Getting from Pasto to Ipiales was essentially one downhill and then one uphill. Not that it was a short day. The hills were that long.
30 km into the first part (downhill), my hands were numb. Not only was it kind of cold, but holding the brakes for over an hour was making them tired. I was starting to wonder if I would retain enough motor control to stay on the brakes the whole time. If I didn't, this could end badly.
As Oscar, my WarmShowers host, had warned me, getting into Ipiales involved a long, difficult hill. Just the fact that a hill can go on for 40 km is hard to believe! Luckily, it wasn't as steep as some of the more difficult ones in Central America. I don't know if I'll ever see anything quite like my first day in Guatemala.
Only 10 km outside of Ipiales, I saw a woman standing outside her house and waved at her. She waved back and said something, but unlike normal, it sounded a lot like she wanted me to stop for something. Since my robbery, I've been more guarded about things like that, but it seemed like a woman in plain sight of the highway, in a not-so-remote area, with her two daughters in the yard, wasn't about to pull anything. I stopped and turned around.
"Do you need something?"
"Yes, help me!"
"OK, with what?"
"Help me!" She turned and went into the house.
That took five seconds to get weird. She came back out, then said "Help me" at least two more times before finally saying anything else.
It turned out she wanted help drawing water from her well in the front yard, then the heavy buckets needed to be carried through the house to fill a tank behind the house. I didn't mind helping. Her daughter spoke a little English and asked curiosity-laced questions repeatedly, mostly about Texas. While her daughters were asking me questions, the woman made a call on her cell phone. I wasn't able to understand what she was talking about.
After one round of drawing water, the woman took my face in her hands.
"Oh, my love!" She kissed me on the cheek. I went back to drawing water.
At one point, the daughters went inside, and I was asked if I was married or have children. I of course answered in the negative.
"I have no wife, no children, no work, no house. I do not have much, in truth!" I guess I hadn't thought of it quite that way until now.
"Do you want to live here and be father to my babies?"
"Uh, no, I have a life in Texas. But thank you."
Now thinking it was about time to get out of there, I finished helping her drag the water around and explained that I had to meet a friend in Ipiales at an exact time. She insisted that I sit down inside and have a cup of hot milk, a roll, and an orange. Well, OK, I guess I could stay for that. I didn't have much food on me and was hungry after the long hill. I went outside to where I left Valeria, intending to move her just inside the door now that I couldn't keep a good eye on her.
The woman rushed over and stopped me.
"No, no, it is OK, nothing happens."
"But I want my bicycle inside for one moment."
"No, nothing happens!"
"Four days ago, I was robbed."
"That was Pasto," I hadn't said anything about where I was robbed, but OK... "Nothing happens!"
"It is not OK, not one moment?"
"No, no, you don't need to, nothing happens!"
She was incredibly insistent, and never gave a good reason why it would be a bad thing to have the bike just inside the doorway. I didn't like the situation. I explained again that I needed to go, but she insisted that I finish my milk first. I downed it as fast as I could, burning my tongue in the process, and tucked the roll and orange into my panniers. I was getting the hell outta there before something weird happens. OK, something weird had already happened. Before something bad happens.
"I love you!" she blurted out as I was rolling up a pannier. She and her daughters followed me out into the yard and waved goodbye.
I'm still not sure if there was possibly a heist in the works, or if she was trying to snag a sugar daddy, but I'm almost positive at least one of those was true. Maybe the milk had a sedative in it and I'm about to pass out while riding? Maybe she called in a couple guys on a motorcycle who are going to meet me later on the highway? I've been on edge ever since my incident, and after this strange encounter, every sound for the next half hour made me jump.
I got to Ipiales at a reasonably early hour for once, early enough that Oscar wouldn't be there for another hour. It took me a while to find his place, because he lived in a relatively new neighborhood and some of the locals weren't sure where that address was (and I could no longer use GPS). Latin American addresses are always difficult to understand, and each country uses a different system. You have to rely on asking people, and that has proven unreliable as well.
Once I'd had a shower, Oscar and I took a bus to Las Lajas, a famous church just outside Ipiales. On the way, Oscar explained how he and his brothers used to run to the church and back together every day, about 7 km each way, down and then up a steep hill. His personal record for the 7 km uphill was under half an hour. I don't know if I could do that!
We had to take a bus rather than riding Oscar's motorcycle because, as Oscar explained - and I'm not kidding - the highway robbery in Colombia has become a big enough problem that it is illegal for two people to ride on a motorcycle, for fear that they will rob people on the highway much the same way it was done to me. I don't know if that law is enforced well, because I think I recall plenty of people riding motorcycles in pairs. But since I only learned that law on my last night in Colombia, I didn't have much time to look around and observe with that knowledge previously in mind.
Las Lajas is incredible. I could go into description, but that's not nearly as good as showing it. Unfortunately, the stolen phone meant I had no camera. So I'll post a couple pictures that were taken by someone else.
Oscar took a picture of me with his camera, then emailed it to me later, so I'd have one.
Walking up to it and inside and around it was cool, but I think it looked best from farther away, not up close.
Las Lajas is on the site of a former, smaller church. About 200 years ago, an image of the virgin Mary appeared in the stone on the side of the mountain nearby. As a response to the miracle, Las Lajas was built. Increasingly, some of the locals think the image was painted.
Oscar made me some panela, a local hot drink not unsimilar to sugar water, and headed over to visit his daughter. I wound up watching "Finding Nemo" dubbed in Spanish and we had a beer together when he got back.
Crossed the border to Ecuador after doing only 4 km in the morning. Only 150 more to Cotacachi! This would be a long day...
I met a couple Czech touring cyclists after a few hours, going the other way. And only a little later, another couple, one Colombian and one Englishman. We quickly decided to ride together for a while, at least for about 50 km before they were going to turn off and head for the coast. Only about 20 minutes later, I had separated myself from them. They never caught up. I felt kind of bad about ditching them when we agreed to ride together, but I spend so much time alone, I don't do well riding at someone else's pace. That's doubly true in the mountains. Everyone takes them differently.
It was a long enough day that arriving during daylight hours might be a problem. Didn't take many breaks on the day, kept moving. Lots of downhill at one point, but then a long climb. By the time I got to Ibarra, I wasn't in the best mood.
But in Ibarra, my spirits picked up immensely when I saw a sign with distance markers. 23 km to Otavalo, and Cotacachi (today’s destination) was closer! Only 114 km to Quito, and Tumbaco (tomorrow's destination) would be closer! Tomorrow was supposed to be around 130 km, and now it looks like less than 100! The turnaround in outlook was just what I needed to do the last climb out of Ibarra and make it to Cotacachi.
As soon as I got to Maria's, my WarmShowers host, she showed me around her place and explained that she needed to get to Quito to visit her father. I would have the house to myself, including a washing machine and some leftover rice, lentils, and broccoli. She apologized profusely and left.
Honestly, this was a lot like what I was in the mood for. Everything you get from staying with a host, but I wanted a quiet night to myself for one night. I happily devoured the leftovers, did my laundry, got some reading done, and went to bed early. Ahhhhh!
I arose the next morning with a little spring in my step. Last day of riding before a week off! Less than 100 km, too! Just a short easy ride and I'll be back in Texas before I know it!
It wasn't an easy ride. And it wasn't less than 100 km. Apparently that sign for going to Quito was referring to the distance on a different highway, and referred to the distance you would travel to make it to Quito city limits, not the center of town. Quito is big enough that difference is substantial.
Halfway through the day, I saw a sign telling me I was now crossing the equator! 50 m later, I saw another sign telling me I was now crossing the equator. And about 150 m later, I saw a monument, built on the equator. Hmmm...
I decided to check out the monument in any case, where I met a van with a handful of American tourists in it. They were mostly from Atlanta, though two of them now lived in Cuenca, in southern Ecuador. Too bad it's not on my route, because these people were nice enough that it would be pleasant to pay them a visit.
One of them was even kind enough to take a picture with her phone and email it to me, so I'd have a picture of Valeria and myself crossing the equator!
Now in the southern hemisphere, after a gazillion hills and distances that managed to magically get longer and longer (Tumbaco was 15 km away, then 25, then 20, then 28), I arrived at the Casa de Ciclistas. I'd tried about five WarmShowers hosts in Quito, but half didn't respond and the rest said no. Kind of how things have gone in Latin America most of the time. Makes me appreciate the people that help me even more.
The Casa de Ciclistas though, both the ones I've stayed at have been wonderful. On arrival, I was greeted by one of the guests, a spunky Australian named Emma. She took me around, showed me the big yard where I could camp (camping only at this place), the laundry, kitchen, bike shop, living area.
Most folks were out and about in the middle of the afternoon, but by the time I'd gotten a shower and pitched my tent, the place had a buzz going. Three Australians, an Englishman, a Pole, an Italian, a Spaniard, and this Texan. Interesting group of people! Sometimes hostels allow you to meet people from all over the world, but the Casa de Ciclistas ups the ante - you meet touring cyclists from all over the world! People with the same adventurous spirit, and you instantly have hours of conversation material.
Emma and her husband Bren rode a half-recumbent tandem bike. I’d never seen anything like it. Bren rode in the back, upright in a normal riding position. From there, he controlled the steering, brakes, and shifting. Emma sat in a reclined chair in front of him and just pedaled. I liked their setup. Normally, tandems are done so the shorter rider is in the back. That’s no good, how are they supposed to see anything?
Chris, from the UK, was kind enough to share his dinner of pasta with lentils. A good thing, too - I had run out of food entirely! My breakfast that morning was the last handful of Bill's pecans and walnuts, and I hadn't had anything else all day. My goodness, did a hot meal hit the spot!
My flight didn't leave until midnight the next night, so I had a chill day hanging around the casa until I decided to leave early, around 5:30 PM. I only had to walk a couple blocks and then take a 30 minute bus ride, so I wound up at the airport several hours before my flight. Still, I had no important reason to hang around the casa, and it seemed safer to avoid traveling at night.
I've taken a few days off, even two in a row once or twice, but not a full-fledged break up until now. I'm still enjoying the ride, but living a different life for a week will feel good while I’m there, and make me enjoy the ride even more when I return. Kinda like switching off your favorite flavor of ice cream every now and then. And as I've said before, it's not the things you do that makes bike touring hard, it's the things you give up. Gonna be nice to have them back, even if only for a while.