August 18, 2005 GMT
Cotopaxi's Bottom

Where the roads are good they're very good, and the rest are not terribly good at all.

This means that in a six-hour ride (which is about as much as the shoulder will take without screaming at me) I can manage maybe 250 miles at best. A couple of times I've been down to 150 miles or less. But I'll be having a bit of a rest now, which may help.

The ride from Riobamba is up Volcano Alley, never dropping below 10,000 feet and sometimes up to 15,000 (yup, altitude sickness again). I made the mistake of riding from sea level at Guayaquil to Riobamba at 10,000 in one day so had the inevitable sleepless night; however, with the ride from there to Quito (also 10,000) I've acclimatised rather more rapidly than I did in Peru.

This is winter, which unfortunately means (relatively) low cloud, so instead of the promised spectacular views of the volcanoes I only saw their bottoms; the scenery's pretty good, though. Having ridden for several hundred miles through paddy fields and banana plantations (and been crop-dusted for my pains as the planes don't switch off over roads) I ascended up into the Andes again through tropical jungle-type shrubbery and out on to the high plains, which are clearly very fertile. Even as high as 13,000 feet there are fields of crops like maize and potatoes.

A word about spuds: there are many varieties available on this continent, any of which have tons more flavour than any of the anaemic "standardised" crap we get in the UK. Don't know their names, but I'm sure some must be available from speciality places.

People are STILL asking if what I'm doing is dangerous; well, so far it's the planet and the scenery that's been the danger. That and the delays caused by bike cops stopping me for a chat, and it would be rude to refuse. South America is overall a very polite place, one has to wish absolutely everyone Buenos dias/tardes/noches at all times; this includes but is not limited to the total stranger in the hotel lift, the petrol pump attendant, the man sweeping the street, the aforementioned bike cop, and everyone else in the world.

My respect for Kevin and Julia Sanders' record for riding the Panamericana is doubling daily. For instance, in small towns the road in is generally the road out, so you go straight through. In larger towns the road out bears no relation to the road in, and there are no signs, and sometimes no road surface. The intricate planning they had to do is astounding, as to get the record they couldn't afford to spend half an hour trying to find their way out of labyrinthine one-way systems.

So now I'm back to being a proper tourist. When I arrived in Quito yesterday I went straight to the BMW dealer to throw myself on their mercy. And Hallelujah, despite being a 'shiny' dealer their head bike chap, Augusto, is one of the old school and positively drooled over the Old Lady. So first thing this morning I delivered her into their capable hands and they'll have a list of parts for me by Monday afternoon. Not only that but because by their own admission there are absolutely no parts available in the entire continent they're happy for me to source them (I've bribed Phil H yet again) and have them FedExed out. Ooh, and they even pay for the taxi back to the hotel and everything. I have a date with Augusto tomorrow evening for a drink - he speaks good English and wants to hear all about the trip.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at August 18, 2005 06:28 PM GMT

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