Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Attack on a Capital.

A six lane autopista feeds the traffic in towards the capital. The road climbs away from the shrouded views of Cotopaxi's slopes. It's Sunday morning and the racing cyclists are out training, passing uphill at speeds we wouldn't contemplate going downhill. Six lanes, for which there appears to be a certain lane apartheid. Outside for cars, middle for trucks, inside for road warriors, hard shoulder for touring hill-slugs. On one section of descent, I watch with amusment as one Lycra-clad overtakes a slow moving truck loaded with untethered cauliflowers. No one seems concerned, certainly not the transit police. It's a picture that will be repeated and repeated.

We'd planned our attack on the capital with militaristic precision. We needed to arrive midday on a Sunday, to be able to catch the 'ciclo-paseo'. Thirty kilometres of traffic-closed roads that lead into what one guidebook describes as a 'deserted city centre'. That planning started to come adrift when we couldn't determine the outer reaches of the closure, nor download a map. So we do the British thing: ask a police person. The whole length of Av. Sucre is closed, the answer. So we start to contour around the southern reaches of the Quito, to pick-up the named road and follow it downhill. Downhill....surrounded by the now expected antics of buses, combis and pedestrians. None of whom have any regard for lane discipline.

Down, down, ever increasing clouds of diesel fumes. To the point where I'd given up hope. A cake shop materialises on a corner. If we can't have a quiet traffic-free road, we can at least have a chocolate infused croissant. Where the disinterested police lady failed, the baker delivered. It's only three blocks over. Interestingly, had we not done the Brit-Bit we would have been on it already. An object lesson in trusting your instincts

In Lima they section off a major flat thoroughfare; in Quito they link together a series of side streets, and being Ecuador, a series of hills. Not a particularly difficult exercise given the topography. A lot of left and right turns, contra-gyrations around roundabouts, rattling over cobbles, swerving wheel grabbing grates and dodging sunken drain covers. Seeming to have way more uphill than downhill, but well stewarded with tapes and crowd barriers. Fathers with novices wobbling along on starter trikes, manicured mothers and elegant daughters, grey beards rediscovering the bike. Through these we make our way, smug satisfaction when we crest yet another rise, heart rate steady, surrounded by puffing locals.

As we had anticipated, the paseo makes its way into the main square. That supposedly deserted plaza in the middle of that supposedly deserted city centre. There's a group of acrobats performing to a crowd of hundreds, there's a vendor making ice cream for a queue of tens, there's the hawker of the new and the resurrected: selfie-sticks and nose crashing 'clackers'. The juice sellers are crushing an exotica of jungle fruits, another is spinning blue candy-floss. Families wander unhindered as music drifts from somewhere to my left. The transit police rendered redundant, reduced to interrogating their mobiles.

Silent Sunday in Colonial Quito. Tomorrow it will be a very different place.