Section 3, part 3: Volcano Alley

Day 36: Loja to Catacocha, 95k

Our day started by climbing out of Loja. We started before the city woke up, quiet streets and barely any traffic. Once out the city limits the road turned to beautifully greenery lined highway with wild flowers, pine trees and eucalyptus trees. The air was cold and the fog was thick, and my breathing was doing well. The climb was about 14k long and once we got close to the summit a tail wind picked up and pushed me up and over the top. I have never experienced the sensation of tailwind so strong uphill that I didn’t have to pedal!IMG_2513 Once around the corner the fog disappeared and the view was stunning! Sun kissed mountains and views that went on forever. You could see the town sprawling and cane fields at the bottom of the valley that we were about to descend into. As I raced down the 20k descent the air gradually grew warmer and drier, the vegetation changed to more desert like conditions. IMG_2517It was strange seeing so many green fields of sugar cane that had irrigation systems from streams among the dry mountains. The next climb out of the valley was long and steep, I stopped several times to catch my breath and look below at the winding roads I had already conquered. As I got closer to where lunch was to be set up I was side tracked by the baby chicks along the road and the fuzzy dog next to a Coke stop, I also noticed many cars parked next to a Catholic Saint shrine and kept on riding. After a few kilometers of no lunch truck, I realized I had passed it. I had plenty of water and snacks so I decided to keep trucking along. At about 2 kilometers from the top, the SAG truck came by to find me. IMG_2522The tour medic was driving and made me a sandwich and felt bad for missing me. Lunch was set up behind the cars by the Catholic Shrine. I mentioned that they need to start flagging the dogs around lunch so I am more likely to know when to stop. My breathing was not doing well, so I opted to catch a ride to camp. It is beyond frustrating that I am having so many issues with breathing, my legs and body want to go but my lungs just won’t have it.

fullsizeoutput_57eThe ride into camp was very beautiful. The road ran along a ridge line with more eucalyptus trees and views that lasted forever. The wind picked up significantly so I was a little glad to be in the truck.  Our camp was at another hostel, the tour leader had booked rooms for us since there really wasn’t anywhere to camp and it was cheap.




Day 37: Catacocha to Marcara, 83k

Our day started with a descent into another valley. IMG_1525In the first 3k after the trees had cleared, it opened up to the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. The mountains were pink and orange from the early morning sun, and we were above the clouds so it looked like a sea of white in the valleys. I am thankful that I was able to witness it.

The lower we rode the more dry and desert like the vegetation became.IMG_2533 There were very few towns to pass through and mostly unused land. Donkeys were everywhere and did not care if they were in the middle of the road. The vegetation was dry but still grew beautiful flowers and cactus. IMG_2532There were also massive ceibo trees. They are stunning, thick bulbous trunks that look almost like sinew tendons close up.

After lunch we had another long climb in the hot desert sun. Somehow I managed to crank up with a few breaks and steady but constricted breathing, my new normal. The rider notes said 65k was the summit, I assumed it was downhill into camp after that, forgetting what the elevation profile for the day looked like. I continued to have rolling hills with more elevation gain through 77k. I stopped a few times to make sure I was still on the right track, even though it was impossible to get lost because it was 1 highway, no turns.

Our camp was a quiet hostel off the main road. They had a few room available and a pool! IMG_2535Bruce and I opted for a room and it was very nice, top floor and windows with screens everywhere! I arrived into camp before noon so there was an ample amount of time to lounge and be lazy before dinner. This was our last night in Ecuador and the sunset was a lovely farewell.



Day 38: Macaras to Chulucanas, 135k

Border crossing day! Camp was about 8k from the border. It was a very small crossing. The Ecuador side had one person working to stamp our passports and accept customs paperwork. IMG_2537We crossed a bridge into Peru and had a few steps to complete. First, a guard hand wrote our name and passport info onto the back of a random piece of paper then he stamped our customs paperwork that we had filled out. Then we went to another guard who entered everything into a computer and stamped our passports. After that the waiting began for the bus to be checked.  At 8:00 AM sharp the border guards came outside and asked us to stand as they raised the Peruvian flag. We’re used to seeing patriotic displays in the US, but this is the first one we’ve seen out of country.  There were a few shacks set up along the road to but food and drinks. We decided to get a few snacks and I had to pee so bad I asked for the toilet, when I walked to the back I realized that this was the family’s home and I was in their private toilet with a bucket of water to flush and their soaking laundry in an adjacent bucket. There was no where to exchange dollars into Peruvian Sol at the border so we were stuck without money until we could find an ATM later.

Soon after, we were cleared to ride again.IMG_2539 The road continued with shacks of restaurants and homes. The first 20k was spent dodging vicious dogs. The terrain was dry desert with rolling hills. I was blown away by the instant change from Ecuador, poverty was everywhere. We noticed less cars and more motorbikes, and motor taxis.

The further we rode from the border, it was still stricken with poverty and trash lined the sides of the road, but the dogs relaxed and the locals were very welcoming cheering us on and yelling salutations. Its nice to have a warm welcome, the locals are definitely not used to having tourists in they area. IMG_2542The roads are also scattered with pigs, donkeys, sheep, goats and horses. At one spot, an impromptu dump was established outside of a town where a herd of mangy sheep where picking through the debris.

The tour leaders warned us of a dangerous water crossing on the road, it was a bridge but has been washed over and not repaired. IMG_2540When Bruce and I approached it, a lady at a road side stand started SCREAMING at us to not cross over the water. She pointed animatedly towards a dirt path that was built for pedestrians to cross over the water. At the time we had no idea why she was so insistent, it was only a few inches of water.  A few kilometers later we approached a smaller area where water was flowing over the road, the motor taxi coming the opposite direction motioned for us to slow down, but we took it for a hello wave. After all it was just a couple inches of water. Bruce went through first and lost control and fell forward onto the road, I was right on his rear tire and turned right to avoid falling on top of him. The water was deeper on the right and flung me onto the road where I slid for at least a meter. When I sat up I realized that I had blood on my hand. After further inspection, my right arm was bleeding with road rash and lots of debris.  Bruce had only a tiny scrape on his elbow.  I went to the stream to rinse and realized that there was algae covering the road under the water, thus the slippery fall. A guy was washing in the creek and began yelling at us, I assume it was berating for being careless and rinsing my wound in the water. Bruce inspected my arm and used his water bottle to flush the dirt from the wound.  He found a rock embedded in the in the skin of my elbow. He tried to pull it out but couldn’t get a grip on it. We were 30k from camp and I knew the tour medic was there and could clean me up. I decided to ride until the SAG truck came by. Luckily, just 5 kilometers or so later it passed and picked me up, and Bruce continued to camp.

At camp the bus was not there and we learned that two other riders fell while crossing the bridge where the lady screamed us. One rider was ok and at camp, the other had to go to the hospital, he had broken his leg and will be returning home. We are all so sorry for his accident and wish him a speedy recovery.

While waiting for the bus to arrive back from the hospital, a few people dug into their bike first aid kits to help clean my arm. IMG_2551Bruce was able to pull the rock out of my elbow using some tweezers. Even though it hurt like hell, I think everyone enjoyed my facial expression when I was in pain.

When the bus finally arrived all the riders pitched in to help unload and get dinner set up. We are riding with some amazing and caring people!


Day 39: Chulucanas to Olmos, 120k.

I decided to take the day off from riding because my arm swelled up over night and I did not have very good range of motion. I wanted to work on mobility and I knew assisting with dinner prep would help with that and help out the support team since they were short a person due to our fellow rider who was in the hospital.

The ride was all desert land and flat with a few rollers. Bruce hammered it and was the first one to camp.

Our camp was at a restaurant with a soccer field next to it. As soon as the bus arrived and we started setting up the restaurant owner turned up the music. South Americans love their music loud!

The bathrooms were clean but did not have plumbing, so we had to fill a bucket with water to flush. No showers so everyone had to take a bucket shower, again.

The town was a collection of 100 or so mud huts on either side of a river. IMG_2548I am not sure where the stores were or where people did business. The restaurant was the nicest place in town and remained very busy throughout the day. We had a small 2nd lunch there and it was very delicious.




Day 40: Olmos to Chiclayo, 104k

Another flat, dry and hot day. The roads are not in great condition and every rocky pot hole jarred my elbow. The towns were barren and dirty. The houses and shops were made up of mud and sticks. Somehow the roads in the towns were mud and rutted out, but in between was tarmac with the occasional massive pothole. IMG_2550It has been very dry here for a while so the dust and sand just whirred around int he wind. A few other riders and tour support have mentioned that this is like Sudan in Africa. In the towns traffic is so congested and there are dozens of 12 passenger vans the ride slowly through the streets and people hurriedly jump in and out of the van collecting their supplies to take home. Motor taxis and cars driver in every direction to avoid the vans, then semi trucks and tour busses still have to pass through there towns with narrow, dirt roads. Chaos!

Bruce and I jumped into a pace line with a few other riders and were able to bust out 20k or so quite quickly. But then the traffic became congested and a 6 person pace line just wasn’t safe. We hammered along, stopped at lunch truck for a quick bite then continued the last 30k to the hotel for a rest day. The wind picked up and we were getting tired, just in time to get close to Chiclayo and for the traffic to become INSANE. People drive everywhere and pass at inconvenient times, The roundabouts are a hold your breath and pray that you make it through without incident type of riding.

I was under the impression that Chiclayo was a large city on the beach, but our hotel is several kilometers from the beach and we are on a congested and busy road with more vans weaving in and out of traffic and with people hopping on and off, motor taxis and trucks not caring that you are walking through a crosswalk. I think we might be staying in the hotel all day and avoiding the chaos. However tomorrow is Sunday, and usually everything is closed so we might sneak out for sight seeing.


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