24 July 2012

Bahia de Caraquez

I had breakfast in the restaurant of the hotel and then packed up the bike. Whether I had liked Canoa or not I had to leave. There was no bank in town and I was out of cash. My plan was to ride further south along the coast to Bahia de Caraquez (known simply as Bahia in Ecuador) and perhaps stay there for a time if I liked it. It was a city both on a bay and on the Pacific. I had also been told that there I would find a camping store with replacement gas canisters for my stove. I was getting worn out eating all the rice and fried plantains and was looking forward to hot oatmeal for breakfast and pasta dinners I could make for myself.

I left Canoa and turned onto the E15 heading south. There was some climbing and it was overcast and cool and wet but there was little traffic and the road cut inland. Beyond the hills I knew there was the ocean and then after more climbing and descending the road came back to the ocean. Along the road was a narrow cement path with a low wall that separated it from the asphalt and I rode along this cement path towards the town of San Vicente.

Not having to worry about passing cars, my mind was wandering as I rode. Then ahead I saw a shirtless and shoeless guy walking towards me on the cement path. He was making no effort to get out of my way and I didn’t like the look of him. I saw nothing in his hands and began to slow as I neared him. Still, I was thinking of the delinquents of the coast I had been warned about. “Agua! Agua!” he said and I began to coast towards him as if I was going to stop and he stepped to the side.

But I had no intention of stopping or giving him anything. Nobody blocked my way and then demanded things of me while I was riding. I started to pedal. “Agua!” and he grabbed my arm and I threw him off and whacked his hand away. “No me toques!” and I added some very vulgar expressions I had learned in Colombia. He chased me for a second and I heard him behind me but I was too fast for him. Perhaps he had genuinely wanted water. But he had gone about it entirely the wrong way. He didn’t know how lucky he was that he hadn’t stopped me by grabbing my arm. I would not have hesitated to hit him or even go for my knife packed for quick accessibility in my rear pannier.

There was construction on the road into San Vincente and though I rode carefully through it mud kicked up and dirtied my drive train. The road went through the town along the Bay of Caraquez and across the water I could see the white buildings of Bahia and the long bridge that connected San Vincente to the city. The sun was out now and it was hot and I crossed the bridge on a bike path into the harbor area of Bahia. There were many boats tied up and I followed the calle Bolivar towards the center of the city.

I had an address for a cheap hotel but when I asked about rooms was told prices were $25 a night. Apparently the hotel had been recently remodeled. I asked about something more economical and was directed a block down the street to a dingy, dark, windowless place with $10/night rooms. There was a large mural of the ocean and palm tree on the wall and televisions blasted from the other rooms. Just my kind of place.

I cleaned up and went into the city to look for camping stove gas. My search went as it had gone in other places. People looked at me strangely and said nothing. When I explained again what I was looking for they sent me on to another shop in which I was again looked at strangely. I gave up my search and went to the beach. I didn’t like Bahia much either and would leave tomorrow for the fishing village of San Clemente.

23 July 2012

Canoa 2

At Canoa out front of the hotel restaurant on the beach is a pullup bar. It was a surprise to see it when I arrived and I looked forward to seeing how much of my pullup strength I had lost since not performing the exercise in almost a month. But there were weed smokers and bongo playing hippies around the bar and then some skinny idiots among them were doing jerkups to impress some girls. They did two or three and acted like he-men. I didn’t want any of those fools to be near me when I was working out. They would no doubt disrupt the timed sets I perform. I decided to do my workout the following morning.
I got out to the bar at 8 am, the beach around it empty, the sky overcast and the wind blowing big, crashing waves onto the beach. I warmed up with 30 slow, deliberate, perfect form pushups in the sand and then did slow circles forward and back with my arms outstretched in an iron cross position, 50 revolutions in each direction. I busted 50 mountain climbers to get the blood flowing. Then I started into the pullups, doing sets of 5 strict and very slow with a pause at the up and down position. I felt pretty good but just to be sure extended my rest time between sets to 45 seconds instead of the usual 30.
During my rest period after the fifth set a squat middle-aged guy with the typical Ecuadorian gut comes waddling over with his fat wife and little son and he walks up to the bar. I didn’t think he could do a single pullup and figured he wouldn’t be much of a disruption. He must have seen me doing pullups and wanted to show off for his fat wife and little boy. Maybe he remembered the one pullup he had done in his life long ago.
The guy looks up and reaches for the bar but it is much too high for him. Then he jumps, just getting his fingers around the bar, but not enough to grip it, and his feet are gone from under him and he’s falling backwards and me, seeing this happening in slow motion, watch him land flat on his back, his head banging off the corner of the cement foundation of the left pillar for the bar. Blood is pouring from his head into the sand and he’s laying there, this confused look in his eyes.
Stay down, stay down, I tell this fool, putting my hand on his chest. But my talking seems to awaken him and this idiot sits up and pushes my hand away. He’s back on his feet. This idiot has got to do his pullups. He’s got his arms outstretched and is going to try to jump for the bar again. Stop, stop, I tell him, you can’t reach the bar. I push a cement block under the bar so he can stand on it. He doesn’t thank me and stands on the block with his arms outstretched, looking up at the bar. The back of his t-shirt is red from all the blood running down his neck.
I look over at his fat wife and little son. They don’t seem at all concerned by this. They haven’t said a word. Perhaps this is part of his pullup routine. Perhaps a head wound and bleeding is all part of the warmup.
He jumps for the bar and I’m ready to try and catch him this time, but he gets it. He hangs for a second and steadies himself and then jerks his legs and his midsection and his shoulders just come out of their locked position. His chin has maybe moved a few centimeters upwards towards the bar. Under his breath he mutters Uno. He jerks again, and his gut shakes. Dos. He takes a longer pause and again does the jerking. Tres, and with that he drops down from the bar.
He turns and walks over to his son. He slaps his hand and gives him the awkward fist bump that for some reason passes for a handshake among people of any age and gender throughout Ecuador. They finish this celebratory flourish by extending their thumbs and touching them together. He then puts one arm around his son, the other around his fat wife and the three stagger off slowly across the beach in triumph, the back of his head still pulsing blood.

22 July 2012


In the morning I packed up and had a desayuno of scrambled eggs and toast and coffee at the restaurant on the corner. It was Sunday morning and cool and cloudy and I had 45km to Canoa, the road going back inland and with some climbing. I felt good, my energy was back, and I knew I would make Canoa by lunchtime.

I rode back to the main road and because it was still early Esteban and wife were not at the service station. I turned south and started a long and gently graded climb. There was mist in the air but like other days I knew it did not signal rain. There was much construction on this part of E15, the highway along the coast, and with the wetness in the air the dirt sections of the road had turned to mud. Even riding slowly I was kicking up mud onto my shoes and panniers and two times I almost dumped the bike when the tires spun in the mud.

There is much road construction in Ecuador and there are frequent government billboards celebrating the “Revolution” of the Correa government’s rehabilitation of the roads. These are the only billboards on the roads and they are very large and patriotic with the colors of the Ecuadorian flag. There are also smaller brown signs with phrases to remind Ecuadorians to protect the natural environment of the country: “Water is life. Do not contaminate it.” “The trees make the air clean.” “Trees are the lungs of the nation.” Beyond the small hand-made signs for hotels or restaurants there is no other signage along the roads. Perhaps there is a national prohibition against roadside billboards.

You will also see painted on the sides of the wooden planked houses built on stilts the colorful hand-painted propaganda advertisements for local political candidates. I supposed the candidates paid the owners to paint on their houses instead of the more expensive option of making signs. But the propaganda is never painted over or removed and there were homes with faded slogans from mayoral elections long since passed.

Because it was Sunday morning the roads were almost empty. I felt strong and powerful on the pedals and my knee felt fine and I had to resist really pushing it to Canoa. I was, however, beginning to have doubts about Canoa being a place I wanted to stay awhile. An Englishman I had talked to briefly at the Swiss Ecolodge had said it was overrun with gringos. He had worked in Quito for eight years and had cycled over much of the country and in fact had passed me in a car on my ride to Pedernales. He said I’d much prefer Bahia or the little fishing town of San Clemente.

I saw a small hand-painted sign for a Canoa hotel and knew I was close. Then the road forked and I followed it towards the ocean. It was then that I heard it. A scampering sound, and turning to look back there was the black beast coming out of the brush, his mouth open and teeth coming for me and I jumped into the pedals turning them hard, the dog right behind me, chasing. I was in the wrong gear and was just staying ahead of him but not pulling away and the dog chased me, without ever barking, for more than 200 meters. Then he pulled back and I was safe and exhausted from the suddenness of it and the adrenaline surge in my body. Those were the dogs you had to be most concerned about, the silent ones. An animal that straight charges instead of barking is a killer. Barking is a displacement activity done by a dog that does not wish to fight.

I rode across a bridge over a creek that went out to the Pacific and I was in Canoa. Riding down the main road of the town I saw little ceviche restaurants and bars and gringo couples and dread locked Ecuadorian hippies and surfers. I knew I was not going to stay for long.

Two Ecuadorians stopped me and wanted to take a picture of my bike. They were on a bike tour as well and headed to Crucita in the morning with six other riders. We talked awhile and they encouraged me to join them. I didn’t like riding with others, especially in a group so large, and told them I needed to rest my knee and was staying a few days at Canoa.

At the end of the dirt road along the beach was the Hotel Bambu and I took a room there for $15/night with a shared bathroom. It was off-season and the place was almost empty. I cleaned up and went down and had lunch in the open-air restaurant looking over the ocean. The wind was really blowing and big surf pounded the beach. To the north were high sand-colored cliffs. Perhaps I would stay another night.

21 July 2012


I awoke with the dawn and unzipped the tent fly and stepped out to look over the gray Pacific. Birds dove hunting for fish feeding at the surface. I had slept well and felt good, finally. I brought out my stove and pot and sat on a log and boiled water for my coffee. I wasn’t going to make oatmeal. I wanted to conserve what little fuel I had left. I ate an apple and drank the coffee in the cool morning stillness. When I finished I packed up the panniers and then took the tent down, rolling it carefully, and packing it in its bag. Then I loaded the bike and walked it slowly down the hill.

Miguel was waiting for me and opened the gate. I asked him how far Canoa was and he told me he didn’t know. I was almost to the point of not asking an Ecuadorian about anything anymore. I would have to forgive them their ignorance of distances. Perhaps it was part of the national character.

I rode the dirt road back to the highway and the climbing started again. I had no energy for it. I was very weak and sweat poured off me. The stomach problem and not eating from the other day had weakened me. I stopped and rested and felt like going to sleep again. There was more head down, sweat dripping climbing and then I saw the gas station at Jama that Miguel had told me about. It had a cash dispenser he said. I pulled in and found the ATM was empty. Someone said it would be refilled later in the day. I was out of dollars and I had read there were no banks in Canoa.

Then a man and woman came and opened the gas station. I asked the woman if I could pay $30 extra for a drink and receive the remainder in cash. While she rang me up the man, who was her husband, began to talk with me. Why didn’t I stay along the beach here in town, he asked. There was a fine cabana for $10 a night and the town was muy tranquilo. He offered to drive me in to take a look at the cabana and if that wasn’t good he had some property on the beach I could camp on for free. We could also pick up breakfast at his brother’s restaurant. I agreed. His name was Esteban and his family had owned the gas station for three generations. We locked my bike up in the storage area behind the office and along with his wife we drove into town.

The town was a number of little wooden shacks on a one track dirt road along the ocean. Fishing boats were pulled up in the sand and there were the cabanas Esteban had spoken of and two restaurants. The cabanas were built of bamboo and stood elevated from the sand. I decided I was going to stay there. Canoa could wait.

Esteban and his wife treated me to a delicious shrimp ceviche and beer at his brother’s restaurant and then we drove back to the gas station for my bike. I rode back to the beach town, paid for the cabana and fell asleep.

I was laying in bed that evening when there was a knock on the door. It was Esteban with his two little daughters and he invited me to come to the gas station and watch the football match. On the ride there Esteban explained that from the age of 15 to 18 he had been a semi-professional footballer for a minor league team in Guayaquil. He was set to be brought up to the professional squad at 19 when his father fell ill and he returned to Jama to operate the service station. Esteban never returned to Guayaquil and never returned to football.

We hung around the gas station until 10pm and then Esteban, his wife, and the daughters and I went on a tour of Jama. There are many of the old wooden buildings of the past in the town, constructed of weathered wooden planks. People looked out from the open windows onto the main plaza. Esteban pointed out the museo in which there are artifacts of the Jama tribe, now gone, that lived in the area. Then we stopped and had hamburgers at a little café. I tried to pay, but Esteban insisted on treating me. The next time would be my turn.

20 July 2012

Near Camarones

At 4 am I was awakened by voices in the hallway. There were laughing and talking loudly as if it were the afternoon. What is with the people of this country? I also was burping up acid from my stomach and felt bloated from gas. I didn’t feel good at all and laid in bed hoping all the loud talking in the hallway would stop. It didn’t. The Ecuadorians went on like that until dawn.

My stomach felt awful and I was tired. I hadn’t had a solid night’s sleep since Ibarra. Every night had been interrupted. My left knee was a little tight but there was no sharp pain. I cooked up a cup of coffee for myself on the stove. I would soon be out of fuel and I was trying to conserve the little I had left. Everywhere I asked about new canisters I was looked at strangely and directed to shops that sold things that had nothing to with camping. Stupidly, I should have bought a few extra canisters at the camping store in Ibarra. After my coffee I packed up my gear and took the bike down the stairs.

The road left the town and broke inland from the Pacific and it was green, lush rolling country. I re-crossed the Equator to the south, stopping at the simple marker to rest. In contrast, on the Pan American Highway there is a large monument to mark the Equator and one must pay an entrance fee to get near it.

Then there was climbing and all the while I was burping up acid and had an awful taste in my mouth. Perhaps it was the fish I had eaten for lunch yesterday. Descending the road turned back to the ocean and there was the Pacific, stretching out in front of me, the blue gray water breaking along the beach. The sun broke through the clouds and it was hot now and the road followed along the water through little pueblos.

My stomach felt too bad to eat anything and by the afternoon I was exhausted. There was a sign for a park along the beach and I turned off down a dirt road and found a few empty thatch-roofed cabanas. I parked under one of them and took a long nap in the hammock, the waves breaking along the sand.

After I awoke there was more climbing and I took it very slowly and saw a sign for a cabana along the beach. There was a lady at the reception and I asked her how far it was to Canoa. From Pedernales the distance was about 50 km. The lady told me it was 40 km. I laughed. I had been riding all day. I told her it was closer than that and asked her how long of a bus ride it was from here to Canoa. She said she didn’t know. Then I asked her if I could camp on the cabana property. It was $40 to rent a cabana but maybe we could negotiate something for camping. She told me to call the owner using the telecom.

I called and reached another woman and explained that I was traveling on a bicycle and wanted to camp on the property. She said she would ask the owner. I waited 5 minutes. She came back on and told me the owner wanted to talk to me. There was a long dirt road that descended to the beach. The owner would be at the end of the dirt road. I said I would come down and got on my bike. Then I thought to myself, why would I go down this long road? What if this guy wants an outrageous amount to camp? Then I have to ride back up. I’m way too tired to do that. Why couldn’t this idiot tell me the price over the intercom? I thought to call back and explain I wasn’t coming down the road, but then told myself to forget it. I scowled at the woman who told me it was 40km to Canoa and started back climbing in the sun.

Next I saw a colorfully painted sign advertising an Ecolodge with gourmet pizza and camping. This looked perfect and I turned down a dirt road back into the brush. There were more signs and in English and a Swiss flag indicating this place was operated by someone from Switzerland.

I came upon a pool surrounded by a complex of cabanas and I rode up to a young Ecuadorian at the reception area. I told him I wanted to camp and he went to ask the owner what would be the price. He talked to a bald big gutted guy in a purple shirt and returned to tell me it would be $10 to camp. I laughed. I said to let me talk to the owner and approached the big-gutted guy who was talking to two gringas in English. I was tired and annoyed and interrupted them in Spanish telling the owner this was some kind of joke charging $10 to camp. After all I was providing the tent. But you get to use the swimming pool and the services, he protested, and I told him I wanted nothing to do with his swimming pool. I would bath in the ocean. He didn’t think he owned the ocean too, did he? Okay, $5 he told me. Fine. And that’s still too much. This is Ecuador, not Switzerland, I said.

The Ecuadorian kid was laughing as he helped me push my bike up the hill. He didn’t believe I had talked to his boss that way. His name was Miguel and he showed me up to the mountaintop to a spot overlooking the Pacific. It was going to be a fine spot to camp. I was too tired to go on anyway. I put up my tent, placed my gear inside, locked my bike to a tree, and went down to the beach with my valuables in a bag and went for a long swim in the ocean as the sun went down.

Later I changed and went to the restaurant and looked at a menu. This Swiss idiot wanted $20 for a pizza. I had nothing to eat and hadn’t eaten all day and figured I needed something, but I had less than $10. So I ordered 3 slices for $7.50. What a joke. I thought of Spanish Harlem and living a block from Patsy’s, the best pizza in New York City. I bought slices there for $1.50. The Swiss pizza wasn’t great but it was edible. I went back up to my tent and watched the sun go down beyond the water. Then I went to sleep. It was great to be back in the tent again and there were no Ecuadorians to awaken me during the night.

19 July 2012


I awoke very early at El Carmen. It was after 4am. There were people in the hallway speaking loudly. I had not gotten to sleep until quite late because of the blaring televisions. They were too loud for my earplugs. I lay in bed and tried to relax. I also hadn’t slept well my two nights at Santo Domingo. Street traffic in the market area and the sellers preparing their stalls had disturbed my sleep. I felt tired and wanted to sleep and I tried to concentrate on blocking everything out and sleeping.

I must have slept a little because when I looked again at the time it was almost 6am. Without a window in the room I did not know if it was light out yet. The Ecuadorians were being very noisy in the hallway. I got out of bed and packed up my panniers. I was feeling a little nervous. I had 90km and at least 50km of it was going to be over the mountains.

I dropped off my key and television remote at the reception desk and slowly carried my weighted machine down the narrow flight of stairs. It was overcast and cool but light outside. I rode out of El Carmen with the children in their school uniforms staring and pointing at me and turned off onto the small road towards Pedernales. There were a few little haciendas among long stretches of banana farms and the riding was slow and easy.

I rode on the bottoms of my pedals, no longer using the toe clips. My thinking was perhaps the capturing of my feet in the pedals had caused limited movement in my knees and as a result the tendonitis. I did not really believe this the cause, but did not want to take any chances. I knew the real cause was my riding too hard and riding with improper pedaling motion.

Whenever I felt like I was in the right gear I downshifted and made the riding almost too easy. I rode slower as a result but significantly cut the wattage of my pedal strokes. Then I also focused on pedaling the full revolution, not simply pumping the pedals downwards. This I knew would share the burden among many muscles and limit whatever strain I had put on my knees 3 weeks earlier.

At the 17km marker I hit a small town of 4 wooden shacks along the road. One looked to be a restaurant and not having eaten anything I stopped and asked about the desayuno. The woman looked at me strangely, saying nothing. I asked specifically for eggs and bread and coffee and if she had these things and if I could purchase them. She nodded. Her daughter came out from the kitchen area to stare at me. I smiled and greeted her but she said nothing. I took a seat and figured they must not get many gringos in these parts, certainly no gringos on funny-looking bicycles.

I finished breakfast and ordered a second cup of coffee. Then I got back on the road. There were hills now through the banana plantations and there was a mist in the air that I thought might turn to rain. I was down right along the equator and this wasn’t the weather I had imagined. If you were not on a bike you would probably be wearing a light jacket.

Then the road began to rise. The Montanas de Chindul had begun. I was climbing very slowly in a gear a step lower than the one I felt I could climb in. But the climbing was not too steep, at least not yet, and I felt good on the pedals. There were few cars on the road and as I had been told there were no villages and I concentrated on my form and turned the pedals. I took regular breaks whether I felt I needed them or not.

My only problem was food. I didn’t have anything to eat. At the top of one climb I found a wooden shack with a little handwritten sign for queso and figured there might be something else for sale. The lady inside was also selling junk food and soda. She had no fruit or vegetables. I bought a packaged cream filled cake and a heavily sugared orange drink. It wasn’t really food but I figured my body would process the sugars. I was concerned about bonking and still had far to go.

Some hours later I came upon a few houses along the road and one was a restaurant. I stopped and had the almuerzo with fish. I ordered a cup of coffee and looked at my map. An old man told me I had another 30km to the coast at Pedernales, but the mountains would be higher. I was feeling tired but my knee felt good. It was very rural in this part and I supposed if I got really tired I could perhaps wild camp somewhere.

The climbing was steeper as the old man had said. And then my stomach began to hurt sharply and I felt a little nauseous. I should not have eaten that cream filled cake. It wasn’t really food and now I was paying the price. Still, I preferred stomach problems to knee problems and I put my head down and climbed and coasted the descents and climbed and climbed.

Then there were mototaxistas on the road and advertisements for hotels in Pedernales and I knew I was close. Then I saw the city and I descended down towards it and I was on a busy street heading towards the water. It was the Pacific Ocean. I found the Hotel Arena at the end of the main road and took the last remaining room. I lugged the bike up two flights of stairs and collapsed on the bed. My stomach felt terrible. Later I went out and bought some fruit near the plaza, but I did not eat anything else that night and went to sleep early. I had made it over the mountains.

18 July 2012

El Carmen

The next day I put the Bike Friday together and the following morning I was ready to leave for Quevedo. I carried the bike down to the lobby and Hugo, the chain-smoking owner of the hotel, asked me where I was going. When I told him he scowled and warned me of great danger. To go South was to enter a zone of great delinquencia, he said. I would not be safe from the delinquents. If I camped the delinquents would get me in my tent. The delinquencia was worse in Quevedo but all along the road there were delinquents.

All this talk of delinquents made me think of bored 15 year olds with skateboards and cigarettes who hung around shopping malls harassing people. Certainly, these Ecuadorian delinquents must be worse, but I could not help thinking of the delinquents of my youth. I had not seen any delinquents at the American shopping malls recently. Perhaps prescription drugs, video games and the internet had solved the problem. Apparently these curatives had not yet reached the delinquents of Ecuador.

This is a better route, said Hugo, blowing smoke in my face, and showed me on the map a road running directly west for the coast. It is a tranquil road and beautiful and there is no delinquencia. I saw that it crossed over a range of mountains. Yes, you will have to ride 90km from El Carmen to Pedernales across these mountains, said Hugo. There is nowhere to stop.

So I had the choice between the delinquents or a long ride over the mountains. I didn’t know yet what my knee would feel like. I had planned to do less than 50km a day and to avoid any climbing. That had been the reason for taking the road to Quevedo.

Hugo lit a cigarette and explained the way out of Santo Domingo. It was 40km to El Carmen and there I would turn off on the smaller road across the mountains. That would be tomorrow’s ride. I thanked Hugo for his advice and got on the road and left Santo Domingo.

I stopped at a thatch roofed roadside stand and bought a cup of sugar cane water from an old man. It was a flat and easy ride through a mix of farmland and homes and buildings and I rode slowly and early in the afternoon made the noisy little town of El Carmen. I took a tiny, window-less room at the Hotel California and cooked myself a plate of pasta for dinner. I had ridden easily all day and my knee felt good. Tomorrow’s mountains were indicated on the map as the Montanas de Chindul and I hoped they would not be too steep.

16 July 2012

Santo Domingo

The 6 hour bus ride from Ibarra to San Domingo began on the Pan American Highway, a winding road through the mountains to Quito. The mountains were patch worked with farming plots and pastureland and there were villages in the valleys and there were the blues and greens and yellows and browns that made me remember Cezanne. Any of these mountains seemed as good to me as Saint Victoire and I wondered what Cezanne would have done with them. It was all in his color palette and it was good country, Cezanne country, I thought. Maybe one day when my knees were better I would ride it.

After the sprawling mess that is the city of Quito the road turned west and ascended up into the clouds and it was very green and wet and humid. Then the road wound down from the mountains, descending in elevation towards a river and then we were down along the river bed and following it into the beat-up, traffic congested city of Santo Domingo.

I got off at the small bus station in town and took a taxi through the busy streets, filled with shops and street vendors, to a hotel I had an address for. I booked a room for two nights. The hotel was near an outdoor market and I went out and bought some fresh tomatoes, onion, green and red pepper and a can of tuna fish and made pasta in my room.

15 July 2012

Ibarra 3

On the far side of the city there was a small, one room bar that stayed open for men who were committed to their drinking. I was there at this bar, drinking a bottle of Club Verde, seated at a wooden table with an out of work carpenter, a belly dancer, a very drunken photographer, and the Black Poet of Ibarra. The carpenter was called Pablo Guerrero and he had brought me to this bar after the one we had been drinking at had closed.

The belly dancer smiled. She was not at all ashamed of her bad teeth. She wore a green sheer dress and sparkling bikini top and had just performed her belly dance. At the other table four old men leered at her. She was very much enjoying the attention.

The Black Poet of Ibarra stood up and announced that the poem he had been writing for me was now complete. He asked that the pastilla music be turned off. From the pocket of his corduroy jacket the Black Poet produced a piece of broken glass. It looked like the bottom of a Coke bottle. He held the shard of glass to his eye and looking through it he began to read the poem he had written on a small square of paper. The poem he wrote for me was titled “Pedro.”

The Black Poet was old and sad. His wife of 28 years had just died. We talked of Augustine. We talked of Nietzsche. We talked of the Pre-Socratics. For some reason he very much liked Kant. I explained to the Black Poet that the line in his poem about my having pockets filled with wind was going to stay with me a long time.

13 July 2012

Ibarra 2

“I also know New York. I also know Miami,” said Don Pepe. “My son worked in those cities.”

Don Pepe was the owner of the Hotel Imbabura. Don Pepe was a very old man with white hair who walked slowly with a cane. His eyes were green and lively and because I could talk Spanish he wanted to talk with me. We had been talking about the United States and about places we had both lived in.

“This is my son, Osvaldo.” Don Pepe introduced me to a man who had approached as we were speaking and I shook his hand and we greeted each other.

Osvaldo had lived in Queens, in Flushing, and had operated a limousine service between the airports. Flushing was an ugly place to live, he said, and he had not liked living there. He worked very hard but New York was too expensive. Then he moved to Miami and lived in Brickell. Brickell was a nice place but he did not like Cubans. The Cubans ran Miami. He did not like Cubans at all. Puerto Ricans he did not like either, although he disliked Cubans more. Miami had too many Cubans and Puerto Ricans. His family was emigrated from Argentina. That made him an Argentine. But the family was originally from Italy. That made him an Italian. Like any good Argentine he did not identify himself with South America.

When I explained I was headed for the Pacific coast, Osvaldo cautioned me about coastal people. Costenos were a different sort. You could not get along with them. I did not quite understand what the difficulty was with coastal people. I mentioned that I quite liked the Colombian costenos that I knew. Osvaldo smiled painfully. He shook his head. He did not like Colombians. I could see he felt badly for me. Clearly I did not know what I had gotten myself into. Osvaldo was an Ecuadorian from the mountains who was also an Argentine but really an Italian, and he could not understand the people of the Caribbean.


In the morning Don Pepe stopped me as I was leaving the hotel. “Where do you go today?”

I explained to Don Pepe that I did not really have any plan.

“You must go to Laguna Yaguarcocha today. You must go to see the Angel on the hill that protects Ibarra and you must go to see the lake into which the Incas placed 30,000 dead of the Caras. The lake was turned red by the blood of the slaughter.”

“Perhaps I will go this afternoon,” I told him. A lake of blood did sound interesting.

Don Pepe was disappointed. “To go in the afternoon you will miss the lunch of the tilapia or the trout.”

“The tilapia and trout are fished from the lake of blood?”

Claro. Of course.”

“I will depart soon,” I assured Don Pepe.

Don Pepe was still disappointed.

“I will depart now for the lake of blood,” I told Don Pepe. “I must not neglect the lunch of tilapia or trout.” I did not want to disappoint Don Pepe.

Don Pepe was very pleased and he shook my hand. “Buen viaje.”

There wasn’t much to see at the lake. The dead bodies are gone and the lake is no longer colored red by blood. A few tour ferries were on the water but there was not much other activity. The restaurants were empty and I stopped in one with the cleanest looking signage. There was no trucha so I ordered the tilapia and a pilsner. It was a very tasty fish. Then I walked around the lake.

The sun was out and a breeze was blowing. I tried to imagine how the Incas got the 30,000 dead Caras into the lake. Unless they were taking the dead out in boats and dumping them, I figured the shoreline would fill up quickly with bodies. There seemed to me a real logistical problem. Was 30,000 dead enough to color the water red? Perhaps it was only colored red along the shore. Anyway, I was sure Don Pepe was going to be pleased with me.

12 July 2012


10 July 2012


Tulcan was a dump of a town. It was cold and windy at 4000m and it rained daily. It was even colder at night in my drafty room at the flophouse, so cold I slept in my wool sweater and socks and considered getting out my sleeping bag. Each morning I had nine seconds of steaming hot water in the hallway shower before it went icy cold. There was nothing to do in the town but go to the cemetery and look at the sculptured hedges and on the weekends to watch the men play pelota de guante in the park. Tulcan is a border town with Colombia and only exists because of it.

The problem with leaving was the time table of the bus. I wanted to go to Santo Domingo, an eight hour bus ride, but the only bus departed Tulcan at 7:30pm. That would put me in Santo Domingo sometime in the early morning. I imagined getting to the terminal at some ugly part of town, far from the center, and finding no hotels nearby that were open. I imagined the thieves who seeing a gringo with two large cardboard boxes would be drawn immediately to me in order to relieve me of my treasures. I would be too exhausted from the long bus ride to fight them off.

So I considered going to Quito, though I didn’t want to go there at all. From what I had read the city was filled with gringo tourists and a sizeable population of thieves who fed off them. I really had wanted no more big cities and to hear English and I didn’t want to go anywhere I had to worry too much about my boxes. It was hard enough carrying them around.

Each day I would walk to the supermercado in front of the windswept plaza and buy water and supplies, then stop at the bakery on the way back for the small rolls I would eat with my soup or use to make sandwiches. There were two young women and a young man who ran the hotel and they looked at me strangely. They no doubt had never known a gringo to stay so long. Then dressed heavily in my wool, a tshirt wrapped around my neck as a scarf, I would cook up my meal on my camping stove in my room.

When I finished eating I would dream of the coast at Canoa. I would see the beach there at the little town and the sun and the heat and how I would go swimming in the morning. Maybe I would try surfing there. I wouldn’t need to wear any wool. But I didn’t know how to get there. If I could get out of the mountains to Santo Domingo, where it was flat, I knew I could ride there. But I was stuck up in the mountains with my bicycle and gear separated into two heavy boxes and I had knee tendonitis. 

Then last night as I lay in bed, the blankets bundled up around me, I remembered Ibarra. I didn’t know anything about that city but I had seen it indicated on the map. I remembered reading it was 2.5 hours south of Tulcan by bus. Perhaps I could travel there first and then take another bus on to Santo Domingo. The idea excited me and I was tempted to get out of bed and begin reading about it. But I talked myself out of it. It was too cold to get out of bed and to read, much too cold, and I was just starting to get warm under the blankets. I could read about Ibarra in the morning. Ibarra wasn’t going anywhere. I slept easily thinking I might soon be leaving Tulcan.

Sure enough Ibarra was beautiful. That’s what the guidebook told me in the morning. The young man at the desk of the Hotel San Francisco told me buses left every 15 minutes direct. I packed my gear back into the boxes and re-taped them and carried them down the four flights of stairs to the street. I waived down a cab and headed to the terminal. I was finally leaving Tulcan.

07 July 2012

Cemetery at Tulcan

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