Baños is a pretty town nestled in a verdant valley with lots of outdoorsy activities to enjoy. Unfortunately, between my pulled calf muscle, rushed timeline and desire to be riding on my own, I didn’t have it in me to enjoy any of the local attractions.
Three days gave me enough time to heal and feel healthy enough to ride the foothills of Tungurahua Volcano to Riobamba. The route starts in Baños, climbs out of town for about 6 kilometers and then turns off the highway on a dusty road for about 20 kilometers before rejoining pavement for the last 41 kilometers. Depending on Tungurahua’s temperament, sections of the dirt road can be washed over in pyroclastic flows blocking the route. I ask four or five people in Baños if the road is passable with a bicycle and I get a hearty, “No,” from all of them. Despite their discouraging views, I decide to try my luck.
Leaving Alicia was tough. Piece by piece I’ve accepted the direction our relationship is headed. Part of me feels like I failed in being the best partner and lover I could be, but knowing our needs and her transitioned love to another I accept our adjusted fates and hit the road.
My leg is still a tad stiff. I pay attention to any warning signs and try to do a lot of easy spinning as I climb out of town. I’m tired and feeling sluggish during the 6 km track to the left turn southbound. Road crews are widening the highway and improving an interchange where I need to turn. Thankfully the intersection is landmarked with a giant, sculpted tree with a parrot on top. Still, I pause to confirm with a road worker that I’m headed in the right direction, but before I can ask if it’s passable by bicycle, I see a young man riding one down the hill. Ask and ye shall receive.
Satisfied that I’ll be able to make the ride, I pedal on. The loose and dusty road immediately shifts grades to a gnarly 15-percent. I try to stay on two wheels, but the combination of my gear weight, morning exhaustion, small breakfast and loose gravel makes me hop off and walk my bike. As I catch my breath I admire the very large bus that floors it up the hill, dodging washouts and potholes. I feel a tinge of the, “is-this-really-worth-it?” but shake it off and push my rig to the hill’s crest.
Awakened with the challenging climb, excited to be off the beaten path and solo, a surge of energy spurs me forward. Music on, Tungurahua looming in the clouds to my left and the open road beckoning, I smile and enjoy in the beautiful valley views of Río Chambo.
I pass pyroclastic flows hardened and cooled. Cars traveling in the opposite direction ensure me that the road ahead is clear, and I relieve their own worry and let them know their route is passable as well.
There are abandoned farm lands that were reclaimed by nature’s might. Structures covered in foot thick ash. Fields turned to moonscapes of gray rock. I pedal and wonder where these people fled, if they even had the chance to flee.
I reach pavement and am amused by a floating car dodging falling rocks. More rigorous climbing begins as I ascend from the valley floor and head for Puela, hopefully to encounter a restaurant to enjoy some lunch. I pass by a group of young cyclists heading in the opposite direction. They look like their having fun flying around the hills.
Puela is deserted when I arrive. A few roads leading to the Plaza de Armas are in an unfinished state with pavers piled up on corners with no workers in sight. I reach the square and enter a dark and very old looking corner store. I try to buy water, but all they have are glass bottles of agua con gas. I walk around snapping photos for a little bit and relink with the main road to find lunch.
There are three establishments on the road, but none are ready for lunch. One man has friend pork skins and the other, pork knuckles. I’m not feeling either. I stop to take photos of the woman slicing pieces of flesh off a hung pig and chat with some guys my age. I ask them if there are restaurants between here and Riobamba and get a decisive, “No.” Ugh. I am thankful I have a few snacks in my frame bag, but I know I’ll be feeling the energy drain. I also get confirmation that I have a good number of cuestas ahead of me. I thank them for the info and ride on.
A fast descent only fills me with dread knowing that I have to climb every meter as soon as I hit the valley bottom. Seeing my first cuesta ahead, I stop, snack and quit my shirt. The group of young guys passes by, honking. I wave and start my long climb.
The day is beautiful, just a perfect temp, sunny and the wind at my back. I roll over the hills, thanking the wind gods, tackle the climbs and enjoy the descents. A family of four on scooter passes me. I admire the fearlessness they have with regards to safety. One child has a helmet, too big for her, and the rest of the family is left unprotected. I ask them how many hills I have left and they assure me only one large hill is left. Relieved, and hungry, I thank them and pedal on.
I pass through a small town where a community party is happening. I wave to the same scooter family who has stopped to participate or enjoy the festivities. I look for a food stand, but am sorely disappointed.
Finishing the my last cuesta I shortly encounter another cuesta. Ugh, so much for there only being one more left. Once that one is conquered, I am treated to another, long, grueling climb. I’m at forty+ kilometers and out of snacks and have hit about 9 cuestas over the 1 I was expecting. Thankfully, about 7 kilometers outside of Riobamba I spy a woman with meat on a grill. I don’t even hesitate and pull over immediately. She confirms that she’s starting lunch and I put in an order.
A group of men in their early thirties are drinking at the only table. I sit down with them and chug water to rehydrate my weary body. They immediately start offering me glasses of beer. I decline the first three, four offers, but their insistence wears on me and I decide to partake, knowing that my body will only be frustrated and upset with me.
The food takes almost forty minutes to cook. Meanwhile, I’m drinking a far amount of water and beer. More people walk by and join our little group. I learn about cachos or cuernos. Me puse los cachos translates to ‘she put horns on me’ and means my significant other cheated on me. I get the usual, “You like the Ecuadorian women?” question. I affirm that there are many beautiful people in this world and that Ecuadorians are no exception. My legs start seizing up, partially due to the long sitting time and the alcohol rushing in my veins. Finally, lunch is ready and I scarf it down to expedite my departure.
While I’m eating, another friend of the men joins our table. He seems a little inebriated upon arrival. His energy is off and I don’t like him from the start. His attitude is abrasive and is abusive with his words towards the other guys. Most shrug him off and laugh. I finish my food, and am about to pay when this new arrival turns on me and starts admonishing me for not buying them a round of drinks. I ignore him and leave the table to pay. I end up buying the table a round of beers, without their knowledge, and get on my bike. The man continues to berate me, his friends get my back and admonish him. The beers reach the table and all seems to be pacified.
Satiated, on the road and away from drunkards, I pedal on. Rio’ is close, thankfully and it is a smooth descent. On the outskirts I pass by a bicycle mechanic working on a customer’s wheel. I wave, snap some photos and chat for a little bit.
Continuing on, I arrive in Riobamba proper. Chimborazo, a giant volcano, lingers in the distance as the sun dips. I pause and enjoy a voleibol game full of ridiculous carrying.
I make it to the center of town and bounce about, looking for a hostel. The first place I stop at is dingy and gross. Quickly leaving, I visit an internet cafe and browse Tripadvisor hostel ratings to locate a reasonable place. One hostel, Hostal Oasis, looks like it has good reviews so I get directions and head in its direction. The owners are nice, but the price a little steep for my budget so I haggle with them on the price. They come down by $5 bucks and we settle on $15 for the night. The place is great. They have a cute garden, my room has a beautiful, skylit bathroom and very large shower. I clean up, rest for a second and head off to eat some food at the local corner restaurant.
I had no idea, but Riobamba seems to be the place to go for partying in Ecuador. Walking around at night I see hundreds of people in nice, dressy garb hitting up the plethora of clubs. I feel lame in my adventure clothing and slightly wish I could be in better duds. I snack on some salchipapas downtown and people watch.
My first day single and alone. Not a bad one, and something I’ll be getting used to in the coming months. And so begins the next chapter of my life.
Distance: 57.86 km
Riding Time: 5:00:00
Avg. Speed: 11.6 km/hr
Max. Speed: 69.9 km/hr