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.