(June 12 – written by Nancy) (posted June 13)
We made it to Cuenca yesterday after another good ride through the mountains. We didn’t get around to doing the blog yesterday as we ended up having too much fun chatting with a group of long distance cyclists at a local pub.
Actually, the last two days have been great days for meeting other cyclists after quite a long time not seeing any others. When we came back to our hostel in El Tambo on Sunday afternoon there were two additional touring bikes down in the entry way next to ours. It turned out that in fact there were four other touring cyclists in the hostel – a French couple, Anaïs and Jérémy (blogging at www.veloavoile.jimdo.com) and a German couple, Philipp and Kathrin. We spent a pleasant evening hearing stories of their travels, talking about routes and all things cycling with them. They had run into each other in a town further north and were riding together for a few days. We saw them again at breakfast in the morning before we headed off to Cuenca and they headed to the Ingapirca ruins for a visit before heading further south.
The day started chilly yesterday but after a short downhill we had a long 16k climb that warmed us up nicely. It was a pretty gentle gradient so was actually a nice way to start the day. In true Ecuadorian fashion the road snaked around so after riding for an hour we could still see El Tambo out across a valley. It was good to finally reach the top as we then had a massive 30+k downhill. The only downside was that it was very cold at that point, as we were up at over 3500 meters and we rolled into clouds and fog. I put my heavy rain jacket on and wished I’d had my long-finger gloves as my hands were freezing!
Toward the end of the long downhill Dave pulled over to a little shack on the side of the road that seemed to be selling roasted chickens. I shook my head, thinking he wanted to stop and eat and I was not interested in chicken at that point in the day. But, I had missed the touring bike parked at the shack, which of course Dave spotted despite our downhill speed. So, we pulled over and met Wolfgang from Germany, who started in Brazil, rode south to Ushuaia and was headed to finish in Quito. After a brief chat we continued on our way, with more downhill to keep us rolling.
We stopped at a small strip mall where we spotted a bakery – hard to pass up a nice sweet roll. From there our maps told us we had 13k to get to our hostel in Cuenca. There were a couple different routes but we picked the one that looked like it had the least turns and took us off the Pan-Am sooner. Well, that turned out to be the wrong choice, as it led us right into some road construction (it looks like they are putting in a new light rail through Cuenca), with the main road closed off. We tried to ride it for a bit but came up on a bridge under construction with no way through. After dragging the bikes up some stairs we made our way through more construction and eventually ended up at Pepe’s House Bed & Breakfast, where we have booked a room for 4 nights. It’s a nice place, not too fancy but a step above our usual accommodation! Of course, Dave has pointed out that it’s above our budget but I am sure we have some excess capacity in the budget from the last few days and I don’t expect we’ll see anything too nice on the road ahead!
Once we got settled in our room we saw a message from Mark and Hanna, the long-distance bikepackers we met in Otavalo (www.highlux.co.nz/alaska-to-argentina) that there was a planned get together of long distance cyclists in Cuenca at a local pub. So that’s where we headed for some decent beer, tacos and good conversation that took up the rest of the evening. We met 3 other cyclists at the pub, Rich Little from Chicago, who is also riding south with a bikepacking setup, Adam Szabo, a fellow from Hungary who has been on the road for 3 years and is shortly headed to Spain with his friend Oswaldo, a Cuenca native that rides a bikepacking setup on a nice Specialised road bike (we were getting weight-envy). So that makes for a total of 10 touring cyclists we spoke to yesterday!
We have no big plans while we are here in Cuenca, other than to eat some good food, drink some good coffee, see some of the sights and relax before we head south. Of course there is some planning to do – we will be heading into less populated areas so will likely be doing more camping and will need to pay more attention to how much food and water we are carrying. And, Pepe’s House is named after Pepe the cat, who wanders the place freely. He is your typical cat, only paying attention to you when he sees fit but it is fun to have a chance to play with him when he deems you are worthy!
We’ll update in a day or two on our Cuenca activities. In the meantime, Happy Birthday tomorrow to my brother Andy!