With the Southern Cross watching over us, it feels as though we are treading closer to familiar territory. It’s strangely comforting to have these friendly stars blinking at us, even though it is from a very different aspect in the sky. I love to marvel at the connectedness of the earth as we travel around the globe, and it is things like constellations and familiar sides of the moon that make the world seem enormous and tiny all at the same time.
The Southern Cross is definitely visible from southern parts of the Northern Hemisphere, but it is so low on the horizon, your eyes hardly accept it could be the same stars that flash high in our Australian sky.
And it’s so awesome that, as we have moved south, the constellation has moved to a higher position in the sky. We are definitely in the Southern Hemisphere now.
How weird is it that there is an actual line that marks the separation of the hemispheres. And that line dictates world climates with a measured movement of the sun on either side.
But we simply rode across the Equator. We didn’t even know it was coming up until we saw the proverbial sign marking ‘the middle of the earth. And I tell you, those ancient Incans knew a thing or two about astronomy and our earthly connections to the sky. Even Goober agreed that the latitude on the centre of the equator was indeed LAT 0°0’0”And Goober is a fickle navigator at the best of times. Crazy to think that we need satellites and GPS to confirm locations but the Ancient people had it all worked out with the sun and moon. Who knew that our shadows move in different directions depending on the hemisphere in which we stand. This stuff amazes me.
So we spent a good hour taking photos and wandering around the giant sundial that has been created to reflect the ancient ways. Our guide ‘Jose’ enthralled us with the history of the equator and the Incans that built their civilization around it. By the time we were ready to ride away, it was already 3pm.
“Do you know where you are sleeping tonight?” he asked us.
The simple answer was no, but we had planned to ride a further 30km that afternoon, and its difficult to explain why this seemed important, but we declined his offer to camp on the equator and jumped on the bike.
Just as we were about to join the road again, the unmistakable sight of two touring bikes approached us from the north. We jumped off Falkor, waving madly at them, delighted to meet some new friends.
It is Lucie and Zbyna from the Czech Republic. Earlier in the day, a motorist told us that he had seen two other cyclists with heavily laden bikes headed in our direction. The chance of encountering another touring cyclist is much more difficult than you probably think. There are so many factors that conspire to keep us apart, and a mere glance at your shoes can mean a missed opportunity to meet a fellow bike traveller. They were equally delighted at our chance meeting and we instantly pulled out maps and began sharing our different routes. Forty-five minutes passed quickly before we even began to discuss our plans for the evening. So with minimal conference, we all decided to camp together at the Equator. Beers were produced swiftly and we suddenly found ourselves, on our 3rd night in Ecuador, at an impromptu party in the middle of the world.
We spent an incredible 2 months of this journey in Colombia and pedaling away from her warm embrace was emotional. Well, I say ‘warm’ as a figure of speech, when in fact we experienced a multitude of climates in our last few weeks there. The higher the altitude, the lower the temperature. And you don’t have to get too high to get real cold!
Our last blog had us leaving Popayan and climbing to 1,898m. In that same day we also had 1,142m of downhill. The climbing is not as difficult in practice as it is in preparation. Once you are on the road and it is happening to you, it’s much easier to accept. But spending all day climbing to nearly 1900m, and then losing all of that hard work in 15minutes of downhill, you have to laugh at the madness of it. All the while of course, you are utterly enclosed by mountain ranges you can merely squint at to identify roads out. You know that there are only days more of these up and downs, and nothing to do about it but pedal. Keep those thoughts present and those cranks turning.
We left the town of Pasto on 28th August & climbed to the elevation of 3,190m while the temperature dropped to 11degrees. Soaked through from the rain and completely freezing, we stopped for a hot drink to realize that the odometer read 13,988 kms. Donning our jackets, hats and gloves, thirty-six minutes later the odometer showed 14,014kms at elevation 1818m. It was a big day and bloody cold! But indeed, we have ridden our 14,000th TotallyTandem kilometre alright!
On our 1st night in Equador, we climbed to 3446m. We decided to take a detour off the circus that is the PanAmerican Highway and ride through the picturesque grasslands (‘paramo’) on a dirt road. It’s a tough call to make sometimes, especially with a bike like Falkor. With our 20inch front wheel, going ‘off-road’ can be difficult and painfully slow. The plus side being that, the roads are quiet and you are not constantly choking on exhaust fumes or being run off the road by trucks and buses. You pass through tiny villages and are greeted by local people in traditional dress who gape/cheer/hide/salute you in their surprise to see foreigners on a bike in their town. The down side is of course the quality of the road. But what do you choose?
The easier route is only ever easier in the ways you can predict. There are always difficult aspects of every easy option, they are usually just very well hidden, only appearing once you are well and truly committed. Like the dusty road-works sprinkled along what we expected to be a smooth highway, that keep us waiting in the sun for hours and jammed in-between impatient drivers.
The more difficult option shows it’s obvious complications initially, but the rewards surprise you in ways you never imagined.
Riding through the ‘paramo’ was an excellent decision. It was the first time in months we rode in silence. We shared the road with no other vehicles and our lungs ached for the fresh cold air we breathed. The riding was slow as we climbed up the rocky trail but the views were simply stunning. As the sun started to drop in the sky, you could feel the warmth of the day quickly dissipate and we decided to make an early camp in order to be inside our sleeping bags before darkness fell around 6pm. That night, I slept in ALL of my cold weather clothes with my sleeping bag pulled tight around my face so that only my nose and mouth showed. I woke in the middle of the night shivering to discover that ice had formed on the inside of the fly.
The next day, we continued to climb to our highest elevation yet at 3719m. The road deteriorated into rocks and our pace slowed to about 5kmph while the temperature dropped to around 10degrees and the icy wind chilled our fingers. Then we went down a spectacular 2402m and found ourselves back on the PanAmerican Highway, and about 20degrees hotter. Stripping our gloves & hats off, we were back into our shorts, sucking back the familiar exhaust fumes.
Having been riding for nearly 14months, I have become accustomed to life on the road. My thoughts have adjusted to that of a person who spends all day exposed to the elements and relies just on the actual day to supply what is necessary to make it; water, food & shelter.
But it has come to my attention that, while the majority of the duration and distance of this journey is behind us, the most difficult riding is still to come. I guess there is some part in our mind that believes that once a task is half completed, the rest will be easier. However, I have come to realize that while there is roughly still 8000km and 7 months to ride, the roads, climate and overall conditions are just going to keep getting harder all the way to Chile. And here I was thinking that riding south was going to be all down hill. At least now I guess we can say we have done some training.
This blog has sure had a lotta numbers eh! But have you checked out the latest numbers on our World Bicycle Relief page? With your TotallyExcellent support, so far we have raised $10,396! That means, together we have empowered 77 individuals in rural Africa by providing them with the excellent Buffalo Bike. If you would like to show your support, click here to visit our donation page.
Here are some more pictures of our last days in Colombia and the start of our Ecuadorian travels;
We want to give our huge thanks to Tom Walwyn for his excellent route tips on his blog ‘Banff to the bottom’. We have loved being off the Panmerican and thank you for the time you have taken to share your experiences with other cyclists. You rock!