enter the park, but you can pass through for free as long as you spend no more than 30 minutes within the park´s borders. It was a fantastic 15 minute stretch of road that gave us a taste of the park´s unique and picturesque terrain. It really was a different world up there of rolling brown mountain tops and desolate stretches of earth, sporadically dotted with brightly colored algae pools. We would have loved to stay and explore further but it was cold enough that we quickly moved on our way down to the warmer temperatures within the colonial walls of Cuenca.

A beautiful and relaxing city, we spent two days at ¨El Cafecito¨ in the historic district and wandered about with our camera taking photos and sampling the local fare. On our day off I spent a few hours sewing patches over the holes in my backpack (from Volcano Bording in Nicaragua) and Grace kicked back with her book. It was at this time that a wild eyed British hombre named Ulysses came strolling into the Dorm room looking for his bed, soaking wet and clearly put out. He threw down his bag and guitar case, kicked off his sneakers (under which he was wearing plastic shopping bags over his socks) and flopped down onto the bed. He then indulged us with the humorous tale of his previous 48 hours.
He had been told by one of his tour group contacts in town that for $70 it would be well worth his time and money to take a scenic and sun filled 2-day horseback trek through the mountains outside of Cuenca with a private tour guide and porter. Unfortunately this turned out to be one of the poorer decisions of his year long world tour. It turned out that the ¨tour guide¨ was nothing more than an extra set of hands, the weather was miserably wet and cold the entire time, and the porter was a sickly donkey. Our new friend went on and on about how uncomfortable he had been the entire time riding on the back of a less than sure footed horse, attempting to help the unprepared girl who had accompanied him and didn´t bring a rain coat or sleeping bag. After camping out on a wet hillside and eating a pitiful dinner and breakfast, the gallant trio packed up and headed home. As they made their way along the path Ulysses continued to grow more and more uneasy at the steadyness of, not only his own horse, but also that of the donkey that was carrying all of his gear. The path was narrow and the hillside steep when all of a sudden, to his unpleasant surprise, the donkey lost it´s footing directly in front of him and went tumbling over the edge of a muddy cliff. As he tells this part of the story his mouth hangs open and his wide eyes stare down at the floor boards as if begging for help. It was hilarious.
It turns out the the donkey did not die but was only severely banged up at the bottom of the hill. His guitar however, was dead. He helped the guide get the animal back on it´s feet and they finished the trek home, walking at times, and returned to the hotel exhilerated, wet, and depressed.
I love the stories we get to hear.

From Cuenca the ride South to Loja was uneventful and quick. From there however the road leading into the hills towards Vilcabama and the land of longevity became more windy and fresh and the scenery greeted us with a big smile. The brilliance of the green hillsides became especially stunning as the sun moved into it´s final quarter of the sky, and we pulled into our destination feeling fantastic. A short stop to drop our things off at Hostal Mandanga and we walked over to the ¨Otro Restaurant¨ for a bite to eat. The French couple that ran the place was super nice and the food was delicious. At one point, just before we were served, the power throughout the entire town shut off for about 5 minutes leaving the crowds in the plaza and the patrons on the restaurant porch in total darkness. Apparantly nothing out of the ordinary in this small hillside getaway, as the owners quickly produced candles for each table and a pair of headlamps by which they went on with their food prep. At that moment it became clear to me that I fully intend to live in a place that is completely unfazed by a power outage. It was really nice to be around a group of people that wasn´t bothered by it but rather simply pulled out the candles and move right along without a seconds thought.

We knew we had a long day ahead of us when we woke up at 7:30 and packed the bike. We were told it was 6 hours to the Peruvian border at La Balsa and an additional 2 hours from there to the first town that would provide suitable lodging. A brief breakfast of bread and yogurt and we were on our way. We were looking at 200km of dirt road, and the cloud cover was less than encouraging. Up the winding road we went and soon found ourselves in the midst of a sizeable downpour. The muddy road and ongoing heavy machinery road construction kept me on my toes and we found the time pass nicely as we marvelled at the remote mountain sides and swerved to avoid the random suspension killing pothole or stray chicken. We arrived at the border after only 4 hours and proceeded with the necessary paperwork. Both leaving Ecuador and Entering Peru was a piece of cake, the only issue being that we had to wait half an hour for a grumpy Peruvian immigration official that smelled disturbingly like an outhouse to finish lunch and stamp us in.

The short ride down to San Ignacio, Peru would have been a pleasant end to the day if it wasn´t for a bone-headed mishap that left us splayed out in the roadway with Grace´s foot pinned beneath the bike. Listening to music and chatting about the beautiful hillsides, we rounded a 90 degree right hand corner and I lost the back end of the bike in a patch of loose rocks. We fish tailed to the left and went down in the middle of the road. Luckily we weren´t going more than 10 or 15 mph, but as we went down the bike pinched Grace´s left foot under the side case which left her gritting her teeth in pain. I felt terrible. I mean, I still feel terrible. Luckily she´s a tough girl and we were back on the bike after only a short break. The ankle was unharmed but the side of her foot is slightly swollen and is a bit painful for her to put weight on. She sounds confident that it´s likely only a deep bruise and that she should be as good as new in a few days. From now on I will add yet another layer of caution to the heaping mound of care I already take with my precious cargo to ensure we don´t have any further mishaps :-)

We had a nice evening at Hostal la Posada in San Ignacio watching ¨Sean of the Dead¨ in Spanish and eating fried chicken with fries (Grace liked the chicken so much she insisted she have some more today for lunch. I decided to experiment and got something that I didn´t recognize off the menu. It was dark brown, chewy and a bit fibrous :-( The ride today was really incredible. There´s something wonderful about winding along a mountain road with spectacular vistas on all sides and knowing that there wasn´t a guidebook or trail map that recommended it for you. We´re just making our way from one out of the way place to another and are treated time and again with amazing sights.
We arrived in the hilltop town of Chachapoyas and quickly found that Hostal Revash suited us perfectly. We rolled the bike into the fourier and unloaded the gear before taking a stroll around. There´s nothing particularly fascinating about the streets or the shops, but we both feel very comfortable and welcome here and are glad to have made it a stop on our route.
From here we continue South to the ruins of Kuelap where we will learn about the 2000 year old ruins and the history of the pre-Incan culture of the ¨Cloud People.¨ From there we make our way towards the mountain enthusiast´s wonderland Huarez, and then on towards Cusco and Macchu Pichu.
Hope this finds you all well. Much Peace and Much Love,

click the image to see our latest photos

1 comment:

  1. Oooh all so fantastic. Thanks for the adventure from my chair. And thanks for the PN photo, tears to my eye, tears to my eye. You think I am joking.
    All the green is gorgeous and the roads looked seriously washed out, good thing you only have two tires to keep on 'em. Seriously though what the heck was that bulldozer thing doing in the river? Was that a whoopsie? Anywho miss you both, wish I was on my way to meet back up with you. Thanks for the call.