December 20-22; Cycling ~500km across the Andes and to the Pacific coast in 2 days

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Daniel, Gaby, and Pericles had been planning to ride from Quito to Daniel’s family’s beach house on Salinas, on the far southwest coast of Ecuador- a distance of about 700km. The route would begin by traversing the Andes then the coastal ranges in one long 220km day to Pedernales. From there, they would follow the Ruta Spondylus (know called the Ruta del Sol) the rest of the way to Salinas. When Pericles mentioned the idea to me, I decided I had to do it; but there were two problems. My family was coming in on Dec 23 and I didn’t have a road bike.

I decided I would accompany them the first two days, then try to take a bus back on the 22nd. The lack of a road bike problem still remained, but fortunately, my friend Edwin’s bike shop was selling some slightly used demo Schwinn Road bikes with Sora components for under $500! It was a steal of deal, and decided to purchase one. Hopefully I can sell it when I leave for only a slight loss.

After two Christmas parties on Dec 19, one at Andrea’s in the afternoon and another at Lauren’s that night, we left Quito at 6am on Dec 20. Fortunately, Daniel and Peri’s parents were also heading to Salinas, and they gave us a ride to Aloag, just south of Quito, so we could avoid riding through the city. By 7:30am, we were charging down the highway to Santo Domingo. The highway, though 4 lanes wide, is somewhat scary due to its incredibly twisty and steep nature. Daniel’s parents drove behind us for the first 80km to protect us from traffic. After a 10km climb, you are rewarded with nearly 50km of downhill. While fast, it was tense, white knuckle riding at 60-80km per hour. Luckily, we were riding so fast that very few cars passed us on this section. We settled into a nice fast rhythm and enjoyed the spectacular descent into the cloud forest.

Towards the end of the big descent, we came to a 1km long tunnel.The tunnel is usally lit, so we didn’t bother to take off our sunglasses or use our headlamps. After a few hundred meters, it was absolutely pitch black. I was terrified that one of us would fall and a car would then run us over. Fortunately Daniel led us through the tunnel unscathed; but this was definitely the most intense, least enjoyable part of the trip. After the tunnel, the terrain changes from steep Andean descent to steep climbs and descents through the rolling Andean foothillls as you approach Santo Domingo. Here we hit fog and mist, which turned into rain, but were able to press on. On the outskirts of Santo Domingo, 100km into our trip, we took our first break under an awning to escape the rain, where we scarfed down El Hornero Pizza Daniel’s parents had been wise enough to bring. Mmmmm. Best thing about long rides is that you can stuff your face with whatever food you want, and it still won’t make up for you calorie deficit..

Riding through Santo Domingo was also a bit stressful, and route finding was an issue since my GPX track took us through the center of town, but Pericles’ took us on a bypass. We took the bypass route which avoided most of the traffic, but the road was in poor condition and Gaby got the first flat of the trip. After a quick tube change, we were rewarded with 30km of perfectly flat terrain with a bike lane all the way to our turnoff at El Carmen! Why can’t every highway have a bike lane??

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We made incredible time through this part, with Peri, Daniel, and I alternating the lead and pulling the rest through the headwind. We stopped again at El Carmen to eat some snacks. I was the only one that refilled my bottles here, which would prove to be a really good move later on.

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From El Carmen to Pedernales, our destination for that day, involved another 100km of rolling terrain with long, steep ascents through the coastal mountain range. After several climbs in the now intense heat, the others were running dangerously low on water and there were no stores to be found. Daniel fell way back on yet another 300m climb, so we waited at “village” called “Humedad” (spanish for humidity). What an appropriate name for this sweltering tropical locale. The village consisted of the sign and few thatch houses on stilts. This part of Ecuador stands in stark contrast to the relatively affluent Sierra Region. Buildings here are nearly all ramschackle dwellings with palm frond roofs and no glass windows, just cut out sections on hinges that swing open or closed.

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In Humedad, I still had a surplus of water so I gave one of my bottles to Daniel. We had to push on another several km with a few more climbs until we finally found a small road side stand that sold water. We filled up our bottles and guzzled ice cold water, lifting our spirits and energy. From here, we pushed on the remaining 30km or so into Pedernales. I still felt great when we arrived, after 220km of hard riding, but was starving. While the others checked into the hotel, I gorged myself on snacks at a little tienda to get me through to dinner.

After a quick swim in the pool then a shower, we headed down to the beach for a seafood dinner. Pedernales, though the closest coastal town to Quito, leaves much to be desired. It is one of the ugliest town’s in Ecuador, though the white sand beach is quite spectacular, and would be more so if the town would clean it up. At least the food and drinks are cheap- a huge plate of seafood, rice, and veggies was only $5 and a large Pilsener was only $2-right on the beach! After dinner, we walked for a bit, bought some stuff for breakfast the next morning, and turned in early.

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We got up super early on Sunday to head to San Jacinto. The rest of the route would follow the Ruta del Sol, the stunningly beautiful road that hugs Ecuador’s entire coastline. I couldn’t believe that we would have a bike lane for 150km that day. We started out in the rain, and Gaby got another flat in the first 5km.

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After the stressful riding through the Andes, the Ruta del Sol was an absolute treat and we thoroughly enjoyed the riding through the rolling coastal dry forest hills down to Canoa, passing by small fishing villages, massive Ceibo trees, and trees that were completely red, yellow, or purple! What a stunning landscape. I can’t wait to see these forests in bloom during the wet season. We also crossed over the Equator during this stretch-though I couldn’t get the others to stop for a picture so I just took a quick snapshot. Apparently when you live 20km from the Equator, it just isnt a big deal!!

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In Canoa we stopped for some snacks and sodas, then pressed on.

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Gaby was tired from trying to keep up with our sadistic pace the day before, so we all slowed down and just enjoyed the scenery and the pleasant low stress riding. Just outside of Canoa, I got my first flat, which we quickly repaired and then cruised into San Vincente on the north side of the Bay, the ugly sister of Bahia, on the southside. We quickly rode through the flooded streets of this little town and over the longest bridge in Ecuador, where we stopped for some photo ops.

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From there, we rolled into Bahia’s bus station so I could buy my tickets for the return to Quito the next day..

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I had previously called the bus company to confirm that I could pay for an extra seat and bring my bike on the bus with me, but when I asked at the station I was told that this would be impossible! Pericles had the brilliant idea to buy a roll of tape then ask around the bus station for extra cardboard boxes which I could use to protect the bike under the bus. With that idea in mind I bought my $10 ticket to Quito and we pressed onto San Jacinto, 30km and two major climbs down the road. The pavement was brand new, the sun was out and weather was steamy as we charged up the first 8% climb. From there I was feeling really great and full of energy, so I decided to sprint the remaining kilometers into San Clemente, the sister town of San Jacinto. It felt great to really charge on such nice pavement through the stunning hills, with a beautiful view of the two towns and the lovely section of coastline on the final descent. What a glorious day of riding through Ecuador’s unique coastal landscape. I was sad that my trip was nearly over :(.

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We arrived in town to a festive atmosphere, as everyone was preparing for the National Football (aka soccer) championship between Emelec and Barcelona (both teams from Guayaquil). Our hotel in San Jacinto was unreal, the waves literally smashed right into the hotel balcony and pool area!

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After check-in, I was too hungry to wait for dinner again, so I rode back to an empanada shop we had passed on the way into town. For a dollar, I got a plate of 3 of the best empanadas de verde I’ve had! What deal. I headed back to the hotel, and after a swim in the oceanside pool, we walked into town for dinner.

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Every single person seemed to be crowded around the television, cheering or booing wildly depending on the action. Luckily the restaurants were still reluctantly serving dinner, albeit watching the game while cooking and serving. We had an excellent fish dinner for $4, and large Pilseners were only $1.80..I love this country!

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Emelec ended winning, and the fans went crazy, parading through the streets waving flags from the backs of trucksand screaming at passersby. We headed back to the hotel and had some fruit smoothies and my first ever Pilsener Light.

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It was incredibly light, but given our dehydrated state-it hit the spot…We stayed up a little later than the previous night chatting about life and cycling then turned in for the night. My but to Quito was leaving at 8am from Bahia, 30km away so I had to leave early to ensure I’d have time to pack up my bike. I was up by 5am, at a quick breakfast, said goodbyes to my friends and wished them well on the remainder of the trip, and got on the road before 6am. I made it to the bus station just after 7am, and had no problem getting the supplies to package my bike.

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I loaded my bike and boarded the bus for the long bus ride back to Quito. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to ride with or a more interesting and beautiful place to ride through.

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