On the road again

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

On the road again
March 28, 1998

“On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again ...”

Today is a day to sing about, as every pedal stroke takes us further away from Quito and onward. The malaise of months waiting sloughs off like old skin as the kilometers slide by. Past the famous market town of Otavalo where the women wear their woolen hats like ornately folded table napkins. Past San Antonio, where wood artisans continue their craft of centuries; past Ibarra and beyond ...

Gone is a year’s familiarity with my bike and I fight to gain control of this erratic hippo as I swerve among traffic and families selling corn along the roadside. I’ve lost the balancing touch and today my bike — an old grey dinosaur bundled in duct tape — is definitely left-handed.

Cars honk as they pass passengers staring and smiling with familiar looks of amazement and shouts of “buen viaje.” Traffic is heavy, but the crowded roads give us comfort.

Outside Ibarra, an erratically acting pickup on an isolated stretch of road puts me in a panic for the next hour. I try to think: What are the odds of being robbed again, let alone by another red pickup, and try to put my trust in statistical improbability.

We drop in the Chota Valley, unique for its black population, and the sudden increase in temperature saps our fragile stamina. Low on endurance, we roll through the valley past women carrying bananas and baskets atop their heads. The jubilant lilt of their Spanish is so different from the Highlands and we’re amazed to encounter Spanish-speaking blacks after so long in the Sierra.

We rise out of the valley, but collapse on the outskirts of town unable to manage the next hill. Looking for camping we wander into a plant farm, an oasis of flora in this arid valley. José, the owner, greets us warmly.

“I saw you struggling along the road back there. You want to stay here for the night?”

He shows us to a perfect patch of grass near a pond and then to the showers. We comment in awe at the Eden he has created.

“With will anything is possible,” he says, adding, “What value does it have if I can’t share?”

On our first day back on the road his words take on a prophetic ring. As we slip into slumber beneath sheets of heat lightning it is easy to believe we’ve been led here just to hear this message.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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