Maps Make It Look Easy
From Quilotoa I wanted to get to the small mountain town of Salinas de Guaranda but didn’t want to take the PanAm route. I saw that Freedom Bike Rentals takes an off road route so I chose to do the same.
At almost 13,000 feet the morning air was cold. The route would have me pass Quilotoa, Zumbahua, El Corozan, to Salinas. 100 miles off road.
I wasn’t sure if I would find a gas station in Zumbahua but luckily there was a small station that at least sold regular. I love Ecuador’s $1.48 per gallon gas! To get to the road to El Corazon I went a few miles on the highway before turning left onto a small gravel road. Up and up it went until I was riding at over 13,000 ft.
The scenery is beautiful. Farms covers the mountainside.
Occasionally I would pass a few llamas in the road, cows, sheep, farm houses, and very small towns. An hour into the ride the fog became very heavy and it started lightly raining. The road became increasingly wet.
I was riding along and I saw a sign that pointed to El Corazon. I followed that direction and then a few minutes later noticed my GPS was saying I missed the turn. I turned around and stopped at a house to ask which was the right way. The woman and her mother came out and greeted me. They said the road I was on is the better road to take. None of the 4 maps I have (paper, GPS, Google, Maps With Me) show this road. They said it was an hour away. We chatted for a bit and they said I should come back when it’s better weather.
I don’t think it took one hour to get to El Corazon but I was definitely moving slow as the road became very slippery. When I arrived in El Corazon it was raining heavily. I ended up at the worst looking restaurant in the center of town. If there was a restaurant rating here it would have gotten a D. The town drunks sitting outside welcomed me and offered me a drink. I kindly declined. I had a quick lunch of rice and yucca for $1. A very old man and his wife ran the restaurant. They didn’t say much to me but their smiles told me I was welcome.
Before leaving one of the drunks said I could stay at his sister’s place. Since I was cold and wet I considered the offer. She has a hotel I asked. No, he said but she’s very beautiful. The three others chimed in, ” she’s beautiful with lots of curves”. No thanks. I’ll keep riding to Salinas. They said the road was very rocky and that it would take 2-3 hours.
The road did become very rocky and narrow. I wouldn’t even call it a road. I was now down to an elevation of 5500 ft and was surrounded by sugar cane fields planted into the steep hillside. Coming around a sharp corner of a switchback my back tire lost traction and slid out. Down we went into the mud. Lifting the bike went it’s downhill makes the job harder. Add in mud that took away all grip and getting the bike up was a challenge. I had it up on the second try.
Further up the road a bulldozer was in the middle of the path. The man said they were making the road better. Maybe when it’s paved it will be better but the soft dirt was much worse than the rocky mud. I kept hoping the rest of the way wouldn’t be like this as it slowed me down to a crawl. Luckily my wish came true and was even better. A good portion of the road was smooth packed gravel. Less than an hour later I was up at 12,000 ft and with the heavy fog and rain I couldn’t see much through my helmet as I had to keep wiping off the rain drops. It was easier to leave it open. My face was frozen and wet.
I was only 10 miles away when I was stopped by road construction. Tons of heavy machinery was widening and leveling the road. There was no room to get around so I waited. Fingers and face frozen. I still couldn’t see more than 10 ft in front of me. I had been riding for almost 8 hours and I started to regret my off-road idea. I was allowed to pass only to be stopped by more construction a mile later. There was a small footpath on the side that a worker pointed me to.
Only four miles from town I heard a clanking sound from the rear. I stopped to check it out and saw that I lost a bolt to the chain guard. It wasn’t hitting the chain just the gas tank so I kept riding. Finally I saw the signs of a town. People walking, people on horseback. I arrived in Salinas and went straight Hotel El Refugio. What an appropriate name. I got a private room with a shared bath for $7 a night. With wifi and a large fireplace in the common area I made myself at home. Laying my wet clothes by the fireplace to dry out.
Even though I was comfortable by the fire, I was needing something to cheer me up. The last thing I should have done was look at the weather; rain for the foreseeable future in the region. Come on Ecuador! While my clothes dried out I had this thought what if it rains the rest of the trip? I reminded myself that I went on this trip not just for the travel but to challenge myself. The thing about a challenge is there’s always an end to them and there’s usually a reward. (If you’re really optimistic you can find a reward all the time). I’d just have to wait a little longer for the reward I was hoping for, chocolates and cheese!