A long time coming...

0 degrees fahrenheit. No heat, no lights, solid block of drinking water, exploded beer, frozen ketchup and it's only 8pm. After all that, we still had each other and we still had our determination to realize our vision. Despite the circulating perceptions that this maniacal way of life would inevitably lead to a divorce, we are pleased to say that you were wrong! We are as happy as ever and every frozen bone was well worth it! After 4 years of living together in our 21ft RV, we managed to pay off our debts, Kirsten complete graduate school, Seth become a certified arborist, both work multiple jobs and manage to save up enough money to travel. So here we go. We hope that you can come along for the ride.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

S+K 1, Andes 0

Greetings! It´s been awhile since we´ve updated so we´ll catch you up with where we´ve been, and where we are. After a couple of days in Latacunga, we´d had enough of city life and were freezing, so we headed south towards Baños, riding for the first time in Ecuador on the Pan American. After 2 months of enduring the painfully unpredictable back roads here, the Pan Am was a godsend. We cruised at a pace we haven´t known since Canada and soon found ourselves in the small indigenous community of Salasaca, a weaving village with immaculate dressed residents and where every women we saw was spinning wool as she walked down the street. As we passed through, we happened upon a house owned by a man named Rudy, a master weaver and an incredibly friendly man. After an hour of visiting and hearing about his family´s history with the craft, we bought a couple beautiful pieces from him and bid farewell to our new friend.

With the hills on our side, we had covered the 25 or so remaining kms to Baños by late afternoon. A few days soaking in hot springs and exploring the seemingless endless hillsides of orchards of all different flavors (including avocados!), and any thirst we had (or not) for the excessively touristy Ecuadorian experience was quenched and we headed east for Puyo, where we planned to spend the next couple of weeks volunteering at another WWOOFer farm. The ride was spectacular, with countless waterfalls cascading down either side of the road and the mighty Rio Pastaza pounding by a dizzying 500 feet below us.

Puyo gave way to Centro de Semillas, the ¨organic farm¨ we would be staying at and an experience that failed miserably at living up to our expectations. We left early after six long days, cursing our host, convinced that this was our last volunteer stint for awhile. Facing a 4-5 day ride on some of the worst roads we had yet encountered, we opted for another bus ride back to the highlands and the comfort of smooth pavement on the PanAm. We left Riobamba this past Saturday, facing our most daunting ride yet, but satisfied riding in the shadow of Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador at close to 19,000ft, and our first good look at an Ecuadorian volcano. The next three days proved to be the most difficult we have faced yet. Our destination was Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador and a mere 250 km to the south, but we soon realized we were in for a long ride as the road rose far and high into the horizon. Again, though, our straining legs were appeased by more spectacular views of the mountainside around us. We were surrounded by sprawling hillsides with a seemingly endless patchwork of crops barely clinging to the impossibly steep slopes. I never imagined there could be so many shades of greens and browns. Scattered throughout the fields were weathered indigenous Quichua women, hunched over backbreaking loads of everything from cornstalks to enormous bags of potatoes that made our fully loaded bikes seem paltry in comparison.

Two days of near constant climbing found us in the small mountain town of Zhud. As we sat filling our water bottles, one, two and then a third biker rolled up from the opposite direction...the first group of bikers we´ve seen in Ecuador. Greg, JB and Matt, a trio Frenchman, had been riding for 11 months and had been all over the world. We left amid a group of curious school children that had gathered to hear our shared tales of life on the road.

Another dizzying afternoon of climbing led us to the town of El Tombo, a slight 10km outside of Cañar, our final destination for the day. We were exhausted and hoping our day was nearly over, but we soon found ourselves embroiled in drama. As we rolled into town, me in the lead and Kirs following a handful of meters behind, a man on a motorcycle pulled out after me, cutting Kirs off. She swerved to avoid him and we continued through town, the moto-man keeping pace and swerving between us, eyeing us suspiciously. By the far edge of town, we decided we weren´t comfortable leaving the presence of others on the crowded downtown streets and pulled to the side of the road. The man was now even with me and as I tried to stop, his still moving bike sandwiched me and my bike to the curb and he crashed hard into the back of me. One look at him as I pulled away and it was clear he was raging drunk and he was looking for trouble. As he waved his hands in my face, mumbling unintelligably, I pulled out my mace and took aim. Only Kirsten and a strong gust of wind in my face kept him from getting a painful dose. Tense moments followed as a crowd gathered, but we finally convinced him he was getting nothing from us and we shooed him on his way. After a brief wait to collect our thoughts and calm our nerves, we continued on our way only to see him a ways up the road waiting and beckoning us to come. Determined not to let this fool alter our plans and keep us from the refreshing showers we had been dreaming of, we turned around and paid a visit to the local police station and soon found ourselves with our own personal police escort the rest of the way to Cañar. Take that moto man!

Another half day of riding, our first glorious stretch of sustained descent since Riobamba and we rolled into Cuenca. Ready to enjoy a well deserved rest and city-style gorge, Kirsten promptly succumbed to the stomach cramps she had been battling throughout the day, a suspected bout of food poisoning, stopping our celebration in its tracks and rendering her painfully bedridden. We are here until she bounces back, hopefully by Friday or Saturday.

Thanks for all the well wishes and hellos...we love to hear from all of you and miss you bunches.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happens ¨enough¨

We left our beloved San Clemente on Friday morning, sad to be leaving but thirsty for the adventure ahead. We headed due east, bound for Latacunga and the central highlands. We were quickly re-aquainted with Ecuador proper and its´associated trash and random roadside smells. If at one point we thought the roads here were good, we have come to find most of them marginal at best. As we began the climb back into the coastal Chindul range, the road wavered, from rough, rocky washboard to something resembling smooth. Kirs likened it to getting worked by one of those shakemaster weight loss systems.

We spent the night camped in a banana plantation and experienced up close the associated after hours flurry of insect and who-knows-what-else screeches and flutters throughout the night. More climbing on Saturday found us in the mountain town of ¨103¨, a bustling center of commerce and curious people. We made several stops for fruit and a machete, and everytime I turned around, there was Kirs holding my bike, surrounded by an ever-growing crowd of enthusiastic and very friendly men. They had fun hearing about where we had been and where we were going and followed us through town until we left. By midday Sunday we had reached our final destination of Quevedo where we caught a bus for the four hour ride (4-5 days by bike, every inch of it up) to Latacunga in the central highlands.

We left late morning expecting to arrive mid-afternoon but our hopes were dashed an hour or so into the ride. As we wound up the thin, windy road amid dense jungle and raging waterfalls, our progress was brought to a grinding halt as we came upon a grossly overloaded semi that had cut a corner too tight (it had no business on a road like this!) and buried its rear axle in the three foot deep canal running along the road with its oversized load tipping at a precarious angle, diesel fuel cascading down the steep road into a large crowd of gathering people (some of whom were smoking!) and its body fully blocking the road. The crowd quickly grew agitated as they all realized they weren´t getting where they were going anytime soon. A conversation with a man who made the trip, when asked if this happened often , told us it happened ¨enough¨. With the road shut down and no way to turn around, we were stuck. No cell phone service meant that someone had to travel the entire distance up or down to notify someone of the situation (we arrived soon after it happened), they had to come see, then travel all the way back to commandeer the appropriate machine for the job, which then moved at 4 miles an hour...well, you get the picture. After 4 or so long hours of sitting around, a tractor finally showed up and a tense heavy-machinery duel ensued as the earth mover proceeded to lift the rear half of the trailer with chains. Thirty minutes later it was back straight again, still occupying three-quarters of the road with its massive girth.

Our driver, clearly in a hurry to get home, made sure we were the first through, honking and pushing our way through the masses of people frantically running back to their vehicles. Though the road was hellishly steep and thin and windy, with nauseatingly sheer drops, our driver made it clear that we would make up for lost time. Blind corners were met, not with cautious decceleration, but a series of loud honks, reminding any potential drivers on the other side that we are bigger so get out of the way. As we peaked at 12,000´or so, the guard-rail less drops became even more dramatic, accentuated by the charred skeletons of cars and buses visible deep within the valleys and ravines. Our four hour turned eight hour extravanganza left us in Latacunga well after dark, exhausted, hungry and in need of a soft bed...which we found.