Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ecuador Trip - Day 8: Papallacta

The day after we got back from the jungle, Jeff and I went mountain biking to Papallacta, a town with natural hot springs.

When we signed up to go mountain biking, I'm not sure that Jeff and I thought very carefully about what was involved. I guess I imagined a normal biking trip, a fairly laid back trip along a bike path or something. When they handed out helmets, I was glad there was a consideration for safety. Then they handed out knee pads and elbow pads, and said that we should probably wear a wind breaker, glasses, and a hat. Also, it turned out that all the other people with us were pretty serious mountain bikers - one guy had brought his own pedals. One girl was riding along in the truck but not biking, because she'd been thrown from her bike the other day and injured her shoulder.

The truck drove us outside Quito to the top of a mountain/hill, and then we got out and put on all our gear. The first road we were on was a dirt road cars couldn't drive on, because it was likely to have land slides. Sure enough, we found there were huge chunks of road that had slid away, so you had to carry your bike across the bit that was left.

This was a sign near the road we were on before we turned on to the dirt road. For those of you not great with Spanish, it says "Danger: Curves of Death."

The other people were quite a bit faster than Jeff and I - one guy was going 60 km/hr. That was ok with us, we were still going pretty fast, and we were staying on our bikes and having fun. The rocks in the dirt road make it bumby and hard to hold on, but the views as your going doing are awesome.

We went on some dirt roads, some paved roads, some with cars, and some without. I was nervous about riding with cars, but actually the cars were surprisingly good about bicyclers - usually leaving a lot of room if they pass you. However, since its a crazy mountain road, cars can't go all that fast, so the bikers and the cars are fairly even speeds a lot of the time.

Eventually we got to Papallacta, which is a town with natural hot springs. The water in some pools is really hot - it gets cooler as the size of the pool gets larger. There were probably eight different pools you could try out. The air was really cold, since we were still pretty high in the mountains. Before (and after) you're in your swim suit, you're usually wearing a sweater and/or a jacket.There was a shallow river that ran next to the springs, and it was freezing cold. Some of the people from our group got out of the hot pool, laid down in the freezing river, and then got back in the hot pool. I put my feet in the river to see how cold it was, and that was enough for me. Jeff didn't even dip a toe. Hot water is fine with us, no need to mix it up.

After leaving the hot springs, we went to the top of a tall mountain (again) and had a picnic lunch. The people leading the tour had brought quiche, carrot sandwiches, and brownies, which all tasted very good. Then it was time for more biking.

Jeff and I still lingered in the back, riding the breaks, as the other people whizzed ahead. Unfortunately, one of the guys in front got a flat front tire and was thrown from his bike. He had forgotten to put his helmet back on after lunch, so he was a little disoriented. We ended up making a pit stop at the hospital to drop him off. (We found out later they did some scans and he was fine.) Then we continued the mountain biking.

The last place we biked was a trail that used to be train tracks, but had been converted to a walking/biking trail. There were sections that had tunnels that were pitch black. They told us to stay in the middle and watch out for cows when going through. The scenery there was really beautiful, and Jeff and I stopped a few times just to take pictures.

By late afternoon it was time to head back to Quito. The truck left us off in the new town area, so Jeff and I explored that a bit. It's basically a lot of very trendy cafes and restaurants and hotels.

Soon it was time to head back to the old town, where we grabbed a snack at a little restaurant (again recommended by Lonely Planet), and then headed back to the hostel. It was Ecuadorian night at the hostel, so they were making Ecuadorian food - yucca with cheese empanada, and rice and shrimp in coconut sauce. Also, there was an Ecuadorian band playing, which was really fun. However, after getting up at 6am and biking all day, we were pretty tired, and went to bed around 9pm.

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