We stayed longer than we expected in Cuenca. Thankfully, we rented a cozy AirBnB for a couple of weeks.
Our tires had pretty much worn out after 3,000km of hard riding with a load of 15 kilograms over the last five months. Every morning we would come out to see tiny pin prick leaks where the sealant had flown from overnight. We knew they would not last much longer. Bike shops in Ecuador didn’t seem to stock the 26″ tubeless tires we needed, so we had ordered some online to be delivered to a local Cuenca bike shop. After three weeks, the tires never arrived.
We had waited as long as we could. Our Visas were going to expire at the end of May and we had 400 kilometers to cover from Cuenca to the border with Peru. We carried on without new tires.
The next city we would come across was Loja, 160 kilometers on dirt roads to the south. 15 kilometers from town the sidewall on my rear tire blew out, most likely from some sharp rocks. I put a tube in and tried to patch the sidewall as best I could hoping it would hold the rest of the way. We would have to find replacement tires in Loja, otherwise we weren’t going to make it very far.
Loja is a beautiful city that often gets overlooked by many foreign visitors. The region is famous for their coffee and we were able to sample some of the best coffee we have ever had. We also went on a walking tour where we were the only participants.
In Loja we found a friendly and relatively well equipped bike shop that had two tubeless 26″ tires. They were 2″ wide which is quite a bit narrower than what we had been riding, but it was our only option. We scoured another bike shop for more tubeless tires and found one. The bike shop installed everything and set the fourth tire up tubeless while not actually being rated for this, but seems to be holding up.
With new tires, we were on our way again, trying to cover the remaining 250km to the border before our visas expired. Exiting the country a day late would cost us a $200.00 USD fine each.
Over Ecuador’s winding mountain roads we climbed. On May 26th we camped fifty meters from the road, out of sight, kilometers from any town. At 2:41am, the mountain began to sway. We were perched five meters from a 1,000 meter cliffside. Olivia and I scrambled out of the tent. By the time we were out and got our bearings, the ground had stopped moving. We had just experienced our first earthquake.
With no cell reception I took out our satellite communication device and sent a message to both of our parents asking for information on the earthquake. We had no idea how close or far we were from it, what country the epicenter was in or the type of damage it had caused. Were the roads ahead to the border affected?
By morning our parents had responded. It was a magnitude 8.0 that had struck in North Eastern Peru, about 500 kilometers from our location.
We continued on in the morning and saw rubble on the roads that had fallen from the clifftops above, but no damage to roads.
The days got harder. The road deteriorated into dirt, the weather more unpredictable. One day it was 8°C and pouring rain, the next it was 34°C and humid. This is life in the mountains.
Finally, after ten days of riding, we made it to the La Balsa border crossing exactly on time, 90 days after we had entered. We were on our way into our third country: Peru 🇵🇪.