Ecuador, and past the 2000 km mark.

The first days in Ecuador made me apprehensive of what the country would hold. All the towns and villages I cycled through felt deserted; as though everyone had moved away. One constant feature however was the presence of street dogs, including this chap who was happy to guard the bike whilst I had breakfast.

I missed the vibrance of the village squares in Colombia, which were always lovely to walk around after a day in the saddle. Luckily though, the scenery remained spectacular, with a mix of jungle, rainforest and mountains to keep me amused. Along with the occasional empty roadside stall. I didn’t get many customers.

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The climbs were ever-changing, going from Jungle to dense forest in the mountains, and sometimes with incredible micro-climates. You could go from a beating sun to rain to dense fog, all in one climb.

This video compilation gives an idea of some of the different kinds of roads that I have been travelling on (all taken whilst on downward slope – there’s a climbing one later!):

Deep in a jungle area, I also stayed at a Yoga retreat for the first time in my life. An added benefit of getting up at the crack of dawn for early yoga was to see the sun rising over the jungle.

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The ride from the retreat proved to be one of the most enjoyable of my trip so far. I rode along gravel paths through the jungle, passing little villages and gradually watching the scenery changing to get to the more mountainous areas once more. Interestingly, despite being so much more remote here, the kids were far more friendly and inquisitive than in other places I’d experienced in the couple of weeks before.

The theme of deserted towns and villages persisted until I reached Banos, a thriving town with a good mix of local and foreign tourists, but still a proper town in its own right. I enjoyed a few days rest from the bike. I also achieved one of things I’d been looking forward to for a while – having a go on the ‘Swing at the end of the world’, high up in the mountains. Another bonus on the road to Banos was that there were small waterfalls dotted along the road – perfect for cooling off whilst on the climbs!

Suitably refreshed, I headed out once more. I was fortunate to reach the town of Guamote for the weekly market. Like Silvia in Colombia, it was an insight into a different world.

From Guamote I headed into the Sangay national park, a UNESCO heritage site of over 5000 square kilometres. It was stunning, and I also came across my first place offering roasted guinea pig (apparently there’ll be more of that in Peru)

As I went further into the park, there were very few hamlets, and almost no tourist infrastructure, so I did my first night of ‘wild’ camping. I chose a spot by one of the lakes, and set up camp. Despite having only heated up a can of sardines, I was ridiculously pleased with myself for having established camp and fed myself in such a beautiful spot. I was rewarded the next day with the view of the still snow-capped peaks behind the lakes.

Having spent the previous day climbing incessantly, after a flat section with more lakes, the reward came with a more or less constant downhill stretch of about 60 kms, dropping 2500 metres.

 

Sometimes it’s the little things that surprise you on the road. I’d bought myself something to eat in one little village, and sat in a convenient bus shelter to eat. Despite being a very small place, they were advertising the local beauty pageant, and I was amused that some of the contestants had put up posters to canvas support.

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The biggest climbing challenge was yet to come. From the small town of Limon I had a near continuous climb of around 50 kms at an average gradient of over 8%, crossing the mountains in Sangay once more. I was hoping to split this into 2 days, either wild camping or finding a bed somewhere. Unfortunately none of my maps showed any accommodation whatsoever on route, and neither was I able to find any information online. Nor did I know what kind of road surface awaited me. A historic post I found warned of gravel roads and roadworks. I pressed on, banking on the probability of, if all else failed, being able to thumb a lift from a friendly Ecuadorian with a pick-up truck.

The climb was brutal – easily the most taxing so far. The gradient, my luggage, and the reducing oxygen due to altitude meant I crawled along at speeds between 4 and 6 km/h. The friendly honking and thumbs-ups from drivers increased with my altitude, along with more than a few incredulous looks.

As I climbed, I realised that opportunities for wild camping were virtually non-existent. Given the fact this road was literally cut into the mountains, I guess that was inevitable. There was simply no level ground. Luckily, 32 kms after setting out, I found a truckers’ café that had basic (and I mean very basic) accommodation. Frankly I didn’t care how basic the accommodation was, it made sense to stop early and rest and complete the climb the day after. It may have been rough accommodation, but the view from my room the next morning was nothing but spectacular!

The next day started really well. I got an early start, and was in my stride to complete the remainder of the climb. I even did a little video, trying to show how brutal it was;

Within a couple of kms, I was in a section of roadworks, riding on a single lane of new tarmac whilst the finishing touches were being put on the other lane. Behind me a car approached, giving me a gentle honk as there wasn’t room to pass. There not being any cones or other separation, I simply moved over slightly onto the very shiny surface that was being worked on, thinking I’d simply move back over once the car had passed. Unfortunately, instead of being very sticky as I thought it would be, it turned out the shiny surface was like ice. I slipped around for a bit, before I finally fell – hard – and then hopelessy slid along the ground. I covered myself, my clothes, and my panniers in tarmac in the process. I looked like one of those birds they drag out of the sea when a tanker has sunk. Luckily some of the roadworkers came to help me. They then proceeded to cover me in petrol, which acts as a solvent. We spent about half an hour trying to get me, my clothes, and my panniers clear of the sticky stuff. Never did I imagine that during this trip I would have to strip to my boxer shorts at altitude, and allow construction workers to cover me in petrol.

I can imagine his conversation with his family later that night “You’ll never guess what happened at work today…..”

After we’d used up all the petrol in the workers’ bottle, I headed off to a handily close waterfall to wash off the petrol. Luckily no-one near me lit a match on the rest of the ride (my jacket was still stinking of petrol), and I finally reached the summit at 3500 metres. I looked back at the road I’d climbed, then more-or-less free-wheeled for 20 kms to Gualaceo, the other side of the summit being a remarkably different landscape to the climb. I spent the rest of the evening trying to remove remaining bits of tarmac from me and my kit, using WD40 (which also turns out is a solvent for tarmac).

The next day I had a gentle ride into Cuenca, which is an absolutely charming city. It’s known as a city of culture in Ecuador, and there’s a super friendly vibe on the streets, whether or not there happens to be a band or a procession passing by.

From Cuenca I decided that I’d take the opportunity, seeing as I was in Ecuador, to visit the Galapagos islands. More about that in the next post.

Love to everyone,

Stuart

38 thoughts on “Ecuador, and past the 2000 km mark.

  1. Dear Stuart thanks for the report you are so courages but it must be a wonderful but sometimes difficult and a scary experience – Berlin is changing its temperature we getting into fall weather……sent our love

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  2. Such a shame there isn’t a video to accompany your tarmac troubles! Hilarious. But just glad you’re ok – I didn’t know where the post was heading when you said you hit the road hard. Relieved there was a [very] funny ending.

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    1. Hi Mike, that would have been priceless, albeit the phone or camera would have been ruined with tar! It was a hard landing, but thankfully just bruising to my hand and a rather fetching black eye (I must have hit my head on the handlebars as I fell). It was pure comedy. Hope you’re well, and job still great. Big hug, Stuart

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    1. Cheers Paul. Really great to have you on board. I’m going to be off the bike for the next few weeks, suspect I’ll be chomping at the bit to get back on when the time comes! Trust all well in the UK, and send you warmest wishes, Stuart

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  3. I am breathless reading your blog….I am not surprised by your interaction with the folks along the way. The combination of the human warmth of South American peoples and your generous and infectious enthusiasm are a great combination..!

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    1. Cheers George. Please don’t get too breathless – you’re still recovering! The South Americans are certainly warm. Even though the Ecuadorians are more reserved than folk in Colombia, I’ve still been blown away by the friendliness and hospitality. And the inclines of course! I gather that autumn is coming in Berlin. Hope that Paul-Lincke-Ufer remains warm and cosy. Best to you both, Stuart

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  4. Stuart,

    So look forward to your posts and the stunning pictures. Make a long train journey far more enjoyable. Pleased your all still in one piece and looking forward to a trip to the Galapagos.

    Take care.

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    1. Thanks John; that’s really great to hear. I’d need to write a book for it to last the length of your commute! Galapagos wasn’t quite what I expected, but more of that in the next post. Hope all well down in the South (and in the nerve centre). Best, Stuart

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  5. Hi Stuart, really glad you are ok after the tarmacadam mishap! You are clearly enjoying pretty much all of the adventure and that is great to hear about! Enjoy the moment!

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    1. Cheers Mike. Yep, all well, albeit my left hand still a bit bruised (for some reason these things take longer to heal these days, can’t be the age, surely?). The timing was quite fortunate, as need to bus through Peru anyhow (I’ll be stopping off in Lima and Cusco on the way though). Hope all good in Kingston and Manchester, Stuart

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    1. Cheers Damon. If anything, my spirits enhanced by it. I’m still laughing at what a muppet I must have looked, slipping all over the tar 😉 Sadly the bike is in a box for a couple of weeks now, but when I unpack it and hit the roads in Chile, I’ll do my best to stay upright! Warmest, Stuart

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    1. Thank you! Thankfully I seem to have got away with just bruising. And I was laughing too much at myself for pride to be dented 😉 Ecuador is spectacular scenery, and the roads are generally in great condition (even lesser travelled ones tend to be tarmac as opposed to gravel/camino). The larger towns are great (I’m especially enjoying Cuenca), but smaller ones I visited tended to lack the vibrancy of Columbia. The people are super friendly, if a little more reserved than the Columbians.

      Enjoyed reading about your tour in the Pyrenees – cycling in France in good weather is always a pleasure, isn’t it? Some mighty climbs you faced there too – wouldn’t have fancied them on the Nomad….

      Best,

      Stuart

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  6. Wow Stuart – I am glad to hear that you had some construction workers nearby to help out. I am not sure my instinct would have been to use petrol either! I am learning quite a few survival tips from your blog. Can’t wait to hear about Galapagos – it’s on the list for us too, but we need to wait until 2021 I think as the little people won’t make the most of it now. Keep the blogs coming!!

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    1. Hi John; good to hear from you. Well here’s another tip for you – WD40 also works to remove tar. Who knew?! I look forward to chatting with you about Galapagos over a glass or two of wine in Santiago then! And seeing Gertje and the little people too of course. Off to Lima next – only 30 hours on a bus. This continent really is insanely big. Warmest, Stuart

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  7. Keep up the good work! We feel quite weary just reading about your adventures. However we are utterly impressed by your travels and what a great experience you are having.
    Lots of love,
    Paul and Nicola

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    1. Thank you both – good to know you’re joining through the blog. Trust me, many times whilst hungry and pedalling I’ve thought back to that amazing lunch at yours just before I left. I dream about meals like that now 😉 Hope you’re all well over there, and send much love back, Stuart

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    1. Hey, thanks Wolfgang. I look forward very much to some cycle rides with you when back in Berlin – oh how I’m going to enjoy cycling along the Landwehrkanal. No hills – yay! 😉 Love to the three of you, Stuart

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  8. Fab blog Stuart. Seeing you cycle up that slight hill, OMG think you need stop the fags😂.
    Such a beautiful insite of untouched land. Yr so very lucky.
    However,that is the first time I’ve seen you in yr undies,wasn’t expecting it….🤢
    Keep the blogs coming. Be safe xxx

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    1. Hehe, I’ll have to cut down to just 20 a day then! I am indeed very very lucky – still pinching myself. And noticing that it’s most definitely under an inch when I pinch now – amazing what pushing over 40kilos up mountains does to you 😉 And yes, sorry about the undies pic – I wasn’t able to put a health warning on it. I think I’ll still pee my pants laughing over that one, even years from now! Hope your recuperation still going well and the pirouettes are coming back….. Lots of love, Stuart x

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  9. Wow I love the photos and views.
    I climbed Manchu pichu many years ago with 3 friends and in my first few days in Cusco, saw another traveller devour the delicacy of guinea pig and then drink a glass of red wine and pass out……😩
    He wasn’t quite ready for the affects of the altitude mixed with alcohol lol.
    Your journey is amazing…..keep safe xxx

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    1. Cheers Denise. Yep, the views are incredible, and make the pain worthwhile! Off to Cusco in a couple of days, so I’ll take it easy on the wine and guinea pig – thanks for the warning. Hoping the altitude will be ok, given I’ve had a couple of months of regular exposure around 3000 metres and more. But you never know with altitude. Hope all well over there and that Simon isn’t getting under your feet too much. Has he been sent one of those letters yet? 😉 Lots of love, Stuart

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  10. Hope the petrol was unleaded!!! Nice to see some video footage too. You sounded like you were really struggling for breath even though you are as fit as a fiddle. The photo of you with the construction guy on my super HD phone looks like you are both superimposed!!!! Are you sure that you aren’t over at NASA and having a laugh at our expense with the moon landing team???? Great blog as always. Not sure how you will lead a ‘normal’ life after this!!!! What a thrilling experience

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    1. Hi Simon. Trust me, if I was that good with photoshop then I think I would have done something about my sparrow-like legs 😉 I suspect the petrol was full of all sorts of rubbish, but then I’ve inhaled so much of it that I’m sure it doesn’t matter! Funnily enough, it looks worse on the video than it was. I think it was the additional work of having to talk on top that was the final straw. The video quality from phone isn’t that good, but it gives a different perspective. Glad I didn’t take a go-pro though. That would have just been a faff. And as for ‘normal life’, who knows? Not thinking about that at the moment though. Cheers buddy, stay safe (and out from under Denise’s feet), Stuart

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  11. A great read, Stuart! What a fantastic adventure. I am glad I rediscovered your blog. I can’t wait to catch up on the previous posts about this absolutely epic journey. Stay safe.

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    1. Cheers Mike, good to know you’re on board. It is indeed a fantastic adventure – can’t quite believe I have the chance to do it. Our days in Meckenheim seem like a long long time ago now. Hope the whole of the Stuberg clan is well over there, and send you much love, Stuart

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  12. Stuart

    Great photographs again and loving the video. Although I think you could be cycling a bit quicker, I know blame the elevation….

    Keep up the good work, your trip looks amazing, stay safe

    Love

    Lorraine and Emma
    Xxx

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    1. Cheers lovelies! Thanks for the encouragement re speed – I’ll try harder next time 😉 Trust me, it’s the whole combo – the elevation; the gradient; the weight of bike and luggage; and, last but by no means least – my sparrrow legs! Hehe. Hope you two are well over there and send you lots of love from Lima in Peru, Stuart

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  13. Stuart

    I did not want to mention your sparrow legs but you do look like you have lost weight, keep up the good work

    Lorraine and Emma
    X

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    1. Hi you two. My sparrow legs have been legend for many years, but yes, I’ve lost a bit of weight. A couple of weeks off the bike has put a few pounds on again though, so raring to go again – the bike is out of the box today, and will be cycled over the border into Chile tomorrow 🙂
      Lots of love from here, Stuart x

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  14. Hi Stuart,
    You’re doing amazingly great, yes funny petrol experience and I bet you won’t forget it, in a hurry. Those mountain views are enchanting. You look great by the way. Have you felt you wanted to return home at any time?

    Stay safe!
    Lots of smiles
    Marina xx

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    1. Hi Marina, great to hear from you. No, no desire to return home at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be really happy when I do. At the moment I’m just enjoying every minute, and counting myself very lucky to have the chance to experience these places. But I don’t mind if I don’t have any more tarmac and petrol incidents! Lots of love to you, and hope all well with you and the kids, Stuart

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