Sunday, 7 February 2016

Quitting Quito.

For those in the know: Heading north out of the Ecuadorean capital; or, 'picking black bogies'.

Our attack on Quito may have been a belated win. Our retreat from the capital more of a draw.

The Navigator, true to her nature and her title had interrogated the 'app-map', terrorised it into submission and concluded a route for our escape. A nice simple linear line, a logical route heading directly in the desired direction, all neatly pegged with dropped pins. We set off at first light, intending to reach a known camp ground. Mistake.

A route that started well, following the electrically powered, clean living trolley-buses. Which all decided to turn left and disappeared down underpasses. Leaving us turning ever increasingly to the right and the eastern outskirts of town, to leave us floundering amongst the ferments of fumes. Pushing us out onto the steep valley sides and into one of the most remarkable pieces of non-road design. 'Houdini and The Gordian Knot'. We simply want to turn left.

Eventually we do turn left, only in between there are several scampers over multiple lanes, back-tracks and pushes through the now-stationary vehicles. A state that seems to be the norm for most of the city bound. We're concentrating so hard I forget to search for the 'hanging tree'. There has to be a gibbet, one with the skeletal rotting remains of the deranged road engineer responsible for this muddled chaos. The app-map can't do any justice to these ructions of roads, if only because it can't record the travelling directional changes that alter with the time of day. Traffic flows are reversed, oncoming cars jump the central reservation, certain categories of number plates are restricted, only to park up on our hard shoulder until sanctions are lifted. Resulting in our use of the inner motorway lane. Which somewhat bothered us, that is until we're passed by a peloton of mountain bikers. I'd forgotten, we're in TheAmericas.

Smile; Wonder; CycleOn.

Of course we escape. In truth, the traffic is well behaved. It's the topography and the dirty fuel that's problematic. Steep, granny-grinding hills, labouring, heavy articulated lorries and a headache that develops with each cycled mile. Then a blessed compensation from this riotous affray.

We round a corner, there on the horizon is Volcán Cotopaxi. Faint, smoked in haze blue, rising clear above the city's smog, a wisp of smoke spiralling from its caldera, it's summit glaciers smugged in ash. Up until now it's been shrouded by mist, and this will be our last chance to view it. For some reason this hill has always occupied a place in my memory. It dates back to school, Cotopaxi was the archetypical volcano, the one that was depicted every time the geography syllabus encountered vulcanology. Strangely, I probably couldn't have named which country it occupied.

Our mistake? To tangle with the school run. It might have been better to have drop-pinned on the elementary schools, then plotted a navigation avoiding them. School starts early here, and the sproggs are delivered on motos, in taxis and out of the back of cars, all of whom pass, then immediately draw up right in front, there to be abandoned in the middle of the road. Door flies open, an indiscriminate number of uniform, immaculately uniformed minor scholars pile out. Boys in a Militarism of dress khakis, girls in a Catholicism of plaid skirt and white socks. Racing for the array of mobile 'tuck-shops' that materialise and dematerialise with the passing of the school day. Driver then climbs out reaches into the back seat and retrieves the abandoned ruc-sac, then heads off in the same direction. The abandoned car and its flung doors remain blocking our way.

Smile; Pirouette; CycleOn.

We cycle our hoped for distance, but only reach the halfway point to that camping. Such were the twists and turns, deviations and diversions. Three of which were an ice cream, an eatery and an hosteria room. The chance to regroup, draw breath and clean up. The colour of the shirt washing water sets a new tide-line on the 'murk-scale'.

Smile; Eat; CycleOn.