Sudden End Of The Ecuador Part
"Donde estás?" - Where are you? I am sitting at the coast of Ecuador, taking a short break, when I receive a text from my friend Hamilton. "At the oceeeaaaan!" I reply, sending a picture of the sea. I am so happy, watching the ocean, listening to the waves and enjoying the joy of being back by the beach.
Then there is a second text. Hamilton explains, that bus and taxi drivers are protesting and that I should be careful.
I had been wondering, why the road on the coast had been so empty... After asking google, I understand the reason why. Moreno, president of Ecuador, had ended fuel subsidies, which made fuel prices go up 30% overnight. Wages and vacation days in public service had been cut and indigenous land had been promised to oil and mining companies. No surprise, that the whole country is pissed right now.
And then everything happens really fast. Roads are blocked by protestors, cities like Quito, Cuenca and Ibarra are being cut off, (almost) nobody is getting in, nobody is getting out. People flood the streets and show the government, what they think of the current changes. The president calls out the state of emergency.
On the coast I can't really tell, that the rest of the country is fighting for justice. The only indicator is, that touristy places, like Montañita are super empty. Via a Whatsapp-group "Biking to Patagonia" I get an invite to join the "Ecuador - protests" group. A group in which backpackers, bikepackers, motorcycle-travelers and campervan-people are discussing about current events and road blocks. Most of the people just want one thing: to get out of the country asap.
In the meantime the german foreign office and international media have picked up the topic and are warning and reporting about the current events in Ecuador.
I reach Salinas, the most western point of Ecuador, and for the first time I am affected by the protests. My actual plan was to go from Salinas back into the mountains, through Cuenca, Loja, Riobamba towards the peruvian border. Change of plans! The protests have been going on for five days now, there are rumors about food shortages in the cities and the indigenous are on the way to Quito, to start a nationwide actions.
With a heavy heart I give up on my plan and set up a new one: Crossing the border on the coast, as soon as possible. I have to go through Guayaquil, the biggest and in the eyes of every Ecuadorian I have met so far, also the most dangerous city of Ecuador.
It's Monday, nationwide protests are announced for Wednesday, the border is 400kms aways, which means one thing: rev up!
30km out of Salinas I approach the first road barricade made of wood. It is quite easy to pass, especially because the protestors help me lift my bike across.
I cycle 100km along an empty highway. Since I left camp early (as usual), I reach my destination 20km out of Guayaquil, without any further barricades.
Very early the next day I am already pedaling towards Guayaquil, I am really cycling like a crazy person. An hour later I am in the city and it is calm, nothing is happening. Maybe they are still sleeping? When I reach the first bridge, I pass both protestors and police, getting ready for what's about to come.
At the end of the second bridge I reach Durán and all of the sudden it feels like I am cycling through a battlefield. Broken glass, ash, pieces of wood everywhere, a smoking, almost burnt down tyre next to me.
The next 110km I am either going full speed of manouvering my bike through road barricades.
I am not scared, even though the scenario looks pretty scary. From far I see the blockades, the smoke of burning tires, the rocks and piles of dirt. It feels like I am trying to escape the apocalypse.
The protestors are super calm and friendly and make room for me to pass, every single time! "Let the tourist pass!"
But I feel like an elephant, with yellow dots, wearing a pink tutu, playing the trumpet. As soon as I cycle through the villages, all eyes are on me. They probably ask themselves "What the hell is she doing here?" And the whistling and "Ai maaaamiiii"s of the men are hitting my already stressed out nerves more than usual.
After 130km of full speed, I stop in Naranjal to get a proper meal for the first time of the day, or at least as proper, as vegan gets in this small town - rice and salad.
I decide to get a hotel room for the night and check in at the first hotel I see. To not go into detail here, let me tell you it was shabby and scary, but I slept like a baby.
Then next day I get an early start again and cycle three hours through non-stop rain. Early Bird Lisa is quite lucky, the barricades have either already been taken apart or are being taken apart. (Only to be set up new again a few hours later, as I find out from other travelers later)
And so I speed along the straight road and pass tipped over trees, tire-parts and tiny piles of dirt. My goal is to reach a national park, close to the border. After 150km, with lots of kilometers of banana farms, I reach the park and enjoy the singing birds, the peace and quiet and the feeling of knowing, that soon I get to relax.
The last kilometers towards the border are smooth sailing. I don't even have to wait in line to get my passport stamped, because early bird Lisa is the only person at the border. Five minutes later I am cycling towards Tumbes, still worried though. So many people have warned me about the northern coast of Peru. Horror stories about organized crime against bicycle tourists, kidnapping and so on...
But then I concentrate on the one thing, that always calms me down and has calmed me down the past days as well - the strong believe in the good in people and this world. I know it sounds quite naive, because I know that this world is by far not 100% good. But it's just as the app of the foreign office, which is filled with so many warnings and no-go areas, that it makes you feel like you can only travel the world with a gun in your hand and a bodyguard by your side. Common sense, the inner warning system and a bit of research are important - yes, but you shouldn't face every stranger and every unknown situation with fear and mistrust, because you will close yourself off from all those wonderful moments that can happen. Moments like when you are surrounded by 40 ecuadorian protestors and 15 burning tires, in the middle of nowhere and you just smile at each other, while they are making room for you to pass, which leads to cheering and then a "Good Luck" from both sides.