January 1, 2011

Aeropuerto de Guayaquil

Happy New Year first of all!
Here is a little postlude while I am waiting for my flight: depending on the level of incompetence of the airline representative handling the check-in, it can sometimes be a lengthy, but rather amusing, procedure to get a boxed bike accepted as a piece of checked baggage. Tonight in Guayaquil it only took about 20 minutes. After then passing through the immigration area to exit Ecuador, I found myself in an impressively expansive duty free area. There are airports with duty free shops, but this one is essentially a shopping mall with tight security and jetways. I saw some people who were afraid that they had got lost between fragrances and spirits and were asking for directions to the gate.

The day after I had arrived in Guayaquil, I found a nice bike store (Bike Stop) in the affluent northern suburb of Urdesa. People working at the store were very friendly and it was no problem to get a box to pack the bike for my flight. While there were literally dozens of small bike stores on the very busy streets just a couple of blocks south of my hotel at the Parque Bolivar in the city center, the stores' owners were busy nervously watching their inventories, mostly limited to cheap parts and kids' bikes, and didn't seem to understand the concept of packing a bike into a box.

Besides sampling local bars and restaurants and partaking in the notable New Year's Eve festivities in town, I had some other entertainment that was as enjoyable as it was surprising: on the day I arrived in Guayaquil, I had the opportunity to watch an infomercial about Fidel Castro on the more than slightly left-leaning channel TeleSUR, which is based in Caracas. Underscored by a dramatic soundtrack, the piece was mainly showing Fidel Castro hugging other people and vice versa. One of the highlights was an appearance of one of the greatest contemporary comedians, Hugo Chavez, in which the President of Venezuela called Castro the "Pythagoras of socialism." Well, maybe that explains why things are so nicely squared away in Cuba.

I will continue to post here sometime in the not too distant future, maybe from Chile (Santiago to Lima), Alaska (Fairbanks to Kelowna, BC), or again Guayaquil (Guayaquil to Cartagena, Colombia).

December 29, 2010

Guayaquil

As I was leaving Machala, proclaimed to be the Banana Capital of the World, I rode past the Bananero monument and continued past banana plantations,



on the way north to Guayaquil. At one of the food and drink stops on the way, I saw a guy with a Banana Republic T-shirt, which I thought was pretty funny.

I also saw many plantations with cocoa trees and stands selling coconuts, whose content is a great refreshment and helped me to make swift progress, and I arrived in Guayaquil in the afternoon after crossing the bridge over the wide Rio Guayas,



Guayaquil neither looks nor feels like a place that's boring; after 1600 km (and no flat tires) since leaving Lima, I look forward to staying here for a couple of days before flying back to the US.

December 28, 2010

Machala

Today was not going to be a long riding day, but I left Tumbes reasonably early,



since I expected the same kind of amusing chaos at the border that I had experienced in Central America. Well, it didn't quite work out...that is, the chaos: After 20 km as I was passing Zarumilla, I was thinking I had taken a wrong turn, since there was absolutely no traffic, except for myself, on a section of freeway that looked pretty new. But after a few more kilometers, I arrived at the Peruvian immigration checkpoint, which was not exactly crowded:



I promptly received my exit stamp and proceeded to Ecuador continuing on the luxuriously empty road,



Entering Ecuador was easy, even though there actually were two people in line in front of me. It was almost frightening how well organized everything was. In conjuntion with the freshly paved road, it felt a bit like crossing the border from Switzerland to Germany during a World Cup Final, with Germany and Switzerland being the finalists...but, then...there they don't stamp passports anymore and they have bananas only in grocery stores: what a change of scenery since the day before yesterday. The desert disappeared and now I am riding past banana plantations and shrimp farms,



I will probably ride all the way Guayaquil tomorrow and stay there one night more than planned.

December 27, 2010

Tumbes

East of Mancora, the road closely followed the coastline. Besides picturesque fishing villages and pretty beaches, I had the opportunity to admire a piece of automotive history that was parked on the side of the road. In the unlikely case that you have ever wondered what kind of vehicle Lieutenant Columbo would drive if he were a redneck, this may be the answer:



It's the pickup truck version of the Peugeot 403, which was build from 1955 to 1966. Despite some evident wear and tear of the exterior as well as the interior,



the truck seemed to be fully operational.

One more thing...east of Zorritos, the road turned away from the coastline and, shortly thereafter, I arrived in Tumbes



I had read some comments in my Moon Handbook and elsewhere that were suggesting that Tumbes is the typical dirty border town filled with questionable characters. So far, my impression is very different and I find it kind of nice. Maybe the bad guys are taking a Christmas break.

More tomorrow from Ecuador.

December 26, 2010

Mancora

I enjoyed a very relaxing Christmas Day in Piura. But, while banks and many stores were not open, Christmas was hardly noticable and it all seemed more like a regular day: In the morning, I was at a cafe, when an elderly guy came in to have coffee while reading the morning paper. Outside, the street was being paved, and the clothing store next door was as crowded as a typical Macy's on Black Friday.

I left Piura early today and had a second breakfast in Sullana,



Until I reached the turnoff to Talara (where I had a humongous fish for lunch), the route was mostly flat with only some mild climbs. Then the road turned to the north-east, and the mix of desert and agriculture changed to desert and oil fields (owned by various Peruvian as well as foreign companies, such as Petrobras); the interesting terrain was interspersed with pumps and pipelines.

As I stopped for water at a gas station in El Alto, I inadvertently disrupted a casual Sunday afternoon drinking contest that seemed to have been in progress for a while. A few minutes later I was handed a beer and I was glad that there were only about 30 km left on the road to Mancora.





Mancora is quite a lively place and known for its surf as well as its party scene. The plan for tomorrow is to get to Tumbes, maybe further across the border, depending on how lively Mancora turns out to be.

December 24, 2010

Piura

Until last night I had been under the impression that the route from Chiclayo to Piura traversing the Desierto de Sechura is entirely deserted between Morrope and Piura, and, in particular, that there is no water. Therefore, I had started thinking about how to pack a dozen additional water bottles into my bags. But, last night, as I was browsing various websites at the hotel bar, I found some information indicating that there are in fact several restaurants on the way. This turned out to be accurate; the first restaurant appeared about 60 km north of Chiclayo, then the next about 12 km later and so on. So staying hydrated was no problem. But, better yet, the tailwind allowed riding comfortably at speeds around 25 to 30 km/h; I have much respect for folks going in the other direction. Additionally, the terrain was almost entirely flat. (I studied the google terrain map last night, but couldn't find any contour lines.) There were some stretches that were also straight, which makes you feel like you're going downhill, then you look around and think you must have been going uphill,



Then, after more than 200 km, I arrived in Piura and had to slow down...well, a little bit,



I will be here until Sunday and relax a bit after 1000 km from Lima...Merry Christmas!

December 23, 2010

Chiclayo

I started early and was perpetually being greeted by friendly horn-honking taxi drivers as I headed north past the bus terminal.

I was curious what the situation in Paijan would be like, a town some 60 km north of Trujillo, where attacks of bicyclists have been reported. Lucho from the Casa de Ciclistas had kindly offered me to accompany me through Paijan, but since I had missed him yesterday, I had to rely on my own judgment.
It turned out that a police checkpoint was set up at the southern end of Paijan (this seems quite common, though, as I have noticed those at almost all major intersections and town entrances) and one of the officers immediately asked me to stop when he saw me approaching. I asked him what the situation in Paijan is like and told him that I had heard of problems there. He explained that there is quite a bit of crime, but he added that I should be fine as long as I kept going and didn't stop. The tailwind then helped me to breeze through Paijan, while staying close to the center of the road and keeping an eye on any mototaxis that might be getting to close to feel comfortable. After today's impression, Paijan isn't exactly on top of my list of friendly places, but I guess I would have stopped for water or a snack if I had not known about the problems.

Paijan is part of a cluster of towns surrounded by sugarcane plantations. As I was heading north, the irrigated areas became sparser and the desert reappeared. Past Pacasmayo, the sugarcane was back along with rice fields, which form an interesting contrast to the desert landscape. After a little bit more than 200 km, the tailwind then literally blew me into Chiclayo, where I had fun navigating New York-style traffic:



December 22, 2010

Trujillo

The day started with nutritional support from law enforcement: a truck had broken down on this hill



and was blocking both lanes. A police officer who was directing traffic asked me where I am going. When I said Ecuador, he handed me a giant bag with apples, bananas, and pastries, and insisted in me taking the whole bag...how nice.

I still stopped for lunch after getting through Chimbote, the largest fishing port in Peru. For the first ten miles or so north of Chimbote, there was a lot of agriculture, made possible by irrigation. Then it was desert again before getting closer to Trujillo with large plantations of asparagus (on the left) and sugarcane (on the right)



I am not surprised that a google search shows that asparagus is an important vegetable for Peru's export industry.

It's a bummer I missed Lucho, whose Casa de Ciclistas is famous among bicyclists passing through here, but maybe next time!

December 21, 2010

Casma

Almost all desert today with quite a few road signs with cars on wedges going up, and also going down.



Vast portions of the desert area north of Pativilca seemed to be owned by a company that I assumed operates mines...I was slightly wrong...it turned out that they specialize on poultry slaughtering and processing.
About 30 km south of Casma, I was climbing up this gentle hill and thinking that it would be nice to have a little snack



Then a restaurant appeared on the side of the road and stopping there turned out to be an excellent choice: Clemente, the owner, is a remarkably nice guy who has a huge heart for people who are hungry and sweaty and just got off their bikes. Not to mention that my Picante de Lapas was outstanding.



Casma is a nice place, and so is the hotel I am staying at. There is a sign in the bathroom that is green, so I figure it has something to do with water conservation...(Imagine doing that in California...)



December 20, 2010

Pativilca

Not surprisingly, soccer is very popular in Peru. The owner of the hotel in Ancon was immensely excited about Barcelona beating Espanyol 5:1 last night. Then I watched the delayed broadcast of Bayern Munich beating VfB Stuttgart 5:3...soccer can be a high-scoring game, after all.

The day started out a bit on the misty side



and there were also some hills



that were not quite as dramatic as the signs suggested.

At food stops it is always so hard to decide what to get



 

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