We cycle every day and use the main roads. One kilometer bee line sometimes means three kilometers of cycling, because the road runs along the mountain slopes. Fortunately, the Panamericana is not so wide and less frequented here, so we arrive relaxed in Alausí. The small town is tidier than we are used to, which is probably because it wants to attract tourists. There is a train, with which you can make round trips through the mountains. The route from Alausí is really beautiful, for the first time on our tour. The next few days we can finally enjoy Ecuador, and in the countryside, people are much more friendly. Many laugh and wave. For future bike tours I allow myself the tip: Do not start in Quito, but further south, where the Panamericana is less frequented. Especially in the curves, we notice blue hearts painted on the asphalt, which are supplemented by crosses on the roadside. As I cycle, a chronology of accidents sets in my head. People regularly die here. Unfortunately, this is hardly surprising when one considers the driving style of the people, because they drive into the oncoming traffic to overtake trucks. In such places are often thresholds on the road designed to force the driver to reduce their speed. There are no speed cameras, because people do not pay their speeding tickets anyway.
On Thursday it goes almost only uphill. Since endurance is required. We make only little progress, constantly having to take small breaks and eat to replenish energy. I feel reminded of the scene of the hobbits from Bag End, four leisurely naive hobbits go on tour and are disappointed that they can not stop every few meters for the second breakfast or the 5 o’clock tea.
Meanwhile, we are 30 km and about 1000 meters further, it is 5 pm and we have one more hour of daylight. So we are looking for a place to put up our tent. That sounds easier than it is, because we do not want to sleep right next to the road, but there are hardly any side roads and we do not want to camp on private grounds without asking for permission. Finally, we are lucky and find a small plateau. There we put up the tent and cook some pasta. Just in time for the sunset everything is ready. It is a breathtaking spectacle, because from our higher point we can see into the neighboring valley, where the clouds are low-lying. The red light falls on the cloud from above.
The next morning we see the sunrise over the mountains. We leave early, the road is still empty. After 10 km we reach Zhud, a place where according to Google Maps nothing is except of the place where two highways meet. But we find a small town. This has happened to us some times before, there is a name on the map, but there are no buildings or side streets. From Zhud the long-distance traffic increases massively. So we take a bus from El Tampo to Cuenca. Cuenca is the most beautiful city on our trip so far, the architecture is European, there even is a river promenade where you can go for a walk. It is a city of artists who show their works on the streets and offer them for sale. A musician walks past us with his guitar under his arm and his cat on his shoulder.
Get what you need
We come to Cuenca with a shopping list. We finally need new earplugs. These are our basic equipment, without them we would not get any sleep and never escape the noise of the trucks whilr cycling. We were in about ten pharmacies, they always answered our question with: “No tememos.”
When the pharmacist in Cuenca presents us her selection, we buy 14 pairs. In addition, we visit an outdoor shop. We think about buying a water filter for Peru, because you can not buy fresh water every day in lonely areas, but then we decide to get tablets that kill the bacteria in the water. This is easier, but not the the best solution, because in Peru there are many illegal mines that contaminate the groundwater with toxic substances. The last item on the list is a book. The one, which I took on the journey, is already read and I need a replacement. In Cuenca there is an international bookstore, which we visit enthusiastically (I am thrilled, Marius as a forced companion). Although there are even German-language books, I do not find anything. That is also related to the prices. Everything that is imported is exorbitantly expensive, an example: a glass of Nutella costs 6-7 $. Luckily, I get along well without Nutella, but less well without any book.