Pre-Moto highlights

Ladies and Gentlemen, I intend to bang up a couple of stories about my world learnings in times before I started doing this interwebs thing. I know
Here’s one I prepared earlier;

This is a story about the experience I mentioned in my first post about Banos in Ecuador. Without this time in my trip I’d be back at home by now, have a job, some money and lots of other worthwhile things on the boil.

Banos, Ecuador – It is good.

It wasn’t really anything to write about, just another picture perfect South American township marred with an abundance of backpackers, the western food restaurants that feed the backpackers, and the tour agencies that feed from them, sometimes located in restaurants.

One pleasantly overcast afternoon I jumped down the steps from yet another terrible bus ride featuring the absolute dregs of hollywood booming from the TV at the front, and set my feet on the ground of this pretty spanish colonial town, quiet enough and nestled in a valley in which the top hid from the bottom in clouds all underlined in silver by the retreating sun. ‘Muy bonita’ you concede to any locals who ask if you like it, and although true, so are most places in the continent.

Then the first hint of a difference, walking around I noticed more and more mountain bikes, parked next to off-road buggies, parked next to quad bikes, parked next to dirt bikes, and all for hire. It appeared that some character from the Mad Max films had escaped his home for the infirm in the Australian Outback and taken to designing and renting out what would seem to be pure unadulterated bliss right here in this very place, goody! The following day I got together with some cats from the hostel and we hired mountain bikes took on a 54km section of road that was optimistically advertised as mostly downhill, which we rode mostly in the pouring rain – and at 50KPH it turns from pouring rain into stinging rain, or sometimes even blinding rain or when slowly overtaken by a truck & trailer could easily become the made-you-dead-rain. For the most part froze our tits off,  but as best we could we enjoyed the 54KM of sealed winding roads that couldn’t really believed, and the laughable perfection of the river below and mountains either side of the valley we were making our way down through, and in the short breaks from the torrential piss-down, the whole thing was almost enough to lull you into some kind of sense of well-being the kind that urges you to forget about the brakes on the bike.

The brakes, some evil soul had booby-trapped them by switching the levers for front and rear, with front now being on the left and rear on the right. This might seem like a big call or even show a small hint of my actual arrogance to say it’s ‘wrong’ and not just ‘different’ since I know it’s pretty much both of the Americas and, disappointingly even some of Asia who have taken to connecting their brakes the wrong way around, but I only disagree because I know better and am right again, why have it more different from a motorbike than it needs to be? and if you still aren’t convinced just remember who still thinks it’s acceptable to use inches, feet and farenheit etc. Not Australia or New Zealand, that’s who.
So for us used to our brakes the correct way around, giving in to muscle memory and accidentally grabbing a fist full of front instead of rear brake means you’ll end up with a face full of rocks and a stomach full of teeth if you’re lucky, or a head full of truck if you’re not.
We got to our destination and shivered our way through history’s longest and wettest 30 minute wait for a bus which was in a constant state of ‘nearly here’ – presumably the public transport equivalent of being in purgatory. Enough of this we decided, and each forked out twice what we paid to hire a bike and all 5 of us piled totally soaked into a taxi. I’m not sure how they teach people to drive here, but I imagine it involves a lot of watching rainy F1 meetings and a frontal lobotomy, because this man seemed to believe he had experience in the former,  while displaying common sense as if he’d had the latter, maybe by way of booby-trapped brakes. Either way he seemed to operating on the logic that less time on the road meant less danger, and was doing his best to ‘reduce the danger’
In all it was a painful and memorable experience, decidedly tipping the scales to the ‘worthwhile’ mark on the fun-meter.

None of these things however come close to the highlights and arguably life changing excitement had the following day, that is dirt bikes – rented out for $10 an hour.
It was the kind of awesome that keeps you looking over your shoulder to make sure no one’s watching and you aren’t about to get caught, because there’s no way this could be allowed. It was the kind of time where you only even really go into the shop to find that piece of prohibiting fine print stopping you from taking advantage, just so you can stop thinking about it, but there simply wasn’t any. That day I was a 14 year old with a whole box of glass bottles, a spare afternoon and his dad’s 12 gauge.

I hired myself a rickety but still capable Honda XR250 and headed up the road in the opposite direction we’d biked the day before, pulling in to a gravel pit a few KM up the road to do some turns and blip the gas a few times to tear up the gravel and remind myself I can’t yet control one of these things properly. I headed up the road a minute or two more and found a gravel road splitting off the highway and heading straight up into a valley, it’s shape and surface invited me in no uncertain terms, and I did not refuse.

The scenery was the birthplace of the term “absolutely spectacular” and reminds you that the two words used together aren’t taken enough seriously anymore. I never in my life said “wow!” to myself more than in the last few days, and like every good madman, sometimes just yelled “YES!!…YES!!” into my helmet with no one to hear but my own now ringing ears. The valley was just so mammoth and the river so strong that it was a bit summertime -in-Mongolia-esque, but instead of dirt and grass, this road was gravel, sand, ash and rock, more or less carved out of the side of the volcano. I went exploring up any tracking looking to be wild enough of a challenge to my growing ability, it led me up through mist and light rain to what seemed to be collections of buildings destroyed by volcanic ash collapsing the rooves in, I Passed locals working out in their fields and wondering if I might be the luckiest man in the world right now, climbed higher and higher until the damaged steeple of an early 20th century church appeared from the hills, before long the rest of the building revealed itself. I negotiated my bike through the ditch separating the church from the road and squeezed on some power up the remaining steep section of lawn, and parked it on the flat. I killed the engine and the scene was silent. I walked once around the complex, inspecting it from every angle and was alone in every direction. The sky was grey and hinted at shades of purple, like one of those photos you see in photography magazines, it seemed to mirror the mood of the building itself – which was missing the roof and the walls were cracked and sunken and sagging inwards on some impossible angle, like a cardboard box left out in the rain. The two heavy aluminium and wooden doors were open enough for me to pass through so I did, one was inexplicably torn from one side to the other and just the top half, folded in half, dangled upside down by the corner, hovering about a meter off the ground and hung clinging on by the thinnest of metal strands, ready to give way at any second. I twisted the loose section of door until the last of the aluminium ripped and I safely put the would-be-injurer on the ground out of the way of exploring children, or playing explorers.

Inside I found the roof, constructed of concrete & iron and collapsed on the ground and covered in volcanic ash now green with new life. The tiles, some in tact on the ground only supporting plants and grass and not much else. The feeling was of something real, not guided, not instructed by some well-meaning local who knew somewhere I might like, it wasn’t even on a map, it was a real lost relic that I had found myself, and I was probably the first non-local to find it. I was truly ecstatic. I rode around loving every single second until I felt sure that being this cold was going to make me sick, then rode around a little more and before I returned the bike a fairly punctual half an hour after the 2 hour agreed time.

That night I managed to talk Carl, an english backpacker I met into coming for a ride the next day, he agreed almost immediately then asked “so.. is it hard to ride a motorbike?” he ended up getting a quad bike which he had a blast on, despite it being disappointingly slower than the easily brisk enough XR250 I hired, this time without working dash instruments, horn or any indicators. but at $10 an hour including gas and not much time on public roads I was willing to make do, plus at least the handlebars are straight on this one. We made our way up some increasingly wetter and narrower mud tracks and went some places someone with as little experience on a motorbike bike as myself probably shouldn’t have gone, making it all that much more endearing to someone with my mental disfigurement. After a time Carl returned to Banos and I decided not to, I told the bike hire place I’d be back in 2 hours, just shy of 4 hours later I was back, and with my totally undeveloped clutch muscles killing me, I was ready to be.

I don’t know why I loved it so much, I just was happy throughout for no reason, some kind of weight off my shoulders. Recently I’d been longing for the end of travel, looking at jobs and cars on the net, really looking forward to ‘getting on with life’ and had been seriously considering just cutting the whole thing short. I forgot the notion and breathed deeply just for the feeling of air in my lungs. Alive.

The 2 days in Banos and the two weeks following were a turning point, I’m continuing the trip and by the time I return will be the same financial position I was in when I was in 3 years ago – that is totally broke. Hopefully it will be the most foolish thing I’ll ever do, I can’t wait.

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