13 October 2012


I went to open the door of the house thinking that if Betty came by while I was packing I could thank her. I tried the key but the bolt wouldn‘t withdraw. I tried more forcefully and could feel the key bending in the lock. I stopped. The bolt was jammed. I couldn’t get out of the house. Then I remembered the small open window in the bathroom. Perhaps I could get out through it.
Looking at the rectangular opening I saw the bike was going to be a problem. I removed the seat post and loosened the handlebar post, turning the bars lengthwise with the front wheel. I dropped my sleeping bag, ground pad and tent out through the opening. Then, standing on the toilet, I lifted the bike up and pushed it through. As I held the bike half out the opening an old man came walking up the gravel path. I held the bike half out the window, making no movement and he passed without seeing me. I dropped the bike onto the ground. Then I dropped my panniers and the seat post out through the opening and climbed up on the toilet and pulled myself up.
I was half out the opening and trying to get my leg through when I see another villager coming down the path. I froze. I did not know what these villagers would think of a strange gringo exiting a house through a bathroom window. But the man passes without seeing me and I am able to pull my leg through and fall out of the window onto my pile of gear. I was out.
I put the key in the lock on the outside and then reattached the seat post and realigned the handlebars and loaded up the bike. Then I slowly brought the bike down the steep hill and pushed it into the main plaza. I ordered a desayuno of eggs and bread and coffee at a restaurant and asked about the way out of the mountains to Naranjal. A man explained I had to ride back to the road I had turned off on to get to Molleturo. That meant I had to climb back the descent I had made into the pueblo. My map was wrong.
I went to pay for breakfast but the woman had no change for a $10 bill. She saw the $5 I had in my money belt and asked for it. It was a five I was 90% certain was a fake. That woman at the artesania stand in Cuenca who sold me my wool hat had snuck it in with a good $10 as change for the $20 bill I had given her. (I had broken one of my rules: only use big bills in supermarkets to avoid getting hit with fakes from street vendors.) I told the woman that the five was a fake. She looked at and disagreed with me. She said she would take it and gave me my change. I didn’t argue with her.
I started back up the steep climb to the main road, hoping I didn‘t run into Betty. I felt badly about her lock. What a bad impression I had made for future gringos arriving in Molleturo. I had busted a lock on a home, passed counterfeit currency and perhaps been seen crawling out a bathroom window. But the climb was brutal and the mistakes of Molleturo were soon behind me and I was back on the main road and still climbing. The sun was out and it was hot and I hoped I was going the right way.
Finally the climbing stopped and the descending began, a screaming descent that cut down the mountain. It was steep and technical and at this speed any error would mangle me or send me off the mountain. Suddenly I saw cones ahead and a man is standing at a turn watching me descend. Suddenly he fires up his hands for me to stop. I immediately think there must be a single lane around the curve and a bus or truck is coming up it. I hit the brakes hard, but I’m not slowing fast enough.
Why this idiot waited to tell me to stop I didn’t know. I put my feet down on the concrete but this elevates my center of gravity and the handlebars start shimmying hard and almost out of control. I am losing the bike and I can feel I’m about to go down. I’m nearly at the point of dumping it and going over the handlebars but with all my strength I steady the bars and slow to a stop near this fool standing on the curve. Ahead I see part of the concrete has been dug up and men are filling it in. That was what he had stopped me for. Why didn’t you tell me sooner, I ask him. You watched me coming down the mountain and said nothing. You’re supposed to guide the traffic, no? The man stares at me and shrugs.
Then there was more descending, bombing down the road carved into the mountainside. It was too fast and steep to stop for any pictures and it was too fast and dangerous to look out into the valleys for more than a glance. It was also a zone of landslides and there was much evidence of fallen rock along the road.

There was 40 kilometers of descending and then I hit the clouds. These were the same thick clouds I had ascended through a week earlier and the visibility was equally as poor and I took it very slowly, braking all the way, wearing my yellow rain jacket to be visible to traffic, and riding the shoulder dodging glass and fallen rock.
Then the clouds broke and I could see across the flat plain and after a long gradual descent I was back at sea level. The road wound through pastureland and ended at the Pan American Highway and I turned south. I continued another 30km through banana plantations to the gritty, impoverished town of Naranjal. I found a hotel with a room for $9 a night. My room and the whole town had a chemical smell to it like vinegar. I was also certain there were fleas in my bed. I could feel them biting me and decided to go out and look for a Tia supermercado. After receiving bad directions four times I found it and bought cereal, water and cookies. As I walked around everyone in the town stared at me. Naranjal was a dump even by Ecuadoria standards and I was happy to get back to my flea ridden room.



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