Mountain biking Cotopaxi and Caracas

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July 4th 2007
Published: July 4th 2007
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On my last full day in Ecuador I headed for the nearby volcano of Cotopaxi for a fun day's mountain biking. It's the thing to do.

For once the gods were shining on me and we (all 15 of us on the tour) had an amazing clear day - a rare thing I believe around Quito. We were driven up the mountain to near the base camp and then basically given our bikes, helmets and knee and elbow protectors and told to get on with it (the descent that is!). Well i'm glad i put the protection on, because the initial slope was loose gravel and had precisely no grip. Within 20 seconds a Dutch guy had catapulted himself off a 6 foot drop (by accident) but thankfully was ok. By some luck, there were a bunch of guys (including aforementioned dutch guy) and one dutch girl all ready to go a bit more extreme, and we ended up offroading it (strictly illegal) cutting the corners on some of the hairpins and then down some horse riding and walkers only singletrack running precariously along the edge of a 50m drop, for which our spanish, german, french, english and presumably hungarian speaking Hungarian guide got a severe reprimand from one of the vigilant park rangers who caught us.

Lunch was a feast of sandwiches, spinach tart and brownies. Not bad at all. And then another half an hour down to the park entrance. For once (this is not strictly true seeing as I have a history of being beaten at cycling by old uni friends and workmates) I had to cede 2nd place to an extremely fit american guy (Alex). But i did find out he used to race competively (as a junior), so I forgave myself. He kept on saying 'Awesome, you can really ride!' to me! Thanks! On the way back to Quito I introduced him to the delights of J-Pop.

Later that evening I met up again with James, the English lad I met in Galapagos. We watched possibly the dullest Copa America match (the matches have been pretty good so far, except of course if you're an Ecuador fan) so far while we waited interminably for our food to arrive.

This morning I got up early for my 10am flight to Caracas with Santa Barbara Airlines. Bumped into mountain biking Alex who'd just missed his flight to Bogota. Fortunately he managed to get on the next one at no cost, which just goes to show what a bit of Spanish can get you (his Spanish was good). My flight to Caracas had all of 20 people on board. Food was good. And lots of exciting mountain scenery below.

So Caracas. Well I was hoping not to have to stay here. But seeing as tomorrow is Independence day here (yup, not the 4th July, but the 5th) the airport was heaving with people queueing slowly in front of me whereever I decided to queue. So in the end I gave up trying to get a flight out and headed for the city by bus. I did succeed in paying for my flight to Miami. Alas my initial reservation had expired, and the ticket for that day mysteriously doubled in price, so I now have a ticket to Miami on the 19th July. I'll have a night there and head out to Phoenix the following evening.

Anyway, the bus journey in to Caracas involved a breakdown and transfer of buses on the freeway section overlooking a nice slum. Then came the metro, which got so full I was squeezed mercilessly against a group of 3 female Venezuelan students, or was it the other way around?! One of them started chuckling with the others and then said something which could have been to me and then I heard her say 'Oh i don't think he understands'. To which I said I didn't catch her and what had she said. She replied 'Oh, I said it was hot in here'. Very true! (It's significantly hotter in Caracas than Quito)

Right tonight i'm staying my most expensive night yet ($18) for a room that could well double as a prison cell in most peoples eyes (including free slime on walls). I also ate my first fast food of the trip - Big Mac meal and it was expensive here. Think i'll try and get a night bus to Cuidad Bolivar (every place, street, building, currency etc... is called Bolivar here as he's the geezer who got their independence - the same geezer who Bolivia is named after) which is the base from which to explore Angel Falls and the Gran Sabana area to the south east of the country.

That's a picture of my breakfast... corn omelette with cheese and ham or spam or something.


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