Abe and Michael writing from sunny Guayaquil, Ecuador. The adventures have continued from our end, and we look forward to working on Hacienda Ilitio, the farm near Cotopaxi, and reuniting with Levi in Quito.
Church communities in the coast of northern Peru continued to look out for us after Piura. We attended a service that Sunday morning in the Piura Mennonite Brethren church, and then made it to neighboring Sullana for a night service with the Mennonite Brethren church there. It amounted to 7 church activites in 9 days. Learning to worship our same God in another language, we’ve participated in lots of energetic alabanza praise music, prayer in smaller groups (a form that we want to continue in the US) and conversations with young people who are often very serious actively living their faith. But in all instances we have been so impressed by the hospitality these churches have showed us.
En route to the Ecuadorian border, we stopped in Máncora at the police station for the night. Michael flagged down a cyclist crossing the street and asked to take a picture of his bicycle with homemade leather panniers. Jairo turned out to be a fellow bike tourist going from his home in Argentina to visit family in Ecuador. He was going the same way as we were, and so we agreed to bum around on the beach in Máncora for an extra day while he worked at a restaurant, and then leave together the next day. Jairo is a unique bike tourist: he carries as much weight as Michael would for a light weekend trip, and travels internationally on an old road bike with steel wheels and a rackety derailleur. Going down the road with 22-year-old Jairo felt a bit like being accompanied by a bandit: he wears aviator sunglasses, a black doo rag and a palm sombrero while riding. Always up for adventure, he stopped suddenly across the road from an abandoned-looking farm: Voy a robar unos cocos, he said with a laugh. We were very hungry, and had a lot of fun cracking open and eating the coconuts he scavenged.
In the border town of Tumbes we met Ruth Matarama, a Piura MB churchgoer who works at a television station. She plans to work for MCC in Colombia in the following year. We had a rather rocky TV interview with her boss about our trip. Spanish under public-speaking pressure is a challenge, but Jairo could cover up many of our mistakes. The following day we crossed the crowded border at Aguas Verdes and left the Peruvian deserts behind for the lush banana plantations of the southern Ecuadorian coast. Riding late, we got to Jairo’s dad’s place in a small town off the Panamerican Highway. The next morning we were treated to yerba mate with Jairo’s long-haired father. Their family has done quite a bit of traveling with the circus, and Jairo got to show pictures of his trapeze artistry and his father’s tricks with knives and animals. Meeting fellow cyclists is a treasure on this trip, and with Jairo, we found a new friend our age.
We are just loving Ecuador. Bananas cost 5 cents a piece, and just about everything is made with fried green plantains here on the coast (empanadas, dumplings, breakfasts). Jairo introduced us to menestra, a lentil soup with rice, and also to a Colombian bakery for tasty sweets. Juices from sugarcane, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries and soybeans have kept us refreshed in the sun. The ambitious social and infrastructure projects of the well-loved president, Rafael Correa, have meant more paved roads and highways with shoulders for us bikers. The only rough patch we’ve had so far was stopping in a small town before Guayaquil where the mosquitoes swarmed our sweating legs and feet, leading to conversations with the friendly local people punctuated by constant slapping and dancing. But we easily found a place to stay; about 7 curious people immediately listened to us about our trip and began asking around for a free floor for us to sleep. With this team on our side, we were led to what we thought was the community building. But when we asked the woman showing us around, she said, No–es mi casa.
This easygoing hospitality has continued in the big coastal city of Guayaquil, where we are staying with Edu, our first Couchsurfing.org contact. It is like walking into the Ecuadorian version of a college rental house–4 other young travelers are staying in the apartment. Space is tight, but games and conversation are plentiful among two Colombians, one Argentinian backpacker, a Brazilian cyclist, us and our Ecuadorian host. Reaching Edu’s house was a challenge, however, as the city has a developed highway system tailored toward cars. Exit and entrance ramps and a sea of speeding traffic reminded us of US interstates, and made it difficult to enter on two wheels.
We plan to enjoy the freshly paved road by the coast before putting down roots at Hacienda Ilitio, the farm near Cotopaxi National Park at which we will work for about two months.