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.


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