Crossing the Equator

It’s amazing just how different this trip is from the one I did back in 2009, despite much of the route and many of the hotels being the same. For a start, I’m not writing a daily blog, and that in itself means I’m not as reflective as I was back then – now I’m constantly looking forwards to the next few days, anticipating what may need doing and trying to ensure that I can help keep the group informed on what is happening.

So now I’m in Quito and have a few minutes to spare, I’ll get all reflective again and look back over the past week or so since the trip started for real.

It already seems a long time ago that we left Bogota for the long ride to Medellin, which was every bit as enjoyable a journey as I remember it being in 2009. We rode out of Bogota as a group, the journey taking much less time than it did in 09 as it was a Sunday and the traffic very light. Once at a peage out of town Kevin pulled the group over and let them off the leash, something he refers to as “emptying the bucket of frogs” for very good reason! I hung back with Bryan and Kelly whilst they fixed their intercom, leaving me at the back of the group and on I went, riding on my own through the small towns on the outskirts of Bogota and into the hills. The road soon became as twisty as a twisty thing and once more my love affair with Colombia was well under way. Every now and then I’d encounter a slow-moving truck belching thick acrid black smoke into the crisp air, providing me with ample opportunity to hone my overtaking skills. Back in 2009 it was dark before we reached the outskirts of Medellin and the fantastic winding 2-lane dual carriageway that provides a spectacular entrance to the city. This time I arrived mid-afternoon, but missed the turn-off marked in the route notes and so ended up at the far Northern end of the city, a journey through which to the hotel was nowhere near as beautiful as the official route!

We had a day off in Medellin, and put it to good use, as I organised a mini city-tour for a few of the team (Alex, John & James) and we caught the metro downtown. We visited the Plaza Botero where a large number of statues by the city’s most famous artist were scattered among the trees, before strolling through the streets for a while, then catching a tiny taxi to the Pueblito Paisa, a small reproduction of a traditional colonial village high on the hill near the hotel. It was being renovated which was a shame, but the views over the city made up for the parts of the town covered in tarpaulin and the crashing sounds of workmen restoring buildings. Rather than catch another taxi back, Alex and I opted to walk, taking a path down the hill towards the main road back to the hotel. Near the bottom we encountered a perimeter fence with no sign of an exit and a disused fairground. Looking past one of the attractions I saw and open gate leading to another downhill path, so hopped over the first fence to explore. I discovered a few small buildings in one of which a young woman with a pierced nose was washing up – she was most surprised when I knocked on the door and asked for “Salida” (exit). Nevertheless, she showed me to the main gate, which was padlocked and said she’d go and get the key (in Spanish, of course). I got Alex and we both walked through the remaining circus buildings to the gate, which was duly opened allowing us out onto the open road. The story now goes that we ran away to the circus…

After our day off in Medellin we road south once more, on some truly spectacular roads through the mountains to Alcala, where we stayed in a beautiful coffee plantation. After an enjoyable evening and a good night’s sleep we hit the twisty Colombian roads once more, heading to the white city of Popayan and our hotel in an old monastery near the centre of town. That night we had a very large meal in a local Italian restaurant before another relatively early night. The following day was a late departure, with a short-ish ride to the town of Pasto, a small uninteresting town close to the Ecuadorian border. Back in ’09 we rode all the way from Popayan, across the border to Otovalo, a trip that resulted in all of us arriving after dark and some not until after 10:30pm! Keen to avoid the same, the stop-over in Pasto was a good idea, even if it wasn’t very memorable.

The following day Kevin took half the group to the border early, departing at 7am, whilst I led the 2nd group, leaving at 8am. A short 50-mile ride to the border was straightforward, despite a bit of confusion due to a new road layout and some roadworks diverting traffic through town. The border was very familiar and it didn’t take long to get my half of the group out of Colombia and to the start point of checking in to Ecuador. Now in 09, this border was the slowest of the trip, but this time they had 2 customs guys working the aduana, allowing for a slightly quicker entry. I was last through the border having taken just 2 hours to get through, much quicker than last time! Once clear of the border the ride to the outskirts of Otovalo and the wonderful 300-year old Hosteria Pinsaqui, where we were welcomed by a senior member of the owner’s family with a local liquor that tasted remotely of aniseed. Our evening meal was in the hosteria’s restaurant whilst a thunderstorm raged outside. When we got back to our room we discovered a lovely real fire crackling in the fireplace and hot water bottles in our beds! Bliss!

Following a night in the spectacular Hosteria Pinsaqui, we rode as a group to the Quitsato Sundial monument on the Equator, where we rode the bikes onto the cobbled sundial, lining them up straddling the equator itself – very cool! After lots of photos the group once again dispersed as we headed into Quito city and to our hotel, another wonderful eclectic building called Cafe Cultura, which was once the French Embassy. Here the parking was interesting, to say the least, as we rode our bikes over the pavement and through the front gate, parking the bikes on the small front and side gardens!

With a couple of days off in Quito, it seemed only fitting that a small group should revisit the scene of one of the many parties from ’09, the infamous Tapas y Vino restaurant where a single price ($27) gets you all the tapas you can eat and as much wine as you can drink. Which would have been just fine, had Dave not insisted that on the way back to the hotel, having consumed more than our money’s worth, we should visit the micro-brewery for a beer nightcap. A litre of beer nightcap. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that the following day was more of a rest day than perhaps I’d intended. That day was also a group meal to celebrate Kevin’s birthday (which is actually today but we’ve a long ride tomorrow). Needless to say a few of us were not celebrating with our customary gusto…

Which brings me up to date. Today is our last day in Quito, and I took a couple of the group to the Mitad del Mundo, another equator monument and one more frequently visited by tourists. It’s a lot more touristy than the sundial, with countless souvenir shops, a big monument and a yellow line marking the equator. Only it doesn’t, as it’s in the wrong place, being some 240 metres away from the real thing!

Now, if you’re wondering why there are no photos of all these wonderful sights, then you need to read the previous blog entry. All the photos from this trip are being loaded onto a photo stream, which you can subscribe to and comment on.

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