Biking in Ecuador—Starting in Quito. By Les Liman.
To celebrate the Dia de Los Difumitos (the Day of the Dead) we decided to partake in the long held Quito tradition of eating Guagua or dead babies. The guagua was a sub roll baked in the shape of a baby’s torso and head. Drawn on the bread with red and green cake decoration were hands, feet, a face and a smile. A colado morado or “purple strain” was served in a glass to symbolize the blood, and I tore the baby’s head off, covered it in the blood, and swallowed. Yummm. Think chunks of challah dipped in a warm fruit berry smoothie. The rest of my lunch in the La Ronda section of town included Aji, a spicy orange sauce that Linda will remember from our first trip Ecuador, and stewed goat meat (a first for me) with rice. Four bucks.
Bob Weiss and Rod Morgan are my bike tour companions here, guided by Bob’s twenty-nine year old daughter Rayna, who has been living in Quito for 3 years. She launched the non-profit “Pedal for Change” that takes teenagers on volunteer service and bike touring trips in this country of fourteen million. We three guys, somewhat beyond teenage years, did a city cycling tour led by Rayna on Tuesday; that was followed by her leading a delightful Yoga session for us and others (her early class was in Spanish, ours in English) at her apartment/yoga studio/bike storage facility. Then Luis, a yoga class participant, gave salsa lessons, and as more of Rayna’s friends arrived, it became a beer and barbecue party. Dinner was served at 11pm. Yes, we stayed up that late.
Today we drove out of the city at 7am in the tour van, and by 9 we were on our mountain bikes riding 86k mostly down (with one 20k climb and a few shorter ones thrown in) from a mountain pass near Quito at 3200 meters, all the way to the jungle/rain forest climate at 600 meters on the first leg of our ride to the sea. The gravel, rocky roads were rough on the shoulders, tush and hands (for braking), and we stopped to stretch out from time to time. The frequent roadside homes and villages have chickens, perhaps the greatest risk for a cycling disaster. At the sound (or view—how well do chickens see or hear?) of our bikes they ran—fast—in one direction or another in a comical feathered long gait and rush to safety. My strategy was to aim for the bird knowing it would rush off from wherever it currently stood (Why did the chicken cross the road?…). I also know why urban keepers of chickens are not permitted to have roosters in American cities—here they get started with their wake-up calls at 4am.
We are spending the night at Alphonso’s indigenous (the Tsachila people) ecological reserve that grows plantain, yucca, banana, papaya, and corn. It is called Bua. Alphonso sports close cropped hair on the sides and longer, red painted hair on top. The color comes from Achote, and nut that grows in bunches on a tree. You crack the nut and little berries inside drip the red-orange dye. The paint dries like glue and looks real weird, but is traditional, Alphonso tells us. I’ll send a photo.
We three guys headed to the river for a skinny dip bath (not a pretty site) and to wash some clothes. The accommodations are “rustic”; basically outdoor with 3 inch mattresses on an elevated board, tree stumps for end tables and stools (bordering on luxurious), mosquito nets, and a shed roof in case it rains, which it did (I hope my clothes dry by tomorrow at noon when we leave for more riding).