Downhill Bike Rides

Trip Start Apr 27, 2009
Trip End Aug 11, 2009

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Where I stayed
Hostal Transylvania

Flag of Ecuador  ,
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My boyfriend likes bikes. A lot. He spent two summers as a bike mechanic and will frequently go on hundred mile rides he calls "centuries." I learned to ride as a kid, slowly weaning myself off training wheels, and eventually coasting around the neighborhood or down to the store for ice cream, but I could never be described as "hardcore." Fortunately, you don't have to be hardcore to go bike riding from Banos, a town on the border of the Andes. All you have to do is point your wheels towards the jungle 850 m below and down you go!

We set off early Monday morning, gliding out of town, me braking apprehensively before each and every speed bump, G whizzing out of sigh beyond the next curve in the road. I had done this ride the year before but forgotten how truly easy the first part was. Soon, we were flying by a hydroelectric plant and approaching the first of many waterfalls the route is famous for. Technically, one can ride a full 61 km, all the way to the town of Puy, but we were just out for a fun ride and had no intention of going so far.

After the first fall is the scariest part of the ride: a tunnel. Ecuadorians do not equip their tunnels with illumination and my bike is lamp free, so it gets pretty dark. Add to this traffic baring down on you (and passing you - it's amazing how little help their headlights are) and it's a rather harrowing experience.

The tunnel behind us, we zip past several more falls before reaching the mother of them all, El Pailon de Diablo. I'm not sure what pailon means, but diablo means devil, just so you're properly intimidated. We park our bikes and being the easy 1 km hike down to the falls.

G is Indian and pale Indian at that, meaning while I stick out everywhere I go except Northern Europe, he can blend in many places in the world. Since I have known him, he has been Turkish, Costa Rican, Kenyan, and now, Ecuadorian. As we hike down to the falls, we pass a group of locals coming up. We exchange the usual greetings, never breaking stride, and then one woman pies up, "Taigo una gringa!" or "You brought a gringa!" Yes. Yes he did. Too bad I'm the one who's been here before and is actually leading the way. Suppose I'll spend the rest of the trip having people assume my boyfriend is my hired local guide.

The falls are as good as I remember. We check them out from a wooden bridge across the ravine and then go in for a closer look. Several balconies have been built near the falls to let you soak up the spray, and since I have been here last, a new, narrow, crawling room only path has been dug between the rocks, allowing you to actually stand behind the falls - so cool!

El Pailon del Diablo is typically the end of most tourist's trips. They flag a bus, throw the bike on top, and ride back to Banos, but it's not even noon yet - we keep going. We stop for lunch in Machay and after a solid climb, enjoy a seemingly endless descent into and through the town of San Francisco. G has fun racing trucks (he wins) while I adopt a moderately more sedate pace (while still likely breaking the 40 km/hr speed limit) and garner an impressive collection of wolf-whistles. Travelling in South America as opposed to Africa and with a man in-tow, I am at a significantly decreased risk of random declarations of love, but the machismo culture is still alive and well.

We pedal on to Rio Negro, the final destination of my last bike trip. I call a Coca-Cola break; we've descended quite a ways and it's getting hot. The pine trees around Banos have given way to leafy ferns and tropical palm fronds. It is early yet and we continue towards Mera, 15 km away.

Unfortunately, the purely downhill part of the ride is over and now, we must pedal upwards for each downhill relief. At least the downs are still longer than the ups. Shortly after leaving Mera, we reach a fork: traffic continues along the road, bikes are to take a 3 km detour that appears to head straight up into the mountains. I'm all for ignoring the sign and continuing along the road, but G happily beings biking uphill, and grumbling like a stubborn child, I follow.

I have to hand it to G, two summers ago when we lived in Alberta, he taught me how to use the gears on a bike - ALL of the gears. I start the ascent in 2-6, gradually down-shifting to 1-2, holding out as long as I can, and finally shifting to my lowest gear. Remember the part where I said I'm in horrible shape? G is out of sight now and though my legs are moving, I'm not going anywhere. Forget this. I don't have to prove myself to anyone. I get off and walk.

I push my bike for what seems like forever through some pretty random parts of Ecuador before the trail finally starts to descend and we meet up with the road again. Another point for G, though: he carried my bike across a stream back in there somewhere.

It's amazing how much being back on the road improves my mood, though it's another tough hour to Mera. I try to distract myself on the ascents but wind up pushing my bike several more times. Finally, after the worst ascent yet, the hill that would never end, where you come around a corner and discover the road keeps going up...we arrive! We finish the last of our water in celebration then hurry to the town's only gas station to buy more.

It's only 2:45 and there's something about biking that makes you want to keep exploring, so we push on. Leaving town, we pass a sign: Puyo 12 km. So much for having no intention of making it to the end of the route. I've definitely got 12 km left in me. The last kilometers fly by across mostly flats, my body re-energized by the nearness of my goal, and in less than an hour, we're in town and searching for the bus station. We never find it, but we do see a Banos bus leaving town, pull a quick U-ie and convince it to take on two more passengers. An hour and a half later, we make it back to the bike shop, shower, enjoy a quick dinner, and call it an early night.
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