Popoyan to Pasto, Colombia. Again, a delightful, green, windey roll. I stopped at a little street stand… she’s a sweet ol gal.. She wanted me to buy the whole basket, but I explained to her I have a moto… (She could have explained to me that you can fit an entire colombian family on those things.. what’s a little basket of fruit?) I pick out one mango and one of the others… She comes over to my bike and as I’m putting my helmet on, she picks at a couple things on the back.. gives me an extra fruit… and bumps my leg with the back of her arm… She says “chevre”. I have no idea what that means.. and I can’t find the word anywhere. I wave and say good bye..I don’t know what I bought, but I fell in love with these in Puerto Rico.. they’re hard to buy in a store because they ripen… then rot overnight. They are one of my all time favorites.
I brace myself for another city. I have a bopolar relationship with these big cities… The traffic is always awful, but I know I can get affordable lodging with hot water, great food, wifi and safe parking for the bike. The wifi is the thing that is the usual sticking point… I feel adrift in the small towns without it. I ride for a long time in Pasto looking for a hotel. It is pissing down rain by the time I’m all the way in, I haven’t covered my paraglider well and am starting to panic that it’s getting wet.
I pull up at a little row of food vendors. I don’t want to be pushy so I sit down at a bench in front of one. She is making something in a pot… I don’t really know what it is until I ask. She tells me “aguapanela” It’s a hot drink made from sugarcane, a squeeze of lime and some chewey cheese chunks cut into it. I know about this because my friend in Roldanillo had mentioned it… he found a place next to one of the paragliding launches that sells only that.
I was afraid it would be too sweet, but with the lime, it is almost a tea. It’s delicious! and a perfect treat for the weather. It’s only a few cents. I ask about hotels… both her and the guy sitting next to me on the bench point up the street I was on. I had stopped less than a couple hundred yards from the hotels.
I finish my drink and ride to the closest one. I was desperate to get the wing in to a dry room and was prepared to spend a little too much money, but the hotel I find is a score! $12/night… hot water, my own bathroom AND great wifi!
Bike and wing safe, (I pulled everything apart but only the harnes was wet) shower taken, I go for a walk in the gray drizzle to see what the city has.
It’s really not pretty. It is, however, completely plugged up with pedestrian and motor traffic.
It is a shopping frenzy..everyone has something in their hand.. food, bags.. at least a purse. I’m a little hungry and want to look like everyone else and order a little bag of fried pork and maduros. There are toothpicks inside the bag to poke up the chopped fare. I don’t like the look of the cart, but go ahead anyway.. The pork was… unappealing. I’m a fried pork afficionado, for sure, but this pork was mushy, greasy and… not even hot. I left the rest of it in the bag and ate the bananas… they were a little off too. I chucked the rest as soon as I could find a bin. I switched for some fresh potato chips… they peel, slice and fry them while you wait… they’re super good. There’s lots of other street food.. here again, the chontaduros.. arepa pizzas.. lots of sausage.
I’m a little overwhelmed by all the people and grab a cab back to the hotel… I ask the driver what the deal is… He says its almost all tourist traffic… many of them from Ecuador to buy fancy things to take back. Same as Popayan. I don’t see anyone I might peg as American… Me. That’s it..
My entrance into Ecuador was spectacular in two ways. First, it was a breathtaking ride through verdant, deep, rolling canyons and mountains. I took some pictures, but it never seems to do justice to this type of grandeur.
The second is that I was getting spectacularly ill. I’d awakened in the morning thinking I’d been a little too adventerous at the street stands the night before… or maybe because I was soaked to the core and riding in the cool mountain air for the last two days.. either way, I was.. under the weather.
I made it pretty far into Ecuador and stopped at a little town called Bolivar. With some interesting art at the entrance.. I wished I’d taken the time for more pictures, but this was as much as I could manage at the moment and the sun was directly behind the installation. It was the most curious part… I think there are some other pics online elsewhere.
Town is very small, colonial and quiet. No clogged streets, no horns, just a little parque with a dozen or so people walking and laughing.. and a big church.I roll around for a while looking for a hotel, but nothing. I finally ask a shopkeeper who pionts down a very steep street. I don’t see anything. She tells me to go around the block and I’ll see it. (it’s a one way the wrong way) So I do. Thankfully, when I was close, she’d walked all the way down and points it out. It is plain and has no sign. Relieved, I park the bike and check in. My host is friendly and cordial. There is another guy sitting on a low couch with a beer. Theres a tense air about him.
We talk about the usual things and he shows me to my room.
When I return, he asks me if I’d like to eat, I kind of don’t but not to be rude, I tell him I’m not hungry and will only have a little. While they make dinner, I make small talk with the company. The guy with the beer keeps wanting to shake my hand. We have a political discussion about the president and entry visas for foreigners. Beer Guy disappears into his room and returns wearing an oversized suit.
I’m starting to get whats going on… He sits next to me on the couch. Not only do I feel poorly, but the proximity of my now half-drunk friend is a sign that I’m going to be in for a long wait.
He spends the next ten minutes explaining the contents of his wallet.
Finally, dinner saves me and I move to a table, alone. I’m delighted to see that I have a nice chicken soup. At least this part will be easy.
I finish my soup and escape to my room. Eight minutes pass.. there is a knock. My host wants me to meet his daughter who would like help with her English homework. I oblige the request and sit down with the lovely gal, I think she’s a senior in high school, but she looks a bit older than that.
Homework done, I hurry back to my room and burrow under the covers. I can’t fall asleep. my cold, or food poisioning, or whatever it is.. is working up to a rising pitch. My head is throbbing, my joints ache, I’m in and out of the bathroom (mostly in), I’m sweating and shivering. I know my fever is around 101 because I want to cry. (This and spectacular landscapes are always crying moments for me).. and then I hear something strange.. its not strange, actually. It’s very loud sex. Loud and graphic. In Spanish. Wow. Someone is really having an amazing time! The amazing time goes on and on… I begin to notice something funny. It sounds like she’s… she’s.. Oh. My. Word. Its porn. And it is now playing in a 45 second loop. I can’t be sick here. I have to leave tomorrow. I dig into my bags and swallow an antibiotic. One of the extras from Guatamala. The loop continues for another two hours. I get up to use the washroom and slam my bedroom door. The toilet isn’t working properly.. I have to take off the ceramic back and adjust the stopper. CLANG! I set it down loudly on the porcelain sink.
I settle the bathroom issue, and then WHAM! The bedroom door again. The porn stops.
For a while. Then I hear it.. but just barely. Same loop. It’s close to 3:00 when I finally pass out.
I wake at 6:00 feeling decidedly better. Fever is gone and I’m not worried I might poop myself anymore. I wash my face, pack my bags and exit as quickly as my aching, shaky legs can manage.
Next Stop, Quito. Three hours.
Quito is a super big, modern, super busy city. The traffic is outrageous, but I notice one glaring thing different from other big cities… the biggest difference is from Panama. The horns. Not many people use them. They are much more aware of noise pollution and clearly are being polite when they beep “I’m right next to you” some seem to say.. they don’t beep at random meaningless things. (well, sometimes, but not like in Panama) After a full hour in the crushing traffic and dangerously close to overheating, I find a hotel for $15 and a great parking space. My body is delighted with the early stop and I crawl right back under the covers.
The next day I wake early, roll the bike up and conduct a thorough inspection. I wax the chain and then I notice something. My rear brake pads are gone. Paper thin. What the heck did I do?? I check the rotor.. still smooth. Lucky. The fronts are low, I think I’ve not been using them because I don’t like the way the bike dives down when I do…. and the rears are better in the curves.. the bike sets down rather than shifting the weight to the front.. There have been a lot of curves.
I need to replace them, but the thought of spending more time on the bike in the busy city right now is distasteful.
I’ll figure it out in Banos.
The ride is, again, spectacular. Ecuador keeps delivering. Towering Cotopaxi, she is almost completely clothed in a thick, black cloud that is crackling with thunder and lightning… but she flashes me a little glimpse of whats underneath. A snow capped Volcano with brilliant green skirts! It’s raining on me right now, so, not the best time to admire nature.
I make Banos by early afternoon. It is small, but super-touristey. There are hotels and tour companies on every street and corner.. filling in the spaces are restaurants, shops and rows of taffy makers. They all sell the same things… right out front on shelves.. Cut up sugar cane pieces, candies and fruits. They pull, stretch and slap the giant serpentine chunks of rubbery sugar against a wooden hook right in the doorway of each shop.. The flavors are local.. Tangerine, chocolate, guanabana (my favorite) and others. Saturday is a beehive of activity.. I walk and walk. It feels safe and lively here. There is bungee jumping all day from the bridge next to my hotel.. all day you can hear the scream… and then the hoot when they realise they’re not going to die.
One restaurant sells cuy.. translated: Guinea pig. The damn things look horrific on the grill. The head, feet, everything else are sticking out like a kind of martyr. The face, frozen in a silent scream. I really don’t want to eat one… but I wonder if I’ll regret not having tried, so, I walk in and order a plate. The table I sit at is a community table. There are four people finishing up their own plates. Feet and ribs sticking out everywhere.. I don’t feel very good about my decision.
My plate arrives quickly and I turn to my grisly feast. I try to think of it like a chicken, so I grab the tiny foot and pull. But it doesn’t want to come apart. I twist and pull and wrench on the blessed little thing and…. nothing. It is a sinewey, thin piece of meat… the browned skin over it’s flesh had confused me into thinking it might be chickeney… it is thick and tough… more like a pigskin than a hen.
They order plates too, and I surreptitiously try to watch the method of consuming the foreign texture. Minutes later, they pick up and move to a private table. No doubt uncomfortable with my not-as-discreet-as-could-be inspection. I still try to see what they’re up to out of the corner of my eye.
The gentleman holds the little foot in his left hand while he spoons spicy ahi sauce onto his plate… he forks up several mouthfuls of rice and potato before biting into his piece. He seems to have no trouble at all.
I gather myself and make a second atempt. I bend the leg around until I find a likely spot and take a bite. I have to violently tear the chewey, tough muscle and I start to laugh because I’m way out of my depth here. Not the least of my problems, is that I keep imagining the Guinea pig someone had in grade school… its soft, white and beige messy fur, the way it would waddle around its terrarium, drink from the bent steel tube with a ball on the bottom.
I couldn’t wrench my mind away from that vision. It wasn’t helping things here at the table.
My host comes over to see if I’m ok.. I tell her I don’t know how to eat it… She gives me a look.. “bite it!”
I don’t want to laugh out loud. I make one last attempt and give up.
I’ve lost this battle. I pay the $4 and try to exit with a little pride.