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The Adventures of the Cycling Pixies Through Wine and Space
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Subject:   Ecuador Part II
Date:        Tue, 23 Feb 1999

Hi Everyone

1st happy belated Valentines & a mega big slobbery snog from both of us!

We looooove you

Yeah Yeah Yeah!

Sorry now we’ve finished deafening you with our catlike howls, we can give you a little update on our travels!

At the mo. we’re in Cuenca. It’s Ecuador’s 3rd largest town (population 250 000) & probably the most pretty. Lots of towns in Ecuador have lost much of their colonial architecture due to their proximity to an active volcano but Cuenca seems to have sited itself pretty well. It has the right balance of being a large town but small enough not to feel alienated. It also has lots of museums, markets, 4 rivers (one particularly picturesque) & enough gringo bars to keep us happy.

We decided a hot bath was in order this morning & headed off in the rain to the nearby town of Baños. But it consisted of 3 very small & grotty looking swimming pools (though admittedly the water WAS hot) and as they cost between 10,000 & 20,000 sucres (that’s a massive 90 pence to £1.80) we thought fuck that for a laugh - we’d rather buy 4 amaretto coffees or 3.5 litres of beer for that price! So smelly we returned.

But we did get a whole bag of plantains & bananas for free (apparently there are 23 different varieties here - we haven’t quite mastered the art of distinguishing them yet) - Richard did his normal act of cycling up & asking for a ´regalo´ (present in Spanish. Can you believe it - there’s no verb in Spanish ´to cycle´ but there is a verb for asking for a present! We heard it’s usage a lot over Xmas & the New Year, when all the kids & poor people hang by the roadside & ask for presents & money) We only expected a couple of bananas but the guy seemed willing to give us about a 100 - only we couldn’t carry them all.

Actually, we spray hosed ourselves down yesterday so we’re pretty clean for us! Also, as we were in Riobamba for carnival we figured we’d had enough showers recently. During carnival the locals practise the art of waterbomb throwing. They’d started a week prior to carnival - presumably for the practise as they certainly needed it, only targeting their aim perhaps 15% of the time. This was still sufficient for us to forget the necessity of showering - although it was pretty hazardous as we spent all our time on the lookout for kids lurking around corners waiting to take aim - instead of watching the cars which were constantly nearly driving into us. Ecuador has got to have the worst drivers anywhere - yes worse than Mexico & believe it or not even worse than the bloody Frogs. Richard miffed one day at being sprayed from above, demanded that the kid come downstairs - ´just to talk´. The kid wisely refused but Richard was willing to hang around. A few minutes later his parents drove up - very smartly dressed. The dad wanted to know what Richard wanted & Richard explained he wanted to talk to his son as he’s sprayed him with water. "But it’s carnival!" the dad dismissively stated. So Richard responded by getting his waterbottle & spraying both the mum & dad in all their splendid attire! The dad didn’t know what to say & stood there muttering "It’s carnival" through gritted teeth. Oh the sweet pleasures of revenge!

Oh yes -nearly forgot. I know you guys all think we’re travelling at a snails pace but we can go fast when we want to. Well Richard can anyway. Last week there was a race in Riobamba - a cross country.

Richard was offered a Cannondale bike with which to enter & after a couple of days of serious training (snoozing in the tent!) he came in with the bronze. This was despite after 35 km his chain breaking & having to run the final km. So he lost the silver but despite his nonchalance, I think he was secretly pleased. Of course I did one better because when they gave out the medals, they gave me a medal just for being his girlfriend & cycling from Alaska. And I didn’t even have to enter!

We’ve done 2 fabo. rides in Ecuador. One was on the Quilota circuit - 1st to Pujilì, then a torturous 28km uphill over a 4200 metre pass. There we met some indigenous Indians who demanded to know where we’d come from on bikes. We don’t think they even believed us when we said we’d cycled up the hill never mind from Alaska (probably didn’t know where Alaska was anyway) & asked us if we wanted to swop our bikes for their donkeys! Then plunging down into the valley & back up again.

Unfortunately the paved road had pettered out by this stage & it was tough dirt. We camped in the volcanic crater that contained a gorgeous emerald lake at 4000m. We made it just in time before the rain pelted down - and it continued all the next day. This wasn’t too bad as we’d drunk some fresh cow’s milk the previous evening & we don’t think we boiled it for long enough, as we both felt pretty grotty & we’re doing these incredibly foul farts! Whenever we left the tent we’d nearly pass out on re-entering for the smell! We hadn’t much money with us & Richard felt guilt ridden when we refused to buy a painting of the lake the next morning. About 6:30 he heard some noises outside the tent (over the roar of the pounding rain) & peeked out. There was a small Indian girl - about 6 years old - shivering & shaking as she soggily displayed the painting for purchase. Richard apologized & offered bread in return but she wanted hard cash! Afterwards we progressed on an increasingly bad road but with increasingly stunning scenery. We passed lots of indigenous villages where llamas freely wandered around & the locals stared in open mouthed amazement - obviously not used to seeing mad foreigners on bikes in the area. The final village before returning to Latacunga was Saqasili - a small village that has a weekly market.

On Thursdays all the local Indians come from the surrounding highlands & the place is a mass of colour (each village has it’s own distinctive costume & hat). It’s considered the most important Indian market in the country by the Ecuadorian economists. It’s certainly mad - cows, sheep, llamas, goats, ducks, chickens & the national dish here – guinea pigs being pulled out of sacks for barter! Another couple we met - French/Spanish cyclists (though they admit they do mainly busing now since they got robbed in El Salvador) said they went to the abattoir behind the market & watched the animals being killed - I won’t go into the gory details - we’re just glad we missed that particular aspect!

The other ride was up to Chimborazo - Ecuador’s highest volcano (6310m). We camped at 4800m & awoke to one of the most glorious sights ever. Although we could clearly see Chimborazo (a rare occurrence as it’s normally shrouded in self made clouds), we could also see about 5 other snow-capped volcanoes & as we were above the cloud level we could see the soft fluffy clouds gently drifting in & out of the valleys. The best thing was, as we topped the pass the road suddenly turned to beautiful smooth asphalt & we managed to glide smoothly down 2800m - not the bone rattling ride we had expected!

Richard has been interviewed twice by the radio in Ecuador - once in Ambato (oh yes - Richard just pointed out that I was on the radio too - but all I got was to say my name!) and once in Baños - not the local town of today but one further up north. A real tourist town – only 20,000 inhabitants but 105 hotels - excluding all the pensions & private residences that rent out their homes! We had a laugh there as it’s got loads of places that rent out bikes. But obviously the tourists don’t bother checking their gears before renting them by the number of cyclists we passed on the uphills having dismounted & manly shifting their gears.

Lots of love, hugs & kisses

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Stani & Richard

Next Newsletter:  Peru 13 May 1999

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