Wednesday March 9, 2005, 40 miles (64 km) - Total so far: 271 miles (436 km)
Friends: The 39 mile climb back up from Puyo, at about 3,000 feet elevation, to Banos, at twice that, was much less of a strain than I anticipated. It had been a glorious descent two days ago with some steep sections that had my speed close to 40 mph, almost what Adrian achieved, but overall, it was a much gentler grade than I realized. My return was assisted by a kindly wind blowing up the rugged canyon and also by a handful of slight descents breaking up the climb.
What slowed me more than anything were the six tunnels in a stretch of eight miles, only two of which I dared to ride, those with a guiding light at their end. None of them were lit, and I had been warned by Adrian of their perils, one of which has a sharp turn, which caught Adrian by surprise when he first attempted it, before learning better, causing him to crash first into one wall and then another in the absolute, pitch dark. He was going slowly, waiting for a vehicle to come along to illuminate the way, so he did not to fall, but he scraped enough skin off his hands to have some souvenir scars. All of the tunnels have a dirt road bypass, one as long as a mile. Don Jaime, ever adverse to the demon auto, says those are his favorite sections of the road.
I arrived back in Banos before The Don, who went to Quito yesterday, three hours away by bus, to meet wife Marshia, who had gone back to Alabama to visit her parents. One of her assignments was to bring back a a brick's worth of one dollar and two dollar bills. The US dollar is the official currency here, and small bills are always in short supply, and especially of the clean and crisp variety. I was curious to see what changes there might be at Don Jaime's hotel, as he's always looking to add another distinctive touch. He nearly bought a peacock several weeks ago for the garden. Some guy walked into the hotel with a couple of them under his arm, asking $400 each for them. Don Jaime checked the Internet and discovered $400 was a good price. He was ready to make the deal but was dissuaded by his staff. So the hotel's menagerie remains at a rabbit and Marshia's dog from Chicago, a whippet, which bears a resemblance to a miniature greyhound, an oddity in these parts.There was a crisis a few weeks ago when it wandered off when Jim and Marshia were out of town. The staff was in a panic, even sounding an alert on the local radio station, and resorting to the Internet to see if they could possibly find a replacement. But a search party of the staff discovered it before any such drastic measures had to be taken.
Adrian had the hotel at capacity when I returned. He even had to give up his room. I could have pitched my tent in the garden with a German cyclist, someone Adrian had met several weeks ago and had dropped by the hotel once before and liked it enough to return. But with the threat of rain, and gear to dry, I chose to settle in at another hotel. I was eager, however, to hear about this bald-headed, 35-year old's travels, as he's been cycling around South America for 3 of the past four years and is gregarious and eccentric enough to attract the attention of Werner Herzog. Adrian had mentioned him, as he was particularly impressed by the array of tools and parts he was carrying, which included two spare rims on the back of his bike.
We immediately bonded as we both had the same over-sized water bottles and 48-spoke, tandem rear wheels. Samuel was also impressed by my aluminum, Zefal pump, not "that cheap plastic," as he put it. He was a fountain of mini-rants and harangues, from blasting his "shitty Continental tires" to what his intended route was for the next couple of years on up to Alaska. Adrian said he'd heard it all many times. It wasn't long before he grew tiresome to me as well, as I struggled to keep his narrative on track. He didn't care to be interrupted. His eyes would go rolling to the back of his head when I derailed one of his monologues and he groped to get back on whatever track he had been clopping along.
Like many travelers who'd been at it for months, he had evolved a system that he was very proud of and was all to happy to share. He specializes in crashing at police and fire stations. He seeks them out, walks in and launches into a spiel describing his journey, so they can see he is a harmless fellow, and then asks if he can put his sleeping pad and bag down in their quarters. If need be, he'll whip out a newspaper story about him from Paraguay. Rarely has he been turned away. He spent three-and-a-half months working for simply room and board at a German-run hotel in Asuncion, Paraguay. Why, he didn't elaborate. He's very eager to get to Colombia, as he knows he will be treated like a star there, just as I was fifteen years ago, as the bike is so revered by Colombians. He financed his trip by working as an orderly in a hospital in Munich. He wouldn't have been out of place in Nurse Ratchet's ward rubbing elbows with Jack Nicholson.