Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mudslides and More, July 25-29

Riobamba-Lagunas de Atillo-Macas-Sucúa-Logroño-San Juan Bosco

From Tam´s journal:

July 25th
We plan on leaving today, but when we wake up it's already 9 am, and then breakfast goes until 11. We decide that it can't hurt to spend one more day with these wonderful people.  It's a true rest day: we stay in, share photos and stories, and write postcards.  Most importantly we enjoy wonderful meals with our host family!

July 26th
It's a slow morning, with breakfast, goodbyes and photos.  Who wouldn't be reluctant to leave such a homey place? I feel like just in the last two days we've become part of the family. Borja, Nathalie, Luci, and Pubi, we can't thank you enough! And of course saludos to Mati!
Immediately out of town our road has a large shoulder and I barely notice the traffic.  As we climb away from the city the shoulder diminishes in size, but it doesn't matter because the traffic is so minimal. A number of road cyclists pass us on the climb, and we're happy to see others out riding. Riobamba fades away below, and we look back to see it nestled in the valley. Adios!
Our road begins to follow a large gushing river up into the mountains. Unfortunately, instead of gradual river grade, we have a series of steep ups and downs, climbing up to small rural towns, then descending down to the river.  Most people we see are friendly and wave.

The river we followed for a while up out of Riobamba
Along the road are frequent signs explaining why we need to protect the environment, bumps to slow down cars, and crosswalks.  It seems ridiculously overdeveloped considering how few cars there are and the extremely rural population, many of whom probably can't read well and have no problems crossing the road wherever they want.
The weirdest thing we see all day? A giant roast pig hanging outside of a small store. Gross.
It has been a long day of climbing, and we're tired, but we push on, determined to reach Sangay National Park. I'm glad we do.  Just at the park entrance are the famous lagunas that we've been told about.  In the setting sun there's a rainbow, and the mountains around the reflective lake clear a bit to reaveal a dusting of snow on their peaks.  Across from us a huge waterfall thunders into the lake. Everything is spectacularly serene.

Lagunas de Atillo, Sangay National Park

July 27th
It rains all night and continues in the morning, which does nothing to increase our motivation to get going. At 9:30 we finally hit the road--still raining. Some ups and downs bring us past more mountain lakes, but unfortunately we can't see much because of the clouds.  Then we begin to descend in earnest. Almost immediately the vegetation becomes thicker and more lush.  Waterfalls, big and small are everywhere. Some are so huge that they would be the main attraction somewhere else, but here no one cares; they are nothing out of the ordinary. I feel like I'm biking through a flood.  The rain, the waterfalls, the rivers. Water everywhere!
The road is paved the whole way, but we encounter a land or mudslide every few minutes. Some are just rocks in the road, others are huge piles of dirt, trees and rocks, still others are full out rivers flowing across the road.  (Luckily these rivers are never more than a couple inches deep.) In some places I can see why there has been a mudslide, as the bank is already far too steep and muddy.  In other places it looks as if a small river has flooded and washed all the material from its banks out into the road. And in some places gentle banks covered in green vegetation have simply caved in, given way. Why? I think everything is just too wet.

Avoiding a mudslide
We get to watch one mudslide in action. We pass through a pile of thick mud on the road, and then turn back to the sound of the hillside puking. That's what it sounded like. Gurgles and sloshes send down a big mass of brown mud, which proceeds to slowly ooze out into the growing mass on the road.
A few other interesting things we encounter on the way down.
1) An earthworm that we thought was a snake because it was so big! Probably 3 feet in length! (Danny moved him off the road to safety, don't worry.)
It dwarfed my one liter water bottle

2) A tunnel that's almost a kilometer long! Thankfully it is well lit and a nice break from the rain... although it's raining in some places inside the tunnel as well.
3)Lots of birds! We hear them singing everywhere, but as you can imagine, under the conditions it's hard to get a good look at them.

Late afternoon, the rain finally stops and we can take off all our layers. A bit more biking, and we're happy to find ourselves in the large town of Macas.  The firefighters all seem to be in a bad mood but let us camp inside at their station. Awesome! We hang up things to dry and go out to do some shopping. Im feeling excited.  Today was unlike anything we've biked yet on this trip.  We're in the Amazon rainforest!

July 28th
It starts raining overnight and we discover that the roof is leaking right over where we are sleepíng.  Time to relocate! Luckily there is plenty of space in the room we´re camped out in. The upper floor of the fire station has clearly not been well designed. Besides the ceiling leak, there is a fume hood but no stove, toilets and electric hand dryers but no sinks, and a urinal on the wall that isn´t actually hooked up to any pipes.
At 4 am, we hear what sound like gunshots.  Oh wait, it's only the nearby church shooting off fireworks and broadcasting mass. I will never understand the way religion works here. We put in our earplugs.

In the morning we're on our way on a well paved road. At first we are traveling flat to downhill, and just cruising! It has been so long since we've been on a fast road like this!
Slowly, things get more hilly.  Every time we cross a river (frequently), we descend steeply down to it, then climb steeply back up.
We pass a lot of small towns and houses, and I'm surprised by the fact that the majority of houses are really nice. We see smooth walls, colorful paint, multiple floors, covered balconies and huge flower gardens. I imagine that some of this is simply a result of wood being so readily available here. Despite the development, we enjoy quite a lot of jungle as well.  As soon as you look out past the houses, there is layer upon layer of dense forest. Even the farmland is barely recognizable because everything looks overgrown. It must be quite the struggle to try and clear a plot of land here.
In the afternoon, the sun comes out and dries off our stuff a bit. Its heat and warmth are welcomed until we start to sweat. It's humid here!
Our road brings us down to a great confluence of rivers. Below us we can see them mixing, the murky brown of one swirling with the almost black brown of the other.

Chocolate and peanut butter, mmmm
We can see that we've left the drainage of one and are about to climb up into the drainage of the other. After some very steep, slow climbing, we stop at a farm house and ask to camp under a small shed area.  The lady is very friendly and tells us about how they ranch cattle, then leaves us to set up our stuff.  We're really just excited to have a roof to put our tent under, since it seems to rain every night.

As we're eating dinner, something strange happens: we see another cyclist ride by in the other direction. Since we haven't seen another cyclist since northern Colombia, and we're both pretty tired, we simply sit and watch, a bit dumbstruck, as she rides by.  Once she's past and going down the hill, we start kicking ourselves for not running out and saying hi.  I wonder where she was going?

July 29th
We sleep well and head out early in the morning.  A bit of misty rain and clouds is keeping things cool.  Our road is absurdly hilly.  I feel like we're climbing more here in the Amazon than we were in the mountains! Today there are less towns and more dense forest.  We pass more waterfalls, rivers, landslides, and beautiful flowers. Still haven´t identified the new birds we saw... but there´ll definitely be some new ones for our list!
Jungle riding
Fresh bread with creamy avocado and cheese for lunch, then up and over some more mountains and into the town of San Juan Bosco for the night. We're in early, which means we have time for shopping and blog updating!

So, I was expecting to find lots of fresh fruit here in the rainforest, but the little stores we pass only sell candies and bags of chips. Maybe it's not the right season, or maybe this is a symptom of too much globalization. We also listened to Katy Perry blaring from a gas station today.  Where are we again?
The rainforest!

Route Notes:

- Riobamba to Macas: There are a few unpaved options after the main road out of Riobamba, but we stayed with the pavement all the way. Not too much space, but not too much traffic either. It also helped that we left the city on a Sunday. We weren´t sure if the road would be open because of recent landslides and continued rain, but the twitter page of the Ministerio de Transportes y Obras Publicas (MTOP) indicated the road was cleared a day before. It was open, though still full of landslides, and well-paved all the way to Macas.
- Macas to San Juan Bosco: Paved and quiet with plenty of small towns and houses along the way and rivers everywhere for water. Really nice bomberos in Limon Indanza, about halfway between Macas and Gualaquiza -- we didn´t stay there, but one of them saw us eating lunch and offered to let us stay at the station that night -- and police/bomberos in San Juan Bosco.

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