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Spinning South week 77: San Felipe de Oña to Zumba.

Why is it that when you are in your “nothing box” you come up with the most brilliant ideas, think of the most beautiful sentences and construct a great story, but once you find the time to write them down they have all gone? I can go into my nothing box when biking is not too difficult, not too strenuous and preferably monotone. Bit like getting in a runners high.

Sunday starts with a steep climb out of San Felipe de Oña. With breakfast at the intersection where we pick-up again the TEMBR, I discover that I have lost my biking gloves. Frank is so sweet to bike back to the hostal but can’t find them anymore. Oh bummer, now we will have to enter again the next big city we will encounter. We follow the TEMBR that now follows the Pan-American. This will be one of the few parts of the Pan-American we have biked in Ecuador. Below lunch at the Pan-American.

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As we have to climb from 2200 m to 3100 m in 12 km we don’t complain we can do this on a decent road with a good shoulder. Saraguro is located on 2500 m so we know we will have a fast downhill as a closure of the day. In Saraguro the men have again long hair and woman are dressed in traditional clothes. But you see that more tourists stop at this rather remarkable place that is a mix of old and new (from the 70ties). Most interesting is dinner at Shamui Co Espai Gastronomic.

Knipsel food

Quelles of Quinoa. Soup which is served at the table and a credit card bill, ok now I exaggerate, full dinner for the price of one main dish in the Netherlands. Strange feeling to find such a high culinary standard after all the basic food we have had. It made us wonder whether we liked it because of the change from every day food or that it is a pity they start mixing authentic Ecuadorian food with European influences. On the other hand we also love to eat fusion cooking when we are at home. Every now and then we like to eat food that would be a challenge to copy, even if we would have the same ingredients and the recipes.

Next day we start again with the E35, Pan Am. Where we were quite happy yesterday as it was the first time in a long time to have some decent asphalt, it now already gets boring. Top this off with rain alternated with sun, jackets on and off, mist and Franks shoulder which is hurting more than before, you understand it was not such a fun morning. Even chatting with the locals to find why they cut the grass (for their cows) and cows here give 15 liters of milk per day, does not really help.

Second challenge is that I misread the map and we continue to follow the E35, with an extra climb of 700 m, while we could have taken the TEMBR it even makes it more challenging. Every downside has its upside as we can see how they make tortilla de choclo from cooked corn, milk, salt, eggs ea.

Knipsel (Custom)

They give us energy for the extra climb but at one moment we see a road which should again link us to the TEMBR. Even if it is 10 km extra we decide to give it a try. And what a bumpy, fun, downhill road it is.

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Joining the TEMBR we slowly cruise further downhill as we are in a steep valley with a big river, Rio Zamora, curving every second of the day further along the canyon walls. Our bikes and us feel more at home here than on the highway. So much closer to nature. Our TravelMaster 3+ perform perfectly, feeling very secure in going downhill. Great vista turns into a disappointment when we finally reach the river. It smells like an open sewer. Just before Loja a first water treatment plant is under construction.

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We check a few places but if we want to meet our budget we need to move away from the city center. It can’t be holiday the whole time! We find a clean place. Have dinner at a Chinese restaurant and after a stroll through the old center we call it a day.

We can start a bit slower as we need to buy new gloves for me. Still getting up at 6.00 and Frank making oatmeal breakfast. Having spare time we bike through the old center and enjoy a real coffee at the old square. What is fun: to take hidden pictures from people, see what they wear, how they walk. You feel that you are in a bigger city, stress, hurried feeling.

Knipsel people (Custom)

I can imagine people spend a few days here before continuing. Just before the bike shop we meet Timothy from the USA on a Surly. With his 69 years he is the first biker we meet in Latin America who’s older than Frank . In the past 4 years he has seen a lot of the world on his bike, but he needs to do this on his own as his wife does not like biking and roughing it.

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We don’t follow today the TEMBR as it would again be climbing from 2.000 m to 3.000 m over gravel. And happy we did not as we discover an “ecological” route. After a first climb out of Loja, where at the top we meet Tim again and help a lady carry her young chicken and maize to her home, we see on mapout the possibility to follow a route next to a river. And the turnoff is even indicated as the ecological route. A really good alternative!

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A fun, bumpy, route with absolutely no traffic, parallel to the new highway weaving between lush green forest is such a present! Especially because it was not described and not expected. At a small village where the route turns to the highway we ask the local shopkeeper if we can continue, and she says yes. It appears to be the old road which is now a hiking trail. So even single track at one moment! First we follow the annual soccer competition between local schools for a while, but it is too warm!

At one moment the fun stops. Joining the E682 and biking on asphalt means adding a few more degrees. We see somebody else in front of us struggling up the mountain and for the first time in this whole trip we overtake somebody! Fernanda from Argentina travelling home with a fully loaded bike.

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Finally in Vilcabamba we meet Mathias from Switzerland, already more than 2 years on the road with his BMW 1200 GS, having crossed 40 countries already. Traveled from Switzerland through Europe to Australia, then to Alaska and now heading South. Talking about the benefit of travelling by motorbike, the ease of a short detour compared to biking, 1 hour for him is a full day for us. He is camping down in the village but because we want to stay for 2 nights we prefer a room were we can store our stuff. And we want to stay somewhere out of town as this town is really a tourist and (US) pensioners retreat. Biking out of town we meet Marleen (Leen), Flemish and she has been living her for 7 years. Exchange details and promise to get in touch to see if we can meet and chat a bit in our own language. Few kilometers out of town, on the hill, we call Molino Tropical which has a great offer.

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In the evening Leen finalized her Spanish teaching and is so sweet to drop by. What an intense, positive, rolling coaster exchange of things which happened during the last few years. What a special person Leen is, to have entered Ecuador with little money on her bank account and managing to integrate in this village and build up a life here. She lives just down the road and we gladly accept her invitation to visit her in the next morning. What an unbelievable spot she has created. If you are looking for a idyllic get-a-way next to Vilcabamba, with all facilities and lots of trees and bananas this could be the spot you are looking for. What a great morning visiting Leen and Marco, holding the little goats, savoring a real French chocolate pastry. Thank you Leen and Marco for sharing.

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No traffic sounds, leveled as it was a previous working site for the road and amazing views. Our corner sheltered by trees that break the wind. We can set-up camp while it is still dry and cook for the first time in a very long while some real camp food. Frank tries out his new app to look at the stars (could not yet find Sams star) and when it starts to be too windy we find shelter in our tiny tent. We both sleep very well and Frank’s shoulder is better. As it is raining so much we stay in the tent until 7.00 but then decide to start cooking breakfast with rain gear on. Luckily my job is to pack everything in the tent. It is quite chilly at 2.700 m but not too cold. We start with rain and the next hours are biking in and out of the clouds. Great variety of plants, 10-20 cascades, lots of water shows it is not only raining today. Just before Palanda we meet Fernanda again. She took a lift today from Yangana as too much climbing was involved. I can understand it as she only started recently biking. She sleeps with the bomberos, we are glad we can pay the 20$ for a room with secured bike parking and a roof top where we can dry all our wet stuff.

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13th of April is the day of the landslides. And Frank who can’t resist to help push Fernanda’s bike up the mountain. Leaving Palanda over a descent road but with one land slide after the other. Seems that Peru and Ecuador agreed to create an extra well maintained border crossing so not all traffic follows the Pan-Americana. This part shows the investment of Ecuador but after a few kilometers a nice wide road with landslides alternates into a gravel road as the budget was too short (or disappeared in the wrong pockets). A nice winding not more than 10% incline road suddenly has 20% or more. On the way we overtake Fernanda and Frank helps her to push her bike up the steeper parts. But it seems she has problems with her bike and will wait for a ride. At one of the landslides we need to wait until the road is cleared, which is always a great moment to chat with the local maintenance crew.

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He explains that this landslide took a house on his way down, luckily it was around 12.00 and everybody was at work. One other really big one also took down a house and closed the road for 3 days. They work with team of 10 people, having their own stretch of road and all their equipment. In Bellavista, a very small roadside village, we meet Tim again. Perched on the side of the mountain we find great empanadas, which are different in each village!

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Down and then from Isimanchi back up again. We start with Tim going up and I am very disappointed about myself that I can’t keep up with him. Is it the lower gear or is he just stronger, but he is way earlier in Zumba than we are.

Funny that we end-up in the same hotel, again just before a heavy downpour starts. A well deserved beer after a beautiful sunny day to close the week. Next week we will cross to Peru, wondering is the first kilometers and villages will be so different from this side of the border.

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