(June 8 – written by Dave)
We’re living high tonight. That is, we are sleeping higher than we ever have (not counting sleeping on a plane). We are in Guamote, Ecuador at 3,100 meters (10,170 feet). We are doing ok as we’ve been working up to this height now for more than 8 weeks, going back to our first days climbing up into the Andes.
The heights here are not Himalayan but they can’t be messed with all the same. We met a nice young German couple at our hotel two nights ago. They spent almost three weeks in the Galapagos Islands (sea level), a few days in Cuenca (2,400 meters) and yesterday they hiked to the second refuge on Chimbarazo (over 5,200 meters). They are both young and fit but the woman got altitude sickness and was not able to recover just coming back to the lowlands of Riobamba (2,700 meters). She had some issue with her breathing and an issue with her lung. They spent last night in the hospital. We are very happy to report that they sent us an email this morning to let us know that a full recovery is expected. But it just goes to show you, you really need to be careful – and you never really know until you try whether you will be one of those unlucky ones that don’t do well with the altitude. We will be over 4,000 meters in Peru and maybe even 5,000 (we are not sure). One thing we are sure about is that we are not “rushing up” anything, anytime soon.
Our ride today was quite nice. It was cloudy this morning leaving Riobamba and it stayed cool. Getting out of town involved a 22k climb, the first 10k through the working class part of town – lots of repair shops, trucks and buses, and dog packs. But the shoulder was good and other than the occasional cloud of black smoke from one of the trucks and buses, it was an ok ride. We fended off all the dogs that took interest in us. We stopped at a cafe at about 15k for a drink and comfort break. The guy running the little cafe was quite engaging – we had an interesting conversation about the issues caused by all of the Venezuelan refugees coming through. It was all in Spanish so we must be getting a little better (we are still delinquent on our afternoon studies however – for some reason, carrying study notes in one’s bag does nothing if you don’t look at those study notes – funny that).
The last 10k of the climb was even gentler and in no time we reached the top of the pass, 3,300 meters. Neither of us have breathing issues riding but we sometimes do when we stop to take photos. I think riding we have a rhythm, whereas when we take pictures, we try to hold our breath to keep the camera steady. Hold your breath at 10,000 feet and you’ll soon be out of breath.
Along the way today we found a church, Iglesia de Balbanera, billed as the oldest church in Ecuador. It’s hard to know why the first church would be built at the top of a pass but it did look like a seriously old building. It wasn’t big and it was built in 1534, the year that many old places in Latin America site as their founding year.
And speaking of not big, the people and their homes in this area seem really small. We passed a couple villages today where everyone was wearing traditional dress and no one appeared to be much north of 5 feet tall. It could be just me thinking that small people would live in small houses but at times it felt like we were riding through the land of hobbits. I snapped a few photos but it’s hard to get the same feeling without something to give you perspective.
The ride from the top of the pass was mostly downhill though lots of small plot-farm land. We think we saw a lot of quinoa and got a few photos that we checked later – it seems right. We also had nice friendly tailwind, very smooth pavement and very little traffic. For a time riding was so easy it felt like we could ride a hundred miles more today. You don’t get a lot of those moments on a loaded touring bike so we really enjoyed it.
There was one little rise, to break the vibe, followed by more downhill to reach Guamote. Nancy was still feeling the endorphins a bit and suggested that we could do a double day. We toyed with the idea but decided to call it a day here. It’s a small town, only 2,000 people and the majority of them are wearing traditional dress. We have a room on the second floor of the La Giralda Hotel. We have a great view out the window of a bus/taxi area. It is very entertaining to watch all the folks (in their traditional dress) come and go. I hope they stop coming and going tonight so we can sleep, but at least for now it is entertaining.
We are debating a double day tomorrow as a possibility. It will depend on the weather as there is some rain forecast. If we have another day like today, it will be hard not doing 2 in 1 – there is less climbing tomorrow and we finish lower in altitude. Here’s to sleeping sound at 3,100 meters – now where did I put my waterbottle…