12 October 2012


I awoke at 5am in the refugio. It was still dark. During the night I had wrapped my emergency blanket around the exterior of my sleeping bag for additional warmth. It had been ineffective. My feet were still cold. I went back to sleep.

I awoke again after 6am. Daylight came through the cracks in the wooden slats of the refugio. Outside thick fog covered the lake and the brown, scrub-covered mountains. El Cajas is an eerie place, cold and wet and foggy, with hundreds of lakes formed from melting glaciers. I packed up the now dry tent and the rest of my gear and made myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen. I was cold and wanted to get riding to warm back up.

From Lago Toreadora there was 8 km of steep climbing. After a series of long switchbacks I arrived at a mirador called Tres Cruces, marked with three stone crosses, with a lookout over the valley behind and the valley ahead. At over 4000 meters it was the high point of the road’s climb and was the point of demarcation between the Andes region and the Pacific coast region of Ecuador.

From here the road began a furious descent and I was scorching down the side of the mountain, aggressively leaning into every cutback and down, down, wearing my wool sweater with my rain jacket zipped up against the cold, my wool hat pulled low on my head and descending fast.
I saw a sign for a restaurant ahead and since I had eaten only a package of cookies and a coffee I slowed and pulled off onto a gravel road that led to a stone building. Two girls came out to greet me and led me inside a conical hut built of large stones. Inside was a fireplace with a big fire going and room for two tables and I took a seat. It felt wonderful to be out of the cold and to be near a fire. The girls brought out sweet coffee and hot rolls with cheese and a plate of steaming hot maize with melted cheese. Then an old man came in with a guitar and began to play and sing and the girls sang along with him.
A young man came in with a thermos and offered me a glass of clear, hot liquid. I asked what it was. Hot aguardiente, he told me, and we each drank a glass full. It tasted delicious. I sat down by the fire and we talked and listened to the old man sing.

After I had eaten and warmed up by the fire the descent continued and the scrub and grassland covered mountains gave way to green and trees and the clouds broke and it was warm in the sun. The road cut across the mountains, always fast descending, and far below was a river bed.

There were three different roads that descended out of the mountains that were indicated on my map, all near the pueblo of Molleturo. I never saw the first of these indicated roads and came to a turnoff for Molleturo. It confused me because the pueblo should have been along the main road. The map indicated I should pass through it. In any case, I figured I could stay in the town. There wasn’t anything else up here in the mountains and so I turned off and descended a series of steep cutbacks into the little town and arrived at the town square.
There was a woman exiting a shop and I stopped her and asked about a hotel. There was nothing, she told me. I asked if there was someplace I might put up my tent. She smiled and said she owned an empty house that I might stay the night in and told me to follow her. She led me up a brutally steep gravel road and I pushed the bike up it behind her. I needed to stop three times to rest before we reached a white cinderblock house. Her name was Betty and she gave me the key and welcomed me to Molleturo. I asked if I could give her some money and she refused.

The one thing that bothered me about the house was the windowless opening in the bathroom. All the other windows were glassed in except for the bathroom. I figured the town was probably safe but still didn’t like the idea of someone being able to come in through the narrow opening while I was sleeping. I devised a fix with my bungee cords wrapping them around the bike tightly and stringing them to the door handle. The bathroom door could no longer be opened by someone coming in through the open window.
I cooked up some pasta for dinner and afterwards made myself a coffee and studied the map. I still couldn’t figure out why I had gotten off the main road to get to Molleturo. I looked at the map until darkness came and then lay down inside the tent. My computer battery was dead and so I lay there zipped up inside my sleeping bag listening to the children playing outside. I heard someone at the front door and then the lights came on in the house. Outside was Betty. She had come to turn on the electricity for me. I thanked her again for her generosity and again tried to offer her some money which she again refused.
With electricity I was able to finish reading Hamsun’s Mysteries on my computer. It was a strange and exciting book and I was sad that it ended. For weeks now I had been reading a little of the strange life of Nagel every day until my computer battery died. But I was excited to have four more of Hamsun's books yet to read. Then there were all the others that had not yet been translated from Norwegian. Perhaps they would be translated or perhaps I would learn Norwegian to read them. Hamsun was that good.


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