Only Sundays, Ecuador Part 2
Only Sundays, Ecuador Part 2

Only Sundays, Ecuador Part 2

From Zumbahua, I was heading straight to the heart of Ecuador, ‘El Corazon’.  The trail rising up away from town, a thin strip of sandy brown and the only disruption in the airy wide-open paramo; its smooth hills of pampa.  Lama and sheep graze on the wind-swept grasses, their thick fur and wool ruffling in the wind and above, on a windy hill an Indian woman does battle against the elements, clutching at her bright red poncho flapping violently in the wind, face and head covered with bright yellow cloth against the chill, reminding me of an Arabic camel herder atop a sand dune in flapping galabeya.  The clouds are below me now, but I pass downhill, a desolate road, beautiful in its wild solitude despite its proximity to the main road, then in to cloud, fog and so sadly the views are lost.

Riding in the fog is a little like riding a plank, and one can’t see left nor right, only around at uncertainty.  The mountains become infinitely tall monsters, their sheer walls rising up into the mist to ivisible peaks, and likewise valleys become bottomless blackholes.  One feels small and vulnerable.  There is you and only you and the ten metres directly ahead, no one else.  Wrapped in the mists cold chill of unknown, one pushes on, deeper in to it.  It absorbs all.  I hear the muffled sound of the engine dragged into its depths and occasionally I hear the sound of invisible rushing water.  Occasionally the mist spits out something….a woman on a scooter or a family; parents and three children on a 125cc 5-up.  I am nothing.

I break through the fog into lush jungle, wooden huts, standing on stilts beneath treacle brown rusted tin roofs, submerged in a tall green sea of sugar cane, where is made ‘aguardiente’ a nasty potent alcohol made with the juice of the sugar cane.  It uses an interesting home made distiller, heated with the squashed remains of the cane.

Horedo watches his ‘aguardiente’ boil

El Corazon, a collection of wild-west like wooden buildings, bars and shops sitting ghostly in the mist, is reached the next day easily though finding the way onwards is a bit tricky.  When I finally discover the way, after a 40km mistake, towards Fecunda Vela my next stop, I am instantly filled with a now familiar terror.  There’s something about it, the landslides, the donkeys and horses walking around as if lost, the water running down in quick streams between the rocks and grass growing on the trail where it is not, the verge seems to be either falling in on the road or growing into it.  It is a road little, if ever used.  But why? I ask myself. The road winds down steeply, and at the bottom will almost certainly be a river, at it highest now, during the rainy season.  My mind has one thought and one thought only “Get through this.”

Trouble is upon us, Rodney!

I pray aloud that there IS a bridge, and thankfully when I arrive I find there is, and wider than a couple of planks too!  This allows me to start climbing the far side of the lush steep-walled valley; water everywhere, in the air, on the road, dripping down the walls and flooding over the road from tall sparkling cascades….for me the absolute vision of Ecuador.  What will be around the corner? I know there is something.  And sure enough I find it, indeed almost ride into it such was my concentration on the rocks and rivulets and holes immediately in front of me.  A ‘deslave’.  Essentially another Spanish word for ‘landslide’ but for me it will now, and shall always remain associated with ‘mudslide’.  A big thick tongue of it, passing down the road and around the hairpin and on a little further to taste my front tire.

There’s no way through. One couldn’t walk, a few tentative steps in it show this, leaving huge holes and probably a shoe or two.  The mud is like quicksand, thick and wet and yet, is actually clay.

But wait, there’s a path to the side, through the tall grass, muddy and slick from a few passing feet cutting its way up the hill.  I inspect it on foot, slipping and falling on my hands, to stand in the middle of it all and survey the scene.  I puff out my cheeks….Maybe.

Maybe there’s a chance of passing.

“DON’T GIVE UP!  KEEP GOING!” says the nervous voice inside, one that I love and loathe and aswell; fear and awe. The trail rises in three steep sections, and despite an unloaded bike I fall at the first and easiest of these steep, slippery off-camber steps.  As I heave the bike up to try again a man comes out of the mist, where from and where he goes I cannot fathom.

“Where are you goin!?” I ask, nearly dropping the bike as my feet slip in the mud.
“I’ve come to help you!”
“No way!! Thanks so much!” I reply shocked, but pleased.
“No problem!”
“So I can get through then?”
“Well, I’ve done it with my bike, but we were three people to push….I think one is impossible.”

With some exceptional effort and a bit of growl, and a  few rests, and a bit of a chat, we made it!  Both of us falling in the mud, laughing.
“So, where are you going?” he asks me.
I just want to get off this road!” I say half joking, though I certainly don’t want to be camping here, it seems a place shrouded in misty danger and not a place for the living.  He laughs and I thank him and he tells me of another ‘deslave’ ahead, “but there’s lots of people, they will help you!”

Sweat drips from my brow on to my bags as I lug them up the slippery mud, stumbling to reunite them with the bike, and I feel some remorse for poor Rodney at the effort.  I feel no thirst or hunger or tiredness despite not eating lunch and some tough riding, and not wanting to linger here quickly get back under way….once I’m in Fecunda Vela, then I’ll drink and eat.

A trail of wetter slippery mud winds on, getting thicker and thicker until I reach the second ‘deslave’ where thirty men work in tandem with a JCB and numerous trucks in clearing the road of the saturated clay.

“ROUND THE BACK!” shout the group of shovel-wielding men matter-of-factly when I ask if I can pass.  And so I go, round the back….through a house – itself miraculously unscathed from the landslide – through the family working on the sugar cane press to a huge and nasty step, cutting across the mud, dug by feet and time it seems.  From the top of this step however, it seems I regain better ground.  So, only one more hurdle.  With the help of two locals, more falls and slipping, we get the bike up there too!  I reload  the bike’s luggage, give biscuits in thanks (for I’ve always got biscuits!) and get going…..

But wait, that’s not all, (said the shopping channel guy in rapid breathless tones)….I rounded the corner not 15meters on and to my dismay saw a long narrow strip of deep wet clay, rising steeply to the right, vertically down to the left, leaving little room for feet for me to push.

BUT WAIT!  That’s not all!  Not only do you get 200 meters of impossibly deep sticky clay to battle through along a precipice, with no room for your feet…’s also, wait for it!  UPHILL….!

I ride in, hoping it’s not as deep as it looks, hoping to hit it with momentum, to dominate it with brute force!  Bush tactics, fear and awe…..And our survey says….

It was like dropping a biscuit in your tea, sudden, demoralising failure, salvation impossible, the bourbon was lost.  With the bike deep in mud I try to move it, nothing.  I remove the bags again and try again, I make a lot of noise, scream, farted and essentially felt like a weakling, beaten.  I was knackered, having done nothing, how feeble.  I went back for help.  First two of us, then three then finally another, “need some help?” he asked from up above, “Oh Please for the love of God! that would be great!”

We reach the end of this narrow strip, pushing and dragging, falling….to round the corner and survey the scene.

“Pinche madre!”
“Que putas!”

The road is left of the green bushes…

The scene we are faced with is a vast expanse of mud, I just want to get out of this, and the thought strikes me to just go back, runaway, retreat, but now smack bang in the middle of it all I couldn’t go back, you can’t turn the bike, and anyway, the thought was fleeting, a quick panic at the view and gone.  So we pushed on, and on and on.  Hands on anything, muddy suspension fork, muddy wheel, muddy handlebars, muddy topbox, kneeling, standing and falling in the mud, desperate to escape like the German retreat from the Russian steppe in the Spring thaw.  Impossible to even move a few centimetres at a time, we struggle through, mud sucking at shoes sapping energy and absorbing any effort we make.  My glasses fall off in the mud, my three companions continue, sweat stings in my eyes, “Hang on, I can’t f@ckin see!” I say in English, I scrabble in the muck and find them, though still can’t see as they’re plastered in filth.  Thankfully there were no bullets or Russian tanks clipping at our heels and eventually we do make it!  Safe at last!  And I go and thank my helpers profusely, without them, there was no way I’d have made it!

I take a few token photos of the scene though how I’d have loved to have pictures of us and the bike battling in the mud!  I don’t think one can quite believe it!

Easy now, to Fecunda Vela a sleepy, damp mountain village, a blip in the green, I stop to buy supplies and much needed drink at Salon Cumanda.

“HOLA!” I holler to the woman, out the back somewhere, watching TV probably, Tele novellas (soaps), I whistle….

She walks out absent mindedly, half looking back the way she came,
“Buenos tar…HAY CARUMBA!  WHAT MUD!”

Well, I laughed and laughed and laughed, and continued to laugh as I rose up the Andes again away from Fecunda Vela nd away from the deslaves.  I’m laughing now too!

Exhausted, I throw my tent up roadside, next to a babbling stream.  A family comes down, having chatted earlier, bringing firewood and a hot ember to light it, lovely, lovely Ecuadorians, the nicest, sweetest family.

I was terribly tired the next day on my way over the high pass back to the main roads, a very high pass, surely over 4000m where condors (I think) sat amongst dry grasses out of the wind.  On my way I pass through the friendliest village, Simatug, where everyone said hello!  Brilliant.  Down and down to “The Village”, the land of little red coats, kids playing football, men riding horseback in lama fur chaps, or the women picking spring onions, huddled deep in their shawls out of the bitter wind.  With much persuasion I am able to get some good photos, good conversation and even fresh milky coffee and government issued school biscuits!

It took a LOT of effort and persuading to get these pics....shes picking spring onions.

I look around for a volcano, it’s here somewhere I know it!  And well, there it is, right in front of me, well, up there, towering above.  Ecuador’s tallest peak, at 6310m Volcan Chimborazo.  I camped here, on an empty moonscape, feeling sick, but with great views….and more strong wind cutting under the tent’s flysheet chilling my bones.

I spent several days in the area, hoping for clear spells, exploring, and camping with the locals who farm these ice-cold blustery heights, raising lamas, sheep and cattle.  And whilst the people were all friendly, in the towns was quite another story; literally recieving growls from women, sneers and glares.  A tourist train (literally a train) passes through here and perhaps that is the reason for this contempt.  I’ve never known such hate (except perhaps in Ethiopia), and curse my white skin, wanting only to blend in, be a part of the crowd, or a fly on the wall.

So sad was I, I left, to Baños – a road beyond here to Puyo back in to ‘El Oriente’, which I heard was good, then onto Macas, south before returning up in to the Andes on dirt to where I was now, in a large loop.  The dirt road I was particularly interested in.

It started badly, Baños was a sprawl of English signs, hotels, bike rental, waterfalls and tours, pizza and burgers, a tourist town of the most hideous kind!  Worse even than Mindo (mentioned in Part one) as Baños’ tourism is built largely on nothing, at least Mindo had world famous birds, though Baños did have a somewhat impressive double waterfall!

The road out to Puyo was also a bit of a bore, seeing if I could spot the Chevron Texaco oil pipeline, reading signs “Cheveron Texaco nada mas!” and passing weird hollows, that are oil towns, usually with a big sports court as if that will make up for the oil drillers spoiling the countryside.  That said, Ecuador enjoys cheap fuel, a gallon of diesel is US$1 and a gallon of petrol US$1.50 (Ecuador uses the American Dollar).  As well, admittedly, the heavy downpours didn’t help, though luckily these were of short duration and after an hour or so I was able to dry off in warm sun.

On the way down to Macas, riding south my eyes are fixed westerly, looking out for a break in the cloud, a view to the Andes rising up out of the vast jungle.  After an extensive search for a good camp spot to have a chance of seeing this view in the morning, darkness falling, I find it.

“I WAS JUST ABOUT TO HAVE SEX!” says the man, fastening his trousers in the door.
“Ohh, really, Ummm, shit…sorry, about that….the kids told me to come and ask you, and the volcano you know…”
“Ahh, it’s okay, it’s okay.  Bloody kids.  Anyway, look we need to find the President.” he says.

After a short wait the President arrives, giving me permission to camp, though unfortunately (I seem to have written this a lot in this blog) the clear view of Volcan Sangay rising up out of the jungle to its fine snow capped pointed peak, is now lost to cloud and gathering darkness.

Pea soup for breakfast too, and a hoard of kids peering in my tent, but then this is the school yard I camped on, and what can I say I like a good view and will do anything for one.  Punctures 66, 67 AND 68 are all thoroughly enjoyed in the rain on the way to Macas, feeling ill.  Though one must admit that punctures 66 and 67 were created by the same implement, and the implement of 68 was indeed, yours truly.  So we’ll call this one collectively 66.  I was so tired from feeling sick that I just sat there for large periods listening to the hissing of air escaping another hole, and then the pinch….take the tire off again klous….

Rain continues to fall as I rise away from Macas on the pot-hole riddled dirt road back west to the Andes.  And tired with illness and the seemingly difficult punctures, I set up camp in a viewpoint tower, looking over the oxbow river down below, a great spot!

Next morning, three minutes into the eagerly anticipated ride I reach a shocking discovery.

The road is longer dirt, it is in fact recently paved.  I fly by villages and rapidly diminishing forest on the edge of Sangay National Park.  The only upside is Lagunas Antillo, which remind me a little of Lagunas Mojanda, though with the asphalt road, somehow not a place to linger and savour and I ride on with little thought, stopping only to photograph a thatch roof, common it seems here, where the thatch is plaited!

No sooner have I stopped the owner of the house sets out a chair.

“Sit. Rest!” he says.
“Oh, umm, okay.”
“Can you eat?”
“I normally manage, quite messy though.  Biscuits mainly, tea, coffee….”

He ignores my continuing nervous mumblings that I know all too well when I am in an uncertain public situation and fetches me a plate of chicken, rice and salad.

“You like horchata!” he asks, actually I hate it after being ill after a drink of it.  But surprisingly this version in Ecuador was different to the one I know and loathe and though I asked what it was made with, I did not understand the Spanish word for the magic non-vomm inducing ingredient.  Then soup, and juice.  A normal Ecuadorian meal, in reverse and gratis.  Soon, the whole family are wanting photographs, always in a strange pose of culinary debauchery, holding this soup, that ladle, or pot.  In a slight daze of kindness I hit the road, not really sure what just happened, completely open, unquestioning kindness…on down to Guamote, to camp.

“Can you ask her where she expects me to put a cow?” I ask, “I mean, I can’t put it in here can I?” I say motioning towards the pannier.

The girl laughs and explains to her non-Spanish speaking mother, who minutes earlier was shooing me away from my camp spot.  Luckily all is well, and the mother is eventually convinced that I am not, in fact, the nationally feared gringo cattle thief on a motorbike, and the daughter even seems keen to join me on my trip.

“You can come if you want.” I say, and she sheens over red, hand to mouth a nervous laugh with her sisters, “but you need to haev a motorbike!”

Thursday in Guamote is the site of a great market, full of bright colours and short domed straw hats and ponchoed men with the all familiar knobbly hands.

“What’s this?” I ask a woman selling something wrapped in leaves.  She shrugs her shoulders and pulls a face, “what, you don’t know?”  She shoos me away, “oh, very nice!” I say turning to walk off, only to turn into glares and more sneering faces.  “What did I do?!” I say, half laughing…..

I chat to a man at length, and mention this to him, he manages to ignore it cunningly, I mention that everyone always wants paying for photos…

“Oh, yes, yes…” he agrees gravely.
“Do you want a photo?”
“How much?”
“Come again…”
“How much you pay, money, bills, dollars….”
“Yeah, I understand…..But….I…just, I’m not….paying!” (WHO PAYS? I want to know!)

He turns off without a word.

Some men take the mickey, another group I ask look at me with pure hatred and said nothing.  I gave up, I lost the last reserves of a fairly deep well of morale here, and left Guamote almost in tears (I was so sad!), locking my camera in my top case.

Through the thick thick fog that clings to the western slopes of the Andes I ride down and down, the visor is up now, fogged up, then the glasses too are fogged, so I pull them to the end of my nose and ride short sighted, though longer sighted that with the glasses, which was 1cm.  When I pop out the bottom, cold, wet and sick now, (and demoralised), I can see all the way down a large V-shaped valley, dark green to the sides and fog overhead like looking down a tunnel….the light of which I can see is the lowlands, with it’s unmistakeable pale blue sky sat on top of a visible haze of heat.  Warmth.  A chance, I hope, to dry off.

So cold and wet am I, I can’t even feel the warmth and wonder if my body has adapted to the cold to the point where it has forgotten what heat is.  Soon, my mind is full of energy, observing all the life, the changes, everything is so different here I feel I’ve entered, unexpectedly, a new country.  The flat fields are flooded with hot stale brown waters being churned by tractors on paddle wheels, houses of wood and bamboo sit at the end of long rickety bridges set back deep into the fields and sat atop of stilts, towns of crazy energy with street vendors walking dusty streets selling “helados”, ice creams.  The sky is so pale, almost the colour cream and it’s also so far away, so much higher (4km I suppose!).  Planes fly in the sky, raising and pitching like stunt-planes, as they spray the pesticide on the limitless square kilometres of bananas, the Dole crops.  I ride on and on, hemmed in by these bananas, men on bicycles, workers, going to and fro the fields, 100km or more.  Things are getting done here and the pace seems faster than t he highlands.  Though for me, things are slowing down….

Puncture Number 67, hell’s teeth!   Well, hell’s tooth; a six-inch nail.  With no choice, it being late, I pull the bike into the adjacent field, a rice paddy, and camp.  Rice fields are bad, bad places to camp.  Thick heat.  Motionless air, heavy with moisture and mosquitoes.  I take off my shoes to get in my tent, throw off my still wet socks and am bitten at least twenty times in the time it takes me to zip the tent closed.  Then I get to work eradicating the mosquitoes from the tent and put my head down, to the sound of them angrily trying to find a way in, and to the thought that already, I have a puncture to fix tomorrow.

A huge truck arrives along the dirt road first thing in the morning, having seen me last night, fixes my puncture and reverses off like some strange ghost into the hot early morning mist.

It’s all asphalt now as I ride towards the rainforest of Cotocachi further north.  The place resembles a desert, despite the obvious rainfall and fertile soils that allow the bananas to flourish. It’s the vast straights of asphault punctuated occassionally by a mad town.  The few towns there are act as bottlenecks, everyone stopping for supplies before continuing on into the otherwise uninterrupted bananas, or African Date Palms.  The towns themselves are odd too, no squares or plazas, no mercado, no Spanish grid system, no centre, just shops, interrupting the GO! GO! GO!  BUY! BUY! BUY! or SELL! SELL! SELL!  It’s the same scene each time as I approach the town, first the truck stops in the outer, almost derelict section, then moto shops, constructions shops and then clothes, food, electronics, streets crammed with meat sellers, thirty men with bits of meat hanging from hooks from wooden stalls, flies swarm about, the men read newspapers, women sell vegetables and are usually more proactive “A la orden!”  “Que buscar!”, at your service, what do you need!?  Teenagers sell clothes, if you can call staring at their cellphones slumped in a plastic chair feet up on the clothes; selling.

The rain falls again, this time as if from a giant, God-sized bucket, the tent lights up illuminating my face of fear.  It’s not the rain I fear, it the ground beneath me.  Camping on the edge of the deceptive fury of the Rio Esmereldas, the bike 30yards away through the bush on the trail.

I told you this was a bad place to camp, why didn’t you listen?  Because of the view that’s why!  STUPID! STUPID!  It’s that voice, you know, the other one, the one you love and loathe, fear and awe….I always said it was going to get you into trouble one of these days….well, it’s here, today!

But now, sitting next to the 150 yard flat wave of smooth brown water, pushing by with obvious force, already – in the rainy season – only just below the lip of the land, any more rain could push it over!  But more, with the ferocious power of the water and the rain sinking in to the sand, will the land reach it’s limit, and simply fall like a small but most deadly landslide tent, sleeping bag, kitchen….Nick?  Rodney?

I shout at myself for being stupid.

I knew it which is worse,

The tent shakes with the force of the rain, sheets of water slide off into the sand, which I watch sinking in to the ground beneath me….watching it all build, to take me away.

How much more can it take?  Not much, surely.

What will you save?
Camera, diary….kindle ( I don’t want to be bored).   
What, are you expecting a message, before the fall?
Don’t think so buddy.  You’ll be in the murk, one mile down, and 6 feet under, or one, what’s the difference?
Perhaps I could survive?
What are you, a motorboat?
The rain will stop in an hour.   
And if it doesn’t…..?

The voice in my head has a point.

I love lightning, love watching it, counting off the seconds, watching it come closer and louder.  That was until I counted zero.  The biggest, most ferocious thunder-crack I’ve ever seen or heard, it went on and on and on.  For awhile there was nothing, the tent has gone, the floor has gone, the sky has gone, there’s only me, me and white.

When the world came back, it comes in an equally stark flash of realisation, and I needed no persuading, I was out of there, out into the pummelling rain, in just some under-shorts.  I run to the bike ducking beneath the bush, skipping over the bush and plunging into three feet of water….Jesus H, where did this come from….through this to the dirt road, now a river.

I feel like the guy in Jurassic park, the fat guy, in the storm, stuck in his jeep….what was his fate? Wasn’t he eaten by velociraptors?   I keep my eyes peeled.

I ride through the abysmal storm, a world of black, the headlight gobbled up by the jungle and rain and find a spot big enough to put the tent, hopefully safer.

I rode this river some days later, heading into the jungle aboard a small motorboat, along with Indians returning to the village, stocked up on tinned tuna, sweets, coke, wellies, machetes and petrol, having sold their bananas and plantains.  Dodging logs and loggers on my way to San Miguel three hours or more upstream.  A small village, San Miguel consists of only 46 families, though everyone is a cousin, brother, sister, auntie and cross-eyes are common.  I take a tour here, though it was sadly very poor, the real rainforest is a further trip away as are the Indian villages – the village I was in settled  by blacks.  My mistake, and a costly one, though a trip into the actual jungle would have been more costly, though perhaps better!

I wake up at 230am, the frogs it seems have vacated the septic tank and are all around me, on the roof, the rafters, the floor, the bannisters.  Bats fly around my head, one hits the wall and lands at my feet, and at the wall a cockroach runs away, and a moth almsot as big as the bat flaps about my face, and mosquitoes nip at my heels.   The lancha ride back to Borbon, where Rodney sat waiting, was undertaken a little later, at 3am and, in the dark, was even more spectacular than the jungle!  Wondering all the while….what if we hit a log….we did and the torch that was waving frantically over my head was suddenly gone.  Pitch dark I turn to watch the light sinking, fading into the brown murk of the river.  He’s dropped it.  I look up to him wondering, what now?

“Pass me another Torch Jose, dropped the bloody thing….”

Thank the Lord for spares.

I was glad to get back to Rodney and the freedom he offers.  Travel is one thing, but the freedom the bike (and the tent) offers is priceless.  I was eager to get back to the Andes and its cooler climes, (away rfiom giant moths and bats and poo frogs, taking me oddly very near the beginning of my time in Ecuador, to near El Angel and to Cuicocha again, where I recall my early, perhaps happiest days in Ecuador.  Again here I find the Indians more open and friendly and peaceful.  I visit the lovely, lovely little towns south of Salinas, including Tumbabiro and find a beautiful camp with the help of curious locals, a camp near a vacant mud-brick house and small lake, perfect, perfect, perfect!  Perfectly content. I thought about buying up that house, milking three cows morning and evening and growing potatoes, one day, one day…..

A return to Lagunas Mojanda – now armed with a map which shows a continuation of the road after the flooded section, led to a testing afternoon on a heavily washed out road, though I got to see the other lakes!

And, a trip to Chimbroazo’s refugio at 4800m, plus a walk to the snow at over 5000m!

When I met Adam again in Colombia he made various scrawls on my map, I paid little attention to them then, (trying to make him a map for his webpage as I recall) and one of the scrawls said.

E -> W Refugio

Odd, my map shows a paved road, not something I normally associate with Adam, but I trust the fellow implicitly (fool! said he) so off I went. This meant a trip back through the western fog, before drying off amongst pineapple sellers at the bottom, then getting wet in the afternoon storm on my way back up…to 4000m, soaking and very cold.  Thanks Adam! (But wait…)  (All this after searching for Elusive Lake Number 5, I never learn).  At the top of the pass, back in the Andes now, I find Las Cajas National Park.  And like all great places it takes its image from Snowdonia National Park (in my home country!), though several peaks resemble huge dollops of cooled silvery black lava.  Pale yellow grass fights the wind desperately, to cling to the mountainsides and then there’s the 270 lakes occupying its territory!  When I actually reach the park though and look down from the mirador (viewpoint), I realise something…the bit just before it is actually better, despite not being in the park’s boundaries.  So I go back a little as sun sets bright bright pink in the lakes, and ask a friendly man called Rocky – who likes nothing better than playing guitar, and doing not much else, apart from letting his lamas feed and grow – if I can camp.

I have a great camp there next to one of his lakes, perhaps one not included in the 270.  The wind was ferocious and icy mind you and next day, after coffee and bread with Rocky.  I ask if there is anywhere I can go for a walk…

“Well, you can go up there if you like.  There’s seven lakes.”

Only seven?

Despite patchy weather, it really was tremendously beautiful, (Snowdonia’s better mind you!) and Rocky is a lucky, lucky chap, though quite possibly a bit lonely, his neighbour lives in the next valley.

“What’s this all about?” I ask Rocky pointing to a newspaper clipping.  It says how the park earned $100,000 last year, but where is it?  The money.  We don’t see any of it.” he replies, “this part is better than the park anyway.” he adds. Quite right too.  “They want it actually.  But they can’t have it, I put a fence up there.  It’s mine!”

I give Rocky all the change I have to help him out, breaking my rule it seems, but his place is a restaurant and cafe and he did give me coffee, bread, let me camp and walk….and then I head out to Cuenca for a quick look around the city – deserted on a Sunday – before heading south to Podocarpus national park.  However, the weather is again ghastly and windy and pushed me on to Malacas, a neighbouring town to the touristy Vilcabamba.  A place I love; slow paced and peaceful, surrounded by tall beautiful lush mountains of red and orange sandstone, cream and terracotta buildings with wooden balconies that look out on to the small park with it’s ancient trees with silver-white trunks.  Children play “pog” in the street, hammering down the discs with fury and laughter, woman sweep the verandahs of shops and homes and old men sit on benches all day growing old in the ‘Valle de la Longevidad’.

I really like Ecuador, the countryside in particular and the cities hardly at all, such is their similarity – in certain ways – to America.   Sadly the weather has been unkind and I’ve managed only glimpses and I’m not sure I know Ecuador so well.   But despite this, and the lack of photo opportunities offered by the people I still have over 200 pictures, testament perhaps to the beauty of Ecuador.  ¡Ama la vida!