Trek day 1
Trip Start Sep 28, 2011
332Trip End Ongoing
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The first leg is a three hour van ride to the downhill bike route, which is spent either asleep or hiding my lip with a scarf
The road winds ever upwards into the clouds, hairpin bends twisting back to a soundtrack of popping ears. Every so often there is a stray dog just lying in the road. How they've managed to get up here I've no idea, but there they are, with the kind of look on their shaggy faces that seems to be requesting a lift. I wish I could take them all home.
It's dull and wet by the time we reach the summit, with mixed feeling from the group as to who wants to set off from here, or drive further out of the cloud form
The scenery is wonderful when it finally pokes out from behind the clouds, and once again I'm cursing the fact I don't have my good camera. This is further compounded when its replacement doesn't turn on. The lack of photographs from day one are attributed to the battery draining after somehow it was left on all night. I'm not doing myself an favours in front of my new companions by turning the air blue and cursing the malfunctioning piece of crap in my hands. The thought crosses my mind to throw it off the cliff, when I realise that would be very stupid. Isadora, a Brazilian girl joining the expedition, consoles my rage by offering the battery from her identical camera to see if it is still working. We need to wait until reaching our digs tonight however, as all our bags are following in the support van. I just hope it is the battery and not a dodgy knock off Sony the gringo was duped in to buying. We shall see in a few miles
I'm picking up the pace as I race into the lead. I'm still freaking out in case I hit something and fly over the handlebars, but I'm doing my best to make it look easy and show off. This is the third time I've biked downhill, so I'm by far from an expert, yet for some reason I'm trying to make it look like I am one, including riding with no hands. "Look mum...no hands!" "Look mum...no teeth!" I was asking for trouble, and all to satisfy my male chauvinistic pride. They probably thought I was a total wanker.
The ride is over before it's begun. the five hours promised more like two and a half. It was still a great start to the trek, although would have been more satisfying had it been off road. With memories of the Chimborazo volcano cycle still fresh, doing it on well constructed tarmac seems to be cheating. Perhaps this is for the best though, as I pull in to our pick up point intact and happy to have completed the first leg without injury or making a total arse of myself. Maybe.
The group is slowly getting to know each other as we share our first meal together. Also in our midst is a lovely Anglo-German couple who have a rather nasty disease. They have to be very careful what they eat and how they interact with the rest of the party. I'm not reassured by the fact that although I've had my jab, so did they, and they've picked up something in Bolivia. Credit to them they have a good laugh about it, and we waste no time in naming them Mr and Mrs Typhoid. I'm betting any money on it's a matter of time before I'm showing similar symptoms, especially when I notice a street dog lapping the water from the peeled potato bucket. Clearly nobody has a basic food hygiene certificate.
Since we're here we might as well give the optional rafting a go. I've always fancied trying this, but with it being class three rapids, much of the time is spent just letting the river gently carry you downstream. When we do hit white water it becomes much more enjoyable, although I've foolishly decided to wear the only footwear I've brought with me. Once again my preparation is top notch, and I doubt my tennis trainers will be remotely dry by the morning. As much as the pre raft pep talk put the fear into some of us, the reality isn't the least bit dangerous, with the paddle sitting on my lap more often than not. "Do nothing!" Shouts Paddy. "Keep doing nothing!" I've experienced more risks in the bath.
"A Cormorant!" Spots our guide. "Oooooh" exclaims everyone else. "There's one there!" I proudly spy a few metres further down. "You do know we have those in Devon" scoffs the posh English bird occupying seat in front. "Baby Condors!" Have you got those in Devon too you snotty nosed pleb? I don't think I've made the best first impression. It's lucky she's in the other group.
We return soaking wet to the small town of Santa Maria, where some kind of 'Inca Party' is in full flow. As tempting as it is, we're up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to slog out an 8 hour hike, so having a few cans isn't on the agenda. My heart sinks when Paddy suggests having a beer after dinner with the two German girls. Although I've not had a smoke or a drink in seven days, I'm not about to let him get a head start on the one I'm interested in. I find myself reluctantly sitting outside a street cafe supping on a small glass of beer. Coupled with the booze free week and the antibiotics, I'm smashed after a half. It goes right to my head, and I've got to fight tooth and nail not to make a tit of myself this early. It is with relief that we turn in before I get out of hand, especially as my pants are still saturated. I'm just going to have to make do with my boys 9-10 size Walmart swim shorts.