Going South

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We left the white city of Popayan a week and a half ago, it seems far away but with so much going on each day that is not surprising. The ten days have seen us climb higher into the Andes, cross another border into Ecuador, pass over the equator and cycle over a few 3000+ meter passes, but more than anything else it has brought us deep into the Andes and through some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip so far.

We had an extended break in Popayan due to some sort of flu we picked up and as we were due to leave we heard from Seth and Parker, the two American cyclists we had previously met on the road. They told us of Byron, a Canadian cyclist who would be doing the same stretch as us. It gives you an idea of how difficult it can be to meet other cyclists on the road as we leapfrogged with Byron (www.byrongoessouth.com) before finally meeting up in a hotel just two days ago, sharing some stories over breakfast before the final ride into Quito. It is good to know there are others out there and that our paths will cross with this likeable Canadian over the next few months.

Popayan marked the end of a Colombia we had come to know and love and as we headed towards Ecuador we knew we were entering an area that is known as a FARC stronghold. This is a landscape of valleys and mountains and as each valley passes the changing nature of the culture is evident in the increase in indigenous people and the mixing of Colombian and Ecuadorian styles. Luckily for us, the presence of numerous army and police checkpoints removes any sense of danger and simply allows you to feast your eyes on the ever changing landscape.

 

The town of El Bordo sits overlooking the Patia valley and the Pan-American deteriorates as it runs for eighty or so kilometers along the lowest altitude that we will experience for a while. And what a valley! At times I felt as if we were cycling along something resembling a meadow-floored lush grand canyon, alive with ever changing hues of green as the sun revealed ridges bathed in light and shadow. It certainly gives you a sense of your place on this earth, sometimes you feel like one of those ants carrying half their body weight along the undergrowth, small and almost inconsequential, lost in the immensity of the world.

We are in the Andes for sure, each day brings with it long climbs and equally long drops, we are ascending at least 1000m a day, enough to focus both mind and body. It is a testament to our fitness levels at the moment that we can get up feeling refreshed each morning and ready for the challenges of the day ahead. And challenging they are. The altitude certainly plays a factor.

If you were to go from sea level to 3220 meters in a short space of time then you would feel nauseous with a shortness of breath that slows your body down. But we are adapting and look forward to each day on the road… and there have been some spectacular roads!!

It is funny what you sometimes see up here. This "train" appeared like an apparition and disappeared just as quickly with its fairground music soundtrack. And these posters were part of the election campaign of Mockus, the green party presidential candidate, showing him riding a bike in a suit, situated way up some mountain road. At the time we were wet and cold and tired, caught out in descending darkness and those pictures just didn’t seem right. As it was, he lost the election just last Sunday.

We were sad to be leaving Colombia, it has been a perfect country to cycle in, panaderias (bakeries) on every corner, good, cheap food and accommodation easily found, friendly and curious people and endless natural beauty. At  the same time we were looking forward to Ecuador, the surprises that come with a new country, to crossing the equator and being in the southern hemisphere.

Football has played a part in our schedule since the world cup started, lunch breaks arranged around the late match (1.30pm here) and delayed starts to see the early games (6.30am and 9am). We took a day off in Ipiales, football and a trip to check out  Las Lajas, the local Lourdes style pilgrimage site.

We arrived at the border on a rainy and cold morning

Ecuador has been a surprise so far, mainly because it has rained a lot and it is cold. We are wearing a layer of thermals to keep warm, and waterproofs to keep dry. How can this be so when we are at the Equator? And the landscape reminds me of Scotland, or even a Switzerland  with windmills and snow capped mountains.

The stormy skies create their own beauty though.

And so, we are still getting used to his small country. As with every border crossing, there are always comparisons in your head for the first few days. It is certainly different but already we are finding the people to be warm and friendly and talkative, which is great for practicing our ever improving Spanish. And Ecuadorians are just as passionate about cycling as Colombians are. And under the veils of mist and rain we have caught glimpses of more spectacular landscapes.

I guess that crossing the Equator is a landmark in a way. We are now in the southern hemisphere and we are making our way slowly towards Patagonia. We have come a long way in five months.

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