Well, another year is behind us. It is certainly true what the older generations say: each year seems to pass more quickly than the last.
I would like to ask that everyone pardon strange spelling mistakes. My spell check in word hasn´t quite figured out what language I am speaking these days.
2014 was a relatively tame year by our standards. It was a year that my parents (and perhaps my peers) would say was marked by a more mature behavior and attitude. There were certainly a few of those big “life events” which took place that will certainly define the coming years, the joys and difficulties, opportunities and limitations which govern our decisions.
Prior to meeting Bibi, there was not a great deal of coherence in respect to the events in my life. Previously I had this journey, an imagined road with mountains, valleys, new friends, new dangers, and all clases of unknown surprises strewn across it for thousands of miles. It made sense in my mind, but probably not to anyone else. This is no longer the case. A sane person could now follow the thread of my life these past couple of years. I don´t believe that was the case as few as 5 years ago.
When traveling perpetually, one never really has their feet on the ground, never fully understands their environment. Marriage provides (or perhaps demands) just the opposite.
And so my reflections herein will almost certainly deal with how to bridge these two Kierkegaardian ideals (a life which seeks beauty, and a life which strives to be good) which have always been present in me, and which have been, on many occassions, directly at odds with one another.
And so I procede with this 2014 Recap for my own need to remember and reflect, with the goal that our lives do not simply concede to a fate of endless repetition that had always scared Bibi and I so much in marriage. That we continue to make our marriage our own, that we continue to create our own rules, and govern our decisions in accordance with our dreams.
And that above all, we remember these days, these joys, which we know are so fleeting.
For Bibi and I´s wedding, we rented out a large house just outside of Villa de Leyva, Colombia. I can´t possibly recap this week, but it was everything I wanted it to be. Neither Bibi nor I particularly cared about having a glamorous wedding, but given the language and cultural barriers between our two respective sides, it was important to us that we got as many of our family and friends in one place as we could.
I´m immensely grateful to everyone on my side that made the trip down. Mom, Dad, Elizabeth, Phil, Muniza, Khurram, Hannes, Maren, Wilson, Smyth, Roque, and Brandon.
I could spend hours trying to recount all the stories from our wedding, but I´m not going to do that here. It was a great experience, and that so many of my family and friends made the trip meant a great deal. It connected my current life with my past, making both seem more real, part of the same thread.
After the wedding, we took a couple days back in Bogota before heading off to our honeymoon destination, a beautiful beach near Montañita Ecuador called Olón.
It wasn´t really a honeymoon of course, as we would spend the next 7 months living there.
Olón: My favorite beach not named Flamingo
To understand Olón, you have to get a sense of the phenomenon which is Montañita located just 2kms to the north. Montañita is like a cross between Bourbon Street and Southern California. Backpackers from all across the world tend to find their way here. The streets are lined with hundreds of coctail and juice cabañas and surfers cross paths with dreadlocked rasta travelers, hippies selling jewlry, empanadas, pizzas, weed, and harder drugs on main streets. It is a Babylonian Paradise, yet throughout our time in Montañita, which consisted of more than a few all night parties, we never got the same sense of a dark underbelly just below the surface that we felt in Canoa a year earlier. Not that there weren´t more than a few friends who were suffering from chemical addictions, but the new friendly faces, sunshine, and our own happiness tended to overshadow the ugly parts that we encountered.
Olón is the prettier, more exclusive beach just down the road, and while most days we biked in to Montañita for some reason or another, (arepas for breakfast, ATM, waffle brunches, microbrews in the afternoon, etc) we were able to stay out of the fray most evenings. This bike ride was really spectacular, a short 2km run with an 80m ascent up to the top of La Punta where one can look back at the 17km stretch of beach to the north, before zooming down the mountain on the otherside into Montañita.
Since beginning my bicycle trip in 2011, I have not felt like I had a group of people I could really call friends. I´ve met awesome friends along the way, sure, but I hadn´t stayed in one place long enough to form a posse. Olón provided this for us, and while perhaps we did not adequately appreciate it at the time, when a reunion took place over the Christmas holidays with Garth, Eloy, Yadi, Tom, Shelly, we realized how fond we´d grown of this group and how much we had already and would continue to miss them as well all go our separate ways.
A Visit from La Suegrita
Sometime in April, Bibi´s mom and good friend Fabiola (who attended our wedding). This was really special for Bibi, as it was her mom´s first trip outside of Colombia, and her first chance to glimpse our life together. We had a blast.
We took a boat tour to Salango one day to see the bluefooted boobies and do a little snorkleing, and had another memorable outing where Bibi and Fabiola went parasailing in Montañita.
We even took an entire day just sitting around on the beach in Olón without another care in the world, something I don´t think Bibi and I have done before or since.
Around this time I had mastered this seafood chowder served in a coconut, a dish inspired by Jean Luc in Costa Rica that I gradually perfected for myself. I also did one of Grandma Berger´s meatloaves. While on one hand I got to show of my chops, I think it also became clear to everyone why Bibi and I have both gained signficant weight since we got together (something we are both determined to fix this next year!)
The Ojas Crew
In Olón we had a fairly consistent routine – wake up in the morning and bike to Montañita for a few Colombian arepas to go to bring home for breakfast; work throughout the day (websites and project management in the initial days before MLS-Ecuador became established enough to support us on its own); coctail hour at Don Pedrito´s beach cabaña to watch the sunset (it seems 80% of my pictures from this year w ere taken at Don Pedro´s with a Piña Colada in hand), and then either head back home for a movie, or over to Ojas for a few hours of billiards and beers with the gang.
Ojas is a bar catering heavily to the expat population living in Olón, but our group helped maintain a good mix of English and Spanish speaking. Yadi, a young single mom with a beautiful smile from Manglaralto ran the bar alongside Shelley a fun British girl who was learning web design and website development much in the way that I was back in Colombia during the early stages of my bike tour. These two could usually be counted on to keep Bibi entertained at the bar while the men hung out in the back, shooting pool.
Eloy, a physically small man from Barranquilla Colombia who bartended in various beachside bars and hotels 18 hours a day, tended to hold the table. Garth, a Canadian programmer with a dry and often offensive (until you got to know him) wit who had figured out that he could work the same hours remotely in paradise for 1/3 of the cost of living in Toronto was right behind him. Then there was Tom, a delightfully insane British chap who manned the kitchen for much of our time in Olón, regaling us most nights with his outstanding Fish and Chips and keeping us entertained with an ongoing stream of banter. Tom tended to speak constantly, with one story leading into the next. At times, at high points of his stories, he would be extremely animated and capture the attention of everyone in the room, while at other points, he would continue talking for long periods of time, almost under his breath with no one paying him the slightest mind whatsoever. Finally, we had Alvaro, a Colombian bicycle tourist who ended up living with us for 3, 4, 6?? weeks.
Alvaro very quickly became like a brother to me. We invited him to live with us very quickly after meeting him as we understood his financial situation and of course were thrilled to be helping out a fellow bike tourist, having ourselves been so blessed by so many we had encountered on the road. The speed at which we opened up our lives to someone we hadn´t known very long could have ended in disaster, but instead we instantly became very close friends.
Alvaro had begun his trip in Bogota and had moved quickly through southern Colombia and Ecuador. Montañita was his first extended stop, and I hope that our touring experience and lives helped give him perspective. While he was with us, he came to the conclusion that he needed a good computer if he wanted to fully take advantage of his camera and photography skills, and needed to manage his own blog. The end product of this decision can be seen at https://ciclombiano.wordpress.com/ Of all the bike blogs out there, I haven´t seen any that offers that intense visual experience that he achieves through his photos.
We continue to follow Alvaro´s adventure. We look to him for advice on what the road holds further south. He is a symbol for us of what is posible and a reminder for me of what has always been my plan. Explore the totality of this continent by bicycle. I know that the loneliness that he feels on the road must lead him to long for the love and companionship that Bibi and I have as well as the friends that surround, just as the repitition and absence of adventure in our lives at times leads me to crave his nomadic existence. I often think of Alvaro. He is the other side of the coin for me, and his presence reminds me that this traveling lifestyle is too important, too powerful to let fall by the wayside. He is like a younger brother who has gone further, surpassed the elder. I feel nothing but pride in all his achievements.
I am so grateful for the friends we made during this period, and I hope we stay connected for many years to come. They are all adventurers, all possess that yearning for life. What is more, they have all acted on this yearning. They are far from home and like us, defining themselves beyond the frontier of the influence of family, culture, and birthright.
Bike Trip to Puerto Cayo
Just before Alvaro left us, Bibi and I took a quick two day bike trip up to Puerto Cayo to meet our friend/developer Sean. The trip was a wonderful combination of business and pleasure. We took the entire day to ride the 85kms from Olón to Puerto Cayo, stopping for my favorite coastal Ecuadorean meal, “Calamares en Salsa de Mani” and arriving tired but fulfilled in Puerto Cayo around sundown. We spent the following day collecting rocks on the beach and generally just passing the time until we had the chance to meet Sean that evening.
It is great to meet guys like Sean – young professional Americans who are down here doing their own thing. Sean speaks fluent Spanish, is married to an Ecuadorean, and in addition to his work with several area beachfront developments, they manage their own finca and are active in the community. Aside from all this, he´s just a really easy going, likeable guy.
Nothing against the American retirees in Ecuador. We´ve met a great deal of people in this second demographic with some amazing perspectives. But its really great to run into people our age and with our English/Spanish cultural mix. The next day we rode back. After 9 months off the bike, it felt great to get back in the saddle, and even better to fall asleep exhausted in our own beds after the 170km round trip.
Bibi´s Birthday Trip
About the time that Alvaro left to continue his journey south, Bibi´s birthday rolled around and we decided to take a weekend trip up to Alausi. There is a train that is supposed to leave from here that rides the most extreme leg of Ecuador´s famous train line, an extremely steep segment called the devils nose. For better or worse, when we arrived, it was the town´s local festival.
Every little town celebrates their founding with an annual festival. This meant that there were concerts going on in the corral when we arrived. Particularly impressive was a Colombian salsa orchestra. We enjoyed the concert and had a lovely time walking around this cute Andean village.
After our walk, I managed to sneak a cake for Bibi and present it to her.
Unfortanately the train was not running due to this same festival.
In May, Bibi and I made an important move which has defined our profesional lives ever since. Since the time that Gale broke the MLS contract back in May of 2013, we had been receiving our salaries directly from Propertyshelf. After one year of being pulled in too many different directions, we had established MLS-Ecuador as a brand that could support us, and for the first time we were able to put all of our focus on this project.
Wifee Goes Home, Hubbie Buys Land
Our thinking throughout this year was that we would stay in Ecuador for 9 months, receiving our tourists entry for 3 months upon arriving in January and receiving a 6 month extension in Ecuador, at which point we would continue on our journey.
The first part of this played out as planned, and after her birthday, I pushed Bibi to fly to Bogota to visit her family and bring back her winter clothes which we would need for the trip biking in the Peruvian Andes. She took 3 weeks and did just that.
In the midst of A LOT of partying with the guys while she was away, a special property came across the MLS just a km away from where we were living. I began wheeling and dealing and by the time she returned from Bogota, I had already signed the compra-venta agreement and made the deposit. The view is ridiculous. So was the price.
In hindsite, this radically changed our plans. It is the first signficant asset that I have owned since pissing away way too much money in the 2008/2009 stock market, and I´m thrilled we have this nest egg which will certainly increase in value over the next 3-5 years.
While I still had big plans to embark on our bike trip once more just a few months later, the money invested into the property led us to the point where it would have been a pretty big financial risk to take off in September. We would ultimately extend our Visas (turns out its not so hard for me to get a two year Mercosur Visa now that I´m married to a Colombian. If only the U.S. Visa process for Bibi could be so quick.
Coastal Sales Tour
Which brings us to the other reason we decided not to set out on bikes quite yet. My goal was that MLS-Ecuador would be in a position to take flight without my guiding hand. I radically underestimated how difficult this would be, but lets start from the beginning.
In June, I interviewed 14 candidates and decided on 2, which I hoped would be able to replace Bibi and I when we hit the road and be sucessful enough to send us royalties each month. The first choice was Fiorella who was Ecuadorean but grew up and went to school in Canada, who I knew would shine in sales. She was easy to like and easy to work with.
My second choice was a younger kid named Jaime, who had great language skills and wanted to travel. With Jaime I was drawn to his potential and the cultural fit he would have within the wider Propertyshelf team. I liked the pairing of Fiorella, who I knew would be cautious and have a relatively low risk tolerance, but ultimately reliable and responsable, with Jaime who was an outside of the box thinker and more technically experienced. Having made my personnel decision, I made another rash investment.
I would invest about $2500 on a 2 week tour along Ecuador´s coast: rental car, marketing materials and business cards, food, hotels, etc. The goal was to meet with 4-6 clients a day. I needed to hit 20 sales over this period in order for the finances to make for us to finance our trip and leave the business on good footing.
In retrospect, this goal was not achievable. First we had only had 2 test clients to date, so those we spoke with, while interested, were inclined to take a wait and see approach. Secondly, developers are notoriously hard to pin down for meetings, and we weren´t able to get nearly as many set up as we intended.
All that aside, we had a fantastic trip. Bibi arrived from Bogota and I met her in the Guayaquil airport the night before my birthday. We crashed in a hotel and left early the next morning on a 12 hour busride to Esmeraldas and then to Atacames. We called Fiorella who had already arrived with Jaime and the car and were waiting for us in Mompiche, but unfortunately when we arrived there were no more buses available. They came and picked us up, and we made our way back to Mompiche. We stayed in a cheap little hotel that night, and while Jaime and Fiorella went to bed early, Bibi and I took a few hours to walk around the beach, looking for info.
The next day after a day of meetings in Tonsupa and Same, we came back to Mompiche and Jaime broke out a bottle of tequila and made Margaritas for everyone in celebration of my birthday. Very cool.
Another highlight was visiting Isla Portete just to the south of Mompiche, which Bibi and I have decided is the most beautiful beach in Ecuador. If it weren´t for the mosquitos and having to take a motor boat to get to the island, this would be a development hotspot, as is, it remains a hidden out of the way gem with perhaps the whitest palm lined beaches on the Pacific Ocean.
We made our way down to Bahia and got to see my buddy Dave and his wife Miriam, then on to Manta, where we stayed at Santa Marianita, which continues to be one of my favorite (though perhaps most overpriced) beaches. Bibi and I took one of our first trips together to Santa Marianita when I was trying to learn to kite surf, and it was really nice to be back there again, even if we were a little busier this time around.
We made our way down to Olón to show Fiorella and Jaime our home and the Montañita phenomenon. Then it was off to Playas for a final round of meetings. Finally, we closed the trip down in Guayaquil, where we dropped off the rental car. Fiorella and Jaime flew back to Quito, and Bibi and I caught the last bus which would take us home. God bless the busted boat that brings us back.
In retrospect, the trip was a good investment. Many of those we met with on the trip ended up signing with us, but the lag time was longer than we anticipated. We decided to let Jaime go a couple of weeks later, making him an extremely costly mistake. I should have known better, been the asshole, and told him that since he was not going to be the sales guy he didn´t need to go on the tour. I´m a softee sometimes with that kind of stuff, but I´m learning. Good kid, but we didn´t need him with Bibi and I were staying on, and he wasn´t ready to take the keys to the kingdom, modest kingdom though it may be.
Moving to Cuenca
So basically we decided to stay, but given that we´d been building up to this big adventure which was no put on hold, we needed a move. Bibi was starting to get burnt out with what she calls “La Vida Island Style” which basically just means her husband is drinking too much.
There is something about the beach that makes the minutes drag on and months fly by. There is also a clear productivity drop which I didn´t fully appreciate until I left the beach and we moved to the city.
Cuenca is Ecuador´s most beautiful city hands down. We moved into the downstairs of a lovely house in a nice neighborhood upon arriving for the ridiculous price of $200/month. The only issues were upstairs – one, we didn´t have our own kitchen, but were given rights to use the homes kitchen upstairs. This would have been great, if it were not coupled with a controlling little old lady (the absentee owners long time nanny) who made sure she was always looking over my shoulder whenever I was cooking, and could be heard upstairs on the phone with the owner´s wife, reporting on our every move. This made Bibi and I nutty, and while I attemted a “kill her with kindness approach” there was no swaying her loyalty and perceived obligation to the owner. Both parties wanted the other out, and she would eventually get her way.
The huge change that immediately blew us away when we arrived in Cuenca was the presence of free cultural events. In our first week we attended free symphonies, jazz concerts, then saw various free movies at a cinema festival that ran for nearly 2 weeks. We discovered the Cuenca Jazz Society, located in the upstairs of a little Italian restaurant which is always filled with spectacular music, interesting personalities, guest performances, and the weird dry humor of piano phenom James Gala.
There is not much to do at the beach accept drink, watching the tide roll in and the sun go down. In my opinion, its not a bad way to pass the time. But access to culture has been fabulous as well.
The internet speed and reliability difference between Cuenca and the coast has also radically changed our productivity levels. We didn´t plan so much for this, but it has proven to be absolutely essential. Since we got Fiorella into her groove, she´s been throwing a new project at us every week. Bibi and I would have been absolutely overwhelmed with the workload. Thankfully Bibi´s brother, a tech maestro in his own right decided it was time for a change and moved down here from Bogota. Our team is now up to 4.
The New Normal
Frank´s arrival at the end of October coinceded with the end of Garth´s weeklong trip to Cuenca in which it rained pretty much non-stop, though that didn´t stop us from picking up right where we left of on the coast. Working hard all day and partying hard in the evenings. I put together a spectacular BBQ in the poaring rain which I think won everyone´s respect. A couple of days later we moved into a new house, furnished two bedrooms, just a 10 minute walk from downtown in a great neighborhood for $380. I still hear people say that we pay too much, but I feel we got a hell of a deal.
For the last 2 months of 2014, we basically have just worked our butts off, with new projects each week, business trips to Machala, Loja, and Guayaquil 1-2 times each week. We´ve gotten to where we can make payroll every month, but there´s no longer the option of letting our foot off the gas for a second. Still, it feels good. The people in place now are people I truly believe will be in a position to run this without me when we are ready to break free and start the next chapter of our lives.
But for right now, all seems to be going well. We are still working 60-70 hour weeks, but we are showing great growth. When I look at where we were this time last year I am extremely proud of our accomplishments, even as I continue to find ways to improve, how to grow, and where to place my bets.
I did find time for my first electric jam session in about half a decade with one of my friends and favorite clients Mike Sager. The chops were more than a little rusty, but I had a blast.
We treated ourselves to a great thanksgiving feast at Joe´s Secret Garden, the second I have shared with Bibi, and the first which Frank has enjoyed. A couple more weeks of work, finalizing a half dozen projects, and then it was time for another adventure.
Bike Trip to Vilcabamba
When Alvaro left in June, we were keeping tabs in his blog very closely, and I was blown away by his photos of the mountain ranges to the southeast of Cuenca. I´d always planned to use this route instead of the more crowded Panamericana when we left Ecuador. Although that wasn´t going to happen quite yet, I still wanted to do a short trip over Christmas, so we set out to do this same 494 km route which runs from Cuenca, Chordeleg, Sig Sig, Chiquinda, Gualaquiza, El Pangui, Yantzaza, Zamora, Loja, and finally Vilcabamba.
The first day was very mixed. We set off early in the morning with new music, new tires, clean bikes, and were able to use the Recreational Trails in Cuenca for the first 10 kms leaving this city. This is such a plus about Cuenca. There are at least 2 main rivers (that ultimately converge) and both are lined with walking/hiking trails, parks, etc. I would estimate that Cuenca has some 40km of these.
Like all good things, these had to come to an end, and when we popped out, we were surrounded by traffic. Lots of fast cars honking at one another to hurry up, and a very narrow and steep shoulder for us to bike on. We had two moments where I felt like I couldn´t have been more than 2-3 inches away from the passing cars. I saw nothing else to do here but push on, and after another 4 kms or so, we arrived at the turnoff towards Chordeleg. Once exiting the Panamericana, things got a lot more relaxed. We pushed along for another 25 kms or so until we arrived. Bibi was interested in stopping in Chordeleg because 1. She´d heard it was an artisan center, and 2. I always push her too hard on the first day. I obliged. Despite having a reasonably nice plaza, there was nothing to do in this town except buy jewelry. I would joke the rest of the trip that this may have been the only place I´ve visited where it was easier to diamonds and gold were in greater abundance than rice and chicken.
We passed the time in the afternoon and went to sleep early, not for exaustion as much as there was really nothing to do here. The next morning, as we were on our way out the door, Frank called from headquarters telling us the internet and electricity were down. This was a concern, but there was nothing to be done at 6:30 in the morning, so we told him to do what he could, that we´d call back in Sig Sig. That mornings ride was one of my favorites, a slight uphill trend, but perfect whether, perfect roads, perfect traffic level (which is of course to say, almost none).
We stopped in Sig Sig for lunch and ate humitas and tamales in a little corner stand, taking a handful to go, and setting off again. From Sig Sig the climbing started to get more intense, and as predicted, we found ourselves in that common delimma of not know exactly how high the climb was, but knowing that we didn´t want to be camping near the peak where the winds rain and weather would be worst. Around 4:30 we stopped in a little town, bought a few cans of tuna, a large bag of crackers, and a couple of mangos. This would turn out to be an absolutely vital purchase for the next day, even though we should have purchased a little bit more. We camped in the corner area of a cement soccer field in front of the towns church. Around 7, the entire town began to show up, women to attend a Christening in the church and men to play soccer. We tried to establish the rule that hitting the tent was considered a foul and meant the other team would receive posession, but were only mildly successful implementing this. It didn´t really matter. We were so tired this day that I think we were asleep prior to the end of their game.
I woke up early the next day, and after nudging Bibi a big, we were up and ready to leave by around 7. The sunrise over the valley was stunning and I took a few minutes to appreciate it remembering that these moments were the reason why I chose to do this. Seeing a new place and its inhabitants wake up in the morning is such an intimate experience that staying in a hotel does not provide you with.
Then the climb started. We had finished off the Tamales the night before but we still had a can of tuna, lots of crackers, 2 mangos, 2/5 bag of trailmix, and plenty of water. It seemed like it should be enough. But after 5 hours of slowly climbing up this mountain, I broke down. I had no energy left and despite saving the can of tuna for reaching the peak, I had to eat. My legs were hardly supporting my weight. The challenge in these situations is, you just don´t know how much farther you have to go. We were currently at 3.550 meters. We felt we were near the top, due to the rains and winds, but I´ve been fooled by this before, and when you have no energy left in the tank, close can still seem like an eternity. Bibi saw my condition, and flagged down a passing truck. We´d only seen a handful all day as parts of this road were closed to cars, but he stopped. I jumped up, knowing I needed to load both bikes into the back of the truck. My mind was all ready to do this, but my legs weren´t. I took my first step and my knees just buckled. I fell to the ground, cutting my legs pretty good. I popped up, no time to complain, and we got the bikes into the truck and took off.
We were less than 1km from the peak.
Once at the top, we were ready to get the hell of that mountain. The wind was gusting and I wanted to get warm. Bibi is still a bit uncomfortable with steep inclines on unpaved roads and was riding the brakes nonstop, which led her forearms to cramp up, so the drop was slow going. However after about an hour, we arrived in a little town called Chiguinda. There was a hostal and a restaurant, which was all we needed. After a shower, I ordered 2 plates, one of chicken, one of trout, and devoured them both.
In the morning we grabbed some more mangos an avocado, and some more Tuna. Our bike tours always seem to go this way. After a day without having enough food, we stock up, and then discover there are restaurants and stores every 5 kms.
In the afternoon, we stopped in a little town called Aguacate, (meaning Avocado) and we thought this would be a great place to stop and eat the avocado I still had from that morning. We sat down beside a little old lady, who began telling us about how her grandson and traveled to the U.S. She said the cost to pay the coyotes was $12.000. His trip took him first to Guayaquil, then flew to Mexico, hiked over 100kms, ultimately crossing the Rio Grande, meeting up with a truck, which took them across the country into Queens. This woman was ademant that Bibi get herself pregnant as quickly as possible. I explained that this was not necessary, not would it be very effective. First, we were married, meaning that Bibi should be eligible for entering the U.S., kid or not. Second, if she did get pregnant and I simply bolted, she wouldn´t have a lot of recourse. It was a very strange conversation. The woman basically treated me as if I understood nothing of what she was saying, and as if she understood nothing of what I was saying. You could feel that she believed that we had no idea about how to game the U.S. immigration system and that she was the expert. This woman was at least 70 years old She kept asking Bibi if I was rich. Meanwhile I´m sitting on the side of the road, covered in grease, eating a dirty avocado.
It is strange to be reminded that you are rich in the very moments when you are living most humbly, but that is the way it usually seems to play out.
Later in the afternoon, bikers begin to pass us at breakneck speed. It turned out to be an intense biker group which had ridden from Sig Sig trying to get to Gualaquisa that evening, basically doing what had taken us 2.5 days in 1. Have I said elsewhere that we´re really not in a rush, and definitely aren´t atheletes? At one point, I hit a bump and managed to lose my paniers and a screw that was holding together my rack. Within 3 minutes one of the pace cars in this group passed and gave me the necessary screw. Really a blessing as this could have really slowed us down. By this time, maybe 20 or the 30 bikers had passed us. As we got near the end of the pack, there was a signficant speed difference as the following few riders were either struggling from exhaustion or had taken a spill along the way and were struggling with injuries. One of the guys in this last group seems to be there for moral support for those lagging behind, and began to chat with us. It turned out we´d met in the bike shop where we had gotten our maintenance done. We chatted for about 30 minutes while riding. I kept looking back for Bibi, who I figured would have fallen way behind, but to my astonishment she was right behind me. The group dynamic picked up Bibi´s pace radically, and we were suddenly moving at their speed.
After a while, the group sped ahead and we waved goodbye. The said they were going to Gualaquisa, which was the biggest town for about 100kms, but we were thinking that we would miss it since it involved returning about 5 kms the other direction. After meeting this group, and thinking about a hotel and hot shower, I really wanted to push on, even though it was getting dark. I made a mistake and when we hit the main road, I encouraged Bibi to push on so we could reach the town. Suddenly there was high speed traffic everywhere and the lights were blinding us along a very narrow shoulder. A bat flew by and thumped me right in the chest, almost knocking me off my bike. Seconds after, I heard Bibi scream behind me. She had fallen and was extremely shook up.
Thankfully no damage done. A small bruise, but nothing major, but she made me promise that we would never ride after dark again. I couldn´t argue.
We pushed our bikes a little way until we reached a house with elaborate Christmas lights. We hollered from the front gate, explained what had happened, and asked if they would mind calling a cab for us. Turns out the husband was an American, from Alaska. They´d bought a gold mine in the area and had 24 workers pulling out money by the day. This was the first insight we had into this region which we would discover was absolutely rolling in mineral wealth.
The couple was extremely generous with us, offering us lemonade and calling the taxi. We got to town around 8:30pm. It was Saturday night and everywhere you looked was bustling with Christmas activity. We checked into a hotel and made our way to the central plaza where we ate pork and rice.
The next morning we were up early, and decide we would jump that same 7 km stretch back to our turn off from the night before. Bibi asked the taxidriver if he knew a good breakfast place up the road, and he recommended a place that was selling tamales right near our stop. However upon arriving, we noticed that everyone was drunk. Sunday morning in a booming economic zone during the Christmas season was going to make for a potentiall dangerous (and at best really annoying) day on bikes. The tamales were horrible. It was like eating a giant piece of undercooked chicken at 7 in the morning. I took one bite, and closed up the banana leaf. “Lets get the hell out of here.”
Everywhere we stopped that day, we were harassed by drunks. Despite beautiful scenery and relatively flat terrain, the sun was slowing Bibi down a lot. We stopped alot in the afternoon, eating icecream and chatting with everyone we met that didn´t try to put their hands on us. I even tried guinea pig for the first time!
Around 6, it was starting to get dark. We knew we were close to Yantzaza which was our destination that night, but I wasn´t going to put Bibi in the position of riding in the dark again. We found a nice little restaurant and had them call us a taxi into town after dinner. It was just a km into town.
The next morning Bibi told me she needed a day off. She had gotten a bit dehydrated the previous day, and we had been going for 5 days strait. Our time on this trip was sort of limited, as Lina, Frank´s long time girlfriend was arriving in Guayaquil and Garth had a house on the beach waiting for us, so rather than hanging out for a day in a pretty ordinary mining town, we decided to bus it the rest of the way to Vilcabamba so we would have a couple days to enjoy ourselves at our ultimate destination.
We arrived in Vilcabamba and begin to look around for a hotel. We found El Descanso del Torro. It was absolutely spectacular for an extremely affordable price ($80 for the two of us).
I intend to return to this fantastic hotel as often as we can afford to.
We left feeling absolutely incredible, proud of what we´d accomplished on the bikeride, and rested and relaxed after spending the better part of a day in a jacuzzi.
After Chapter 1 of our Christmas vacation came to an end, we were all ready for part 2. We bussed back to Cuenca, arriving in the afternoon. Frank was already on his way to Guayaquil to pick up Lina. The house was cleaned. We ordered a pizza and watched a couple of movies. Fantastic. Lina and Frank arrived around 3am. In the morning we washed clothes, introduced Lina to our favorite Burger joint (a Chilean chain called Chill-n-Grill), and generally just caught up. The next morning, we made our way to Manglaralto where Garth was waiting for us in the Christmas Beachhouse.
Perhaps there is not a great deal to say about Christmas. We drank a lot...
ate a lot...
hung around in Montañita...
and danced a lot.
We chilled on the beach...
grilled insane quantities of meat...
went shopping in Montañita...
and generally hung around.
We have a great group of friends, and as we lose one (Garth is off to sow his wild oats in faroff lands), his replacement has already arrived. Fred is a friend of Garth´s from Canada who also works on the business side of a tech company, and has a passion for mountain climbing and beautiful women.
I have said it before, but this multicultural, multilingual posse that we´ve created is awesome. Everytime Bibi is in these situations, we see how much better her English has gotten. Even Lina began to open up. Garth on the flip side was communicating much better in Spanish, and Fred, walking into this group, immediately saw the need to start Spanish lessons and seemed to have no shame about practicing everything he learned as often and as quickly as he could. The last thing this country needs is more expats who don´t make an effort to learn to speak.
The fantastic week ended in Guayaquil at Bibi´s favorite sushi place (this has really become an obsession for her). While Garth and Frank didn´t touch the sushi, both Lina and Yadi really enjoyed it, despite coming in biased again sushi from what others had told them. We arrived in Cuenca later than night. After a couple of days exploring Cuenca with Lina and a relatively low key New Years, Frank took her to Guayaquil to catch her flight back to Bogota.
There have been a lot of great additions in my life since I left the U.S., and while I don´t want too roll these back to much, there are some things that I´ve lost over the years that i would like to build back into my life. So, without further adieu, here are my goals for the year of 2015:
- $100.000 in Revenues
- Successful Transition to Future Management
- Regular Exercise Program that I Enjoy
- Read a new book each month
- Don´t Pick up smoking again
- Get Bibi´s Green Card
- Thanksgiving and Christmas in the U.S. with Wife
- Gameplan and financing for continuing our journey (South America, South Africa, or SE Asia)
Happy New Years Everyone. From my family to yours, we wish you a wonderful 2015!