Sunday, 28 February 2016

Gas StationAmericas

In Argentina it's gas and asado, full catering with café con leche, air conditioning and stuffed sofas. In Uruguay it's gas and free maté water with the key to the trucker's shower. In Bolivia it's gas: only sometimes, and then foreigners are charged double. In Chile it's gas and all polished marble, with Europa pricing. In Perú it's gas that's sold by the US gallon and stations that come in multiples of five. In Ecuador it's gas, and my conviction that they add soot to the distillate at the refinery. Here in Colombia it's gas and a story.

We've cleared the formalities at the border, our next priority is some local currency and the Forager is looking for a suitable dispensary. I should be assisting, only my attention is drawn to the queue snaking out from the first gas station. The fact that there is a fuel dispensing point right at the frontier is the first indicator, the second is the preponderance of registration plates from the country that we've just left. The disparity in price between countries can be remarkable.

My defence for being sidetracked is admissible, it's my priorities that are questionable. So by way of mitigation, at some point I will need to fill the fuel bottle, asking the pump attendant to "fill it up", is a simple recipe for overfilling. So it's best to ask for a given monetary amount. Hence the need to know the cost, which is sometimes displayed. What isn't is the price relative to volume. Get it wrong and the difference between gallons and litres is a flash-back of petrol over my hand and an oily slick seeping up my leg. Acronyms, terms, and confusions; there in lies my Colombian conundrum. I now know that it's pesos per gallon, I can understand diesel and super, even 'gnv', but what exactly is 'corrientes', 'acpm', or 'cte'?

Gas StationAmericas. Within country they have a general sameness, it's between country that the differences are most pronounced. For the wandering cyclist the best can offer sustenance: fuel for the stove, fuel for the soul. A punctuation on a long open road, a beacon on a otherwise deserted junction. One that offers relief from a blazing glare, a cold soda-pop and some slow wi-fi. In Colombia they come with one additional welcoming feature, one that was once a standard in many other countries: the 'road-house hotel'. Simple, clean, basic rooms. Cold showers and fresh towels, a bar of soap and the ubiquitous television. For us, the latter is both redundant and vital, for the TV will always have a working electrical socket in its general vicinity. A place to power up the hungry electronics, a point for the 'one cup boiler' to brew coffee and heat a warm bucket-bath.

Tile covered concrete everything

We've paid the room rate, collected a key and the mandatory 'tele'gizmo', pushed our bikes around the corner to a ground floor door. We've inspected the layout and decided; that, if we push the bed to one side the bikes can come right inside. It's our preferred 'perfect senario'. Expecting a light slatted frame, I eagerly push. Nothing happens, try again: same result. Slow learner. So I lift the enveloping bed spread to discover that the bed-base is constructed from the same materials as the floor and the walls. They're all one and the same. Red industrial brick, with a glossed coating of varnish. Simple, low maintenance cleaning, with no place for the dust bunnies to hide. On a subsequent night we will encounter the poured-'crete variant, that not only included all of the above, but also the bed-side tables, the ceiling and the seating. Nothing could move, with the unfortunate exception of the untethered wash basin.

Back at the pump. I've done my due diligence, sourced an answer and calculated my request. The acronym transpires to be the lowest grade of petrol: it will, with gentle encouragement, power the stove. Banging, crashing and swearing I've found to work best. The 'corrientes' has proven more problematic, as I keep seeing it in restaurants, where it's the set menu of the day, on the forecourt it's 'normal', somewhere around 'octane90'.

I'm holding the bottle, the attendant pulls the trigger. He's careful, they're well used to filling plastic juice bottles for the abandoned moto farther down the road. Still it overflows. Somewhere between conversion and gallon, peso and devision, I had multiplied a miscalculation.

So be it, I've got fuel for our stove. Not that we will need it. For that's another welcome addition to the 'road house'. They're the trucker's night stop, they have vast parking lots and restaurants that serve 'gasolina por ciclistas'.


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Vignettes from the Road - the Montellanta


Every petrol station has a 'montellanta'. The pariah, shunted to the outer reaches of the forecourt, a tyre fitting and puncture repair shack. An hutment of corrugated tin roofs that shelters a compressor tank and its attendant snaking hose winding across a quad of oil-infused gravel. Columnar pillars of part-worn and entirely bald tyres are built alongside, awaiting re-cycling. Either onto another wheel or, if beyond even that degree of decrepitude, into a creation. Cut up for an ornamental parrot, shrub planter or animal feeder. Establishments that we have little call to visit, yet they can impinge directly on our world.

I'm pedalling up the hill, passing a line of parked-up buses and trucks. One disembodied torso is protruding from under an axle, his scatter of spanners spread out over the road. An ominous ringing crump of mash hammer on heavy metal punctuates my slow pedalling cadence. We swing out and past. An obstinate wheel bolt.

Further on, the rhythmic whump of iron on rubber again draws my attention through between two hulking articulated semis. A mechanic wide-arc swinging a heavy floor hammer, pummels a tyre wall, his toddler son is copying father, timing his stroke......armed with a broom handle.

What defines all these establishments is a particular signature tune. A mixture of pump motor, bellowed conversations and the 'pistola'. That unique machine-gun chatter of the wheel nut extractor. Tonight we have the entire works, the full orchestral cacophony right outside our room. A web-encrusted frosted-glass window that doesn't close, is set high up on the cell wall, the sole source of ventilation and the perfect trap for concentrating the discord from the tropical night outside. A night that at these latitudes comes early and fast. A solitary light bulb will illuminate the swirling dust motes and cast long black shadows across a stage, that seems set for a modern rendering of Danté's Inferno. The tyre fitters, after a day of handling road corroded rubber and break-pad dust are grime coated diabolical spectres moving through an impedimenta of tyre-iron and inner-tube.

I couldn't help noticing the board as we arrived, it's the standard claim of twenty-four hour attention. It could be a long noisy hot night.


Sunday, 21 February 2016


The location: Glasgow Sheriff Court, circa 1955.

The charge: Whilst riding a cycle, the accused was noted to be holding onto the rear of a coal lorry ascending Main Street, Garnethill.

The defence: "the lorry was so slow I had to push it up the hill".

The verdict: Guilty, fined Ten shillings.

Free-Rider...The Evidence.

Trying to capture the 'free-rider' has proven problematic, that is until we get stopped at some road works. I get a he photo, but this time there is no concluding story. There were several transit police around, so I have to assume our stowaway aborted his journey for a short while.


Vignettes from the Road - FreeRider

We're making our way along the autopista that leaves Medillin, heading for the north and the last few climbs that conclude the Andes. An articulated lorry hauling a shipping container passes. Attached, limpet-like to the back doors is a youth. The driver slows at a roundabout. Stops. The boy climbs down and crouches down to look under the lorry's undercarriage; he's watching to see if the driver is aware of his presence. I pass. In my mirror I can watch the unfurling story. From my perspective I can watch the driver climb down, making his way along one side of his unit as his stealth passenger mirrors him up the other side. Then I lose track of the story only to get an update a short distance further on. That same lorry passes, moving downhill, climbing quickly through the gears. There, latched on yet again, is his stowaway.
The antithesis of the free-rider.
One example of the 'free rider', an extreme one, but not unique. More usual is the stunt rider. Male, exclusively male, and as we recently discovered, not necessarily young. He's coming downhill. Fast. Brakes hard when he sees us sitting by the roadside, executes a perfect u-turn and stops for a chat. Tee-shirt, sneaker and jeans. Defiantly no helmet. It gives me a chance to inspect his diminutive bike. Twenty inch wheels, heavily augmented front suspension, with front and rear disc brakes that would do credit on a motorcycle. Swatches of steel have been welded at vulnerable joints, a massive drive sprocket powers a single rear gear. He doesn't need extra gears, he wouldn't have time to use them. All he needs is a slow, climbing articulated lorry labouring up a long hill, one with a hand-hold on it's rear. Pedal frantically up his slipstream, grab on to the tailgate and free-ride for awhile. The really skilled don't even steady their handle bars, too busy waving to the incredulous traveller.

This is X-sport at its extreme. Oddly, I've not noticed it on offer alongside 'tandem jumps', 'white-water rafting', 'down-hill mountain biking' and the other standard visitor attractions. Although the 'risk assessment' along would make for amusing reading. And yet, is it any different from riding the 'Poma' tow on a dry-ski slope?
Our chat concluded, he speeds off downhill, sweeping gracefully through a linked succession of bends, there to cadge another tow uphill. Should he know better? Don't see why - he's only in his mid forties.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Lenten Abstinence

So what have you given up for Lent?

Chocolate?.., it's over thirty degrees, it would only melt all over any inappropriate surface. Cabernet?...not available, what grapes that are cultivated are for the table. Cigarettes?...never been tempted. Cervesa?...are you joking, beer's cheaper than water here, and it's served colder. Coffee?... get real, I'm in the Zona Café Colombia, where the brew costs two dollars a kilo, and anyway, it's not a contender; I class it as research. Cycling? we're being silly.

Lenten abstinence, it's supposed to be an opportunity for purification and self improvement. My ch of the above are already 'pure', so that simply leaves 'Cursing!'.

'Curse!', 'cuss!', 'swear!', or 'invoking the invective' and 'profaning the profanities'. I've taken the pledge; but only against 'TheTechnologies'. Close-passing cars will still receive their expletive-infused commentaries, as is their due. Dogs whose jaws are attached to my rear pannier will still receive a full throated roar of "please kindly desist from eating my bag" or something similar, shorter and infininitely more satisfactory.

For the next forty days I hereby pledge to abstain from commenting when my fully charged 'phone remarkably and suddenly decides that it requires feeding yet again. Probably because that gremlin switched on the video. I will not thunder against the 'photo-app' when it arbitrarily decides to fill the delete album with my treasured pictures. I will be abstemious in my use of foul adjectives, even when the 'blog-app' wipes a piece I've been working on, allowing it to be washed away into the ether. I will not rant against the 'great GodApple', when one of his grand innovations renders one of my chosen pictures unrecoverable, unreadable, stuck, or so I'm being repeatedly informed, in one of his vowel-hyphenated meteorological atmospheric apparitions. I will not allow my mind to be clouded by verbal abuses of any deity's name, even when attempting to capture a near-instantaneous moment, and the camera-app is suspended by a request as to whether I would consider this moment appropriate to carry out an update.

To all these minor interruptions, inferior annoyances, distracting discords I will smile, keep calm and carry on.

I'm on the wagon. I've signed the pledge. I'm sure I will manage. It will be easy, I'm sure that 'TheTechnologies' will cooperate. It will be harmony and concord.

My main concern is that the forty-first day is also my first day back at work. It's the day when I will have to re-engage with 'shop till'. A contraption which wilfully takes inordinate pleasure in frustrating my feeble attempts to master it, that, and I will need to create yet another set of passwords, ones that I will instantly forget. However, my concerns are not so much for the 'Beast of Beelzebub but for my colleagues who will not only have to thole my post-travel enthusiasms, but also my newly released intemperances.


Sunday, 14 February 2016


For those in the know: Popyàn, (a colonial town in central Colombia).

One is standing, looking down on one's heaving mass of plebeians, one's soldiers ranked before one. One of those stable-lackey chappies is leading one's parade horse. Maybe today one will go and mingle with one's subjects. One notes that those verminous pigeons are back from the Square, back from shitting on Gran-mamma. Perhaps one could get Philip to shoot a few. One really must remember to have that costermonger who insists on selling those tuppenny-bags of seed, removed. He could go up on that fourth plinth; permanently. Oh, look there's two of those 'ethnic types', wonder which of one's dominions they've come to visit from? "What do you mean, they live here?" One cannot but help note that the priest next door is getting insistent, even impatient: that's the second time he's been chapping at his bell this morning. He's calling his faithful flock in for mass. What a happy-clappy bunch of parishioners he serves, a proper sing-along - and he gets an ovation at the finish.

I'm temped to try a regal wave, if I could regally wave. But would anyone wave back?

A Catholic basilica right next door to a Protestant monarchical palace? I must be daydreaming. I must be having a 'Buck House' moment.

Recommendations can be invaluable. There's simply no way that we would have ended up in this room if it wasn't for those words of mouth. The entrance wrought-iron gate is a mere handlebar width, one that's set into an anonymous white wall, that's protecting the usual flight of vertigo stairs. At the top of which is an inspection grille in an intimidating door, one that's mollified by a pasted up announcement.

It's a scenario that we generally give a wide body swerve to, one akin to the conundrum posed by Aesop, a tale of river crossings with foxes, geese and bags of grain. Only ours involves panniers, bicycles and a busy, fully pedestrianised Plaza Principal.

Arriving late morning and the Forager gets to pick the best room in the place. (A trick that she's starting to finesse). A room from the French Republican era, built from imported German materials, in a house built for a merchant. Reasons given as to why it has survived two earthquakes, shudders that have rendered the neighbour's basilica once to destruction and once to extensive restoration. Classical high ceilings, tall spit doors and two vast windows, all combining to create that most unusual of Latino architectural features - daylight. One looks out over the plaza with its monumental podocarp pines and those heaving masses, the other onto the flock exiting mass and the huddled guardsmen in full battle dress and orange reflective puttees, all interrogating their cell 'phones.

Make your way through the hostel's inner atrium of floor cushions and verdant plants, to the kitchen, where there's two stained-glass windows that, were they clear, would afford an aerial view of a different ecclesiastical altarpiece: Christ standing on a World globe. Then look upwards, through the sky-light at the Basilica's dome, floodlit in purple. It's an intriguing puzzle to untangle the various construction timelines. All that light gives the clue to the original purpose for our bedroom. It once was the 'solar' to the 'salon' that has now been converted into a multi bunk dormitory.

I've got those windows wide open to try to catch what little breeze is moving, I'm reading, not overly aware of the changing weather outside. Thunder has been rumbling around the surrounding hills for many hours, and frankly I'd given up on any resolution coming from that direction. What did alert me was the most subtle of audio alteration. The cooing of pigeons increases in proportion to the diminution in the low burble of the plaza humanity. The birds have forsaken the square, fluttered up to roost on the religious ledges; the general populace has headed for the shelter of the overhung eaves. Great fat raindrops start to pock mark the ground. The daily, permanent bank queue shuffles sideways, away from the now-deceased shadows and in under the porticoes. The photographer and his llama do likewise.

As the rain turns to a downpour, the shoeshines and the penny-sweet-sellers, who've stayed dry under those pine spires, retreat, if only because there's no custom left to serve. The itinerant vendor who's been selling rosary beads and bicycle pumps seamlessly swops out his wares and is now concentrating on umbrellas. His stock slowly depleting with each subsequent rotation below my viewing platform. The cell phone lady in her day-glo tabard and her five mobiles chained about her person, stays perched on her plastic stool, opens a giant paralluvia and carries on trading, selling 'phone calls at 3 cents a minute. An iridescent island in the premature dusk. No buyers; she waits, she's patient. As she and as everybody else knows, the tempest will soon abate.

From downpour to drizzle, to instant dry pavement. Humidity climbs, night's postponed. The bank queue reverts out into the open, the llama and his photographer return to their favoured stance. The seed-seller re-builds his cross-hatched stooks of bagged corn; there for the grand-mother to purchase, the mother to scatter so the toddler can chase the returned fat pigeons. A scenario that I've witnessed so often, that I wonder if it's prescripted in the child rearing manuals under 'gym-free exercise'.

The low murmured hum returns to the plaza. I return to my book, royal aspirations forgotten.


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Mangoes or No-Mangoes

They're walking down the verge side, linking patches of deep tree shade. Walking home from school. Pristine in white blouse and plaid skirt; starched shirt and pressed chinos: eating mangoes. Instant irreparable stains, a glue juice that possesses its own gravitational field, one with an unerring attraction for the clean. How do they manage this feat?

Eating a mango is an art form. Whether to slice down either side of the stone, score into squares the inverted half moons. Gnaw on the cubes, then dribble down chin. Or to go for the beheading, off with the crown, just like an egg. Suck, then dribble down chin. You could always try being elegant and use a spoon. Beware, it will mark you as: 'not from here'. Scoop. With greater glissading assets than a wet bar of soap, it will now immediately scoot off said appliance, land in your lap, having dribbled down chin.

And yet this near-ubiquitous fruit is one of the standard offerings at the stances where buses stop for comfort breaks. Stacked on drum lids, piled high in buckets, glistening in the hot sun. Pock marked, but never mis-shaped, the rejects of the un-exportable grades, a brock of the sweetest fruit. Piled up beside all the other fare that will explode from your fingers into your lap and the hot sticky bus seat as it cants around yet another corner. Sugar washed, desiccated doughnuts, gravy-drooling empanadas, grease dripping deep-fried everythings. Hyper-refined white carbohydrates.

A plate of tripe.

Only we're not on that bus. We've dropped down through the contours and cycled into a hot, late, lazy Sunday afternoon, into a small town whose sole preoccupation is feeding people. A place that's well into its infinite bottle of beer. Dust, fumes and Mariachi are mixed in equal parts, to coat the alfresco diners at the plastic tables by the roadside. Every stance a clone of the previous, every menu a monotonous recurring echo. There's only one brand of beer; another universal lager. This time it's called 'Poker', so we must still be in Colombia.

We need to eat, only I can't face yet another plate of some mummified hen swamped by dry rice that's sat in a cauldron and a hot-box since mid morning. We walk the solitary street in two directions in the vain hope that something different will materialise, yet experience dictates that we won't. No fresh vegetables, no new bread, not even the local delicacy of 'Ternero' - cow foetus soup; only stacks of mangoes. Cooking mangoes. Warm sticky mangoes with an affinity for my chin and that gritty dust.

We perch on the edge of the bed, the only level surface in the room, trying not to shed crumbs, drip grease or explode those sugar coatings. Some days you're reduced to eating rubbish.

As for the mango, it's an uncontested fact: the only safe way to consume one is naked, in the shower.


Sunday, 7 February 2016


Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Cayambe. The furthest, the highest, the nearest.

They're all on prescriptions for celebrity, all seeking an oxygen of publicity. All volcanoes with a claim to fame. Volcán Chimborazo: the hill whose summit is further from the centre of the earth than the top of Mount Everest, this statistic the result of the equatorial bulge. In essence, the earth isn't a perfect spherical ball.

Volcán Cotopaxi: simply the world's highest active volcano.

And now I've discovered Volcán Cayambe. Whose summit is but a few metres from being dissected by Line 0°, making its rump the world's highest point on the equator. A schizophrenic hill, but not bi-polar, neither of the north nor the south, but out of both. Three volcanoes with deserved superlatives. The others scattered the length of Volcano Avenue have to be satisfied with donating their names to provincial governments, bags of coffee or instant credit shops. Some awaiting a return to notoriety and celebrity, that thin, seeping wisp of smoke; a warning. And if that isn't discouragement enough, Volcán Galeras is supposedly mined to dissuade the wayward wanderer.

Their near-perfect symmetry, unable to contain a sadness. I'm seeing them in the present tense, a single snap-shot of now. Yet grainy, sepia'd historical photographs are all too easy to find, and then it's all too easy to measure the shrinking depletion. The not so slow retreat. All are losing their caps of glacial ice. Some are in their death throes, impoverished, reduced to slivered remnants that cling onto the serrated mountain edge. Their diets, their sustainable wet season snows replaced by that thin gruel of rain. Some are accumulating melt-water lakes. Just one shake and the greater part of Ciudad Huaraz would be obliterated.

It's all happened before. 31st May 1970, was a festival day in Yungay. The local population swollen to four times normal. An earthquake dislodged a glacial serac, high up on Huascaran, that travels at 125 kph, gathering up a mulch of mud and stone, smothering the town and an almost unquantifiable 70,000 people. The site is now designated as a 'Pueblo Sepulchral', the new town resurrecting a short distance away. Yet what fascinates me, with all of these natural disasters, is how humans start to re-inhabit the devastated zones. Yungay has resurrected a couple of kilometres away, but already a school campus and a part-constructed hostel are encroaching that old avalanche path.

Yet, is it any different from the foxglove plant that's a primary coloniser after a woodland clear-fell or the fireweed that invaded the London blitz gap-sites? Or the property developer who plants executive homes on the River Tweed's flood plain?


Quitting Quito.

For those in the know: Heading north out of the Ecuadorean capital; or, 'picking black bogies'.

Our attack on Quito may have been a belated win. Our retreat from the capital more of a draw.

The Navigator, true to her nature and her title had interrogated the 'app-map', terrorised it into submission and concluded a route for our escape. A nice simple linear line, a logical route heading directly in the desired direction, all neatly pegged with dropped pins. We set off at first light, intending to reach a known camp ground. Mistake.

A route that started well, following the electrically powered, clean living trolley-buses. Which all decided to turn left and disappeared down underpasses. Leaving us turning ever increasingly to the right and the eastern outskirts of town, to leave us floundering amongst the ferments of fumes. Pushing us out onto the steep valley sides and into one of the most remarkable pieces of non-road design. 'Houdini and The Gordian Knot'. We simply want to turn left.

Eventually we do turn left, only in between there are several scampers over multiple lanes, back-tracks and pushes through the now-stationary vehicles. A state that seems to be the norm for most of the city bound. We're concentrating so hard I forget to search for the 'hanging tree'. There has to be a gibbet, one with the skeletal rotting remains of the deranged road engineer responsible for this muddled chaos. The app-map can't do any justice to these ructions of roads, if only because it can't record the travelling directional changes that alter with the time of day. Traffic flows are reversed, oncoming cars jump the central reservation, certain categories of number plates are restricted, only to park up on our hard shoulder until sanctions are lifted. Resulting in our use of the inner motorway lane. Which somewhat bothered us, that is until we're passed by a peloton of mountain bikers. I'd forgotten, we're in TheAmericas.

Smile; Wonder; CycleOn.

Of course we escape. In truth, the traffic is well behaved. It's the topography and the dirty fuel that's problematic. Steep, granny-grinding hills, labouring, heavy articulated lorries and a headache that develops with each cycled mile. Then a blessed compensation from this riotous affray.

We round a corner, there on the horizon is Volcán Cotopaxi. Faint, smoked in haze blue, rising clear above the city's smog, a wisp of smoke spiralling from its caldera, it's summit glaciers smugged in ash. Up until now it's been shrouded by mist, and this will be our last chance to view it. For some reason this hill has always occupied a place in my memory. It dates back to school, Cotopaxi was the archetypical volcano, the one that was depicted every time the geography syllabus encountered vulcanology. Strangely, I probably couldn't have named which country it occupied.

Our mistake? To tangle with the school run. It might have been better to have drop-pinned on the elementary schools, then plotted a navigation avoiding them. School starts early here, and the sproggs are delivered on motos, in taxis and out of the back of cars, all of whom pass, then immediately draw up right in front, there to be abandoned in the middle of the road. Door flies open, an indiscriminate number of uniform, immaculately uniformed minor scholars pile out. Boys in a Militarism of dress khakis, girls in a Catholicism of plaid skirt and white socks. Racing for the array of mobile 'tuck-shops' that materialise and dematerialise with the passing of the school day. Driver then climbs out reaches into the back seat and retrieves the abandoned ruc-sac, then heads off in the same direction. The abandoned car and its flung doors remain blocking our way.

Smile; Pirouette; CycleOn.

We cycle our hoped for distance, but only reach the halfway point to that camping. Such were the twists and turns, deviations and diversions. Three of which were an ice cream, an eatery and an hosteria room. The chance to regroup, draw breath and clean up. The colour of the shirt washing water sets a new tide-line on the 'murk-scale'.

Smile; Eat; CycleOn.


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Attack on a Capital.

A six lane autopista feeds the traffic in towards the capital. The road climbs away from the shrouded views of Cotopaxi's slopes. It's Sunday morning and the racing cyclists are out training, passing uphill at speeds we wouldn't contemplate going downhill. Six lanes, for which there appears to be a certain lane apartheid. Outside for cars, middle for trucks, inside for road warriors, hard shoulder for touring hill-slugs. On one section of descent, I watch with amusment as one Lycra-clad overtakes a slow moving truck loaded with untethered cauliflowers. No one seems concerned, certainly not the transit police. It's a picture that will be repeated and repeated.

We'd planned our attack on the capital with militaristic precision. We needed to arrive midday on a Sunday, to be able to catch the 'ciclo-paseo'. Thirty kilometres of traffic-closed roads that lead into what one guidebook describes as a 'deserted city centre'. That planning started to come adrift when we couldn't determine the outer reaches of the closure, nor download a map. So we do the British thing: ask a police person. The whole length of Av. Sucre is closed, the answer. So we start to contour around the southern reaches of the Quito, to pick-up the named road and follow it downhill. Downhill....surrounded by the now expected antics of buses, combis and pedestrians. None of whom have any regard for lane discipline.

Down, down, ever increasing clouds of diesel fumes. To the point where I'd given up hope. A cake shop materialises on a corner. If we can't have a quiet traffic-free road, we can at least have a chocolate infused croissant. Where the disinterested police lady failed, the baker delivered. It's only three blocks over. Interestingly, had we not done the Brit-Bit we would have been on it already. An object lesson in trusting your instincts

In Lima they section off a major flat thoroughfare; in Quito they link together a series of side streets, and being Ecuador, a series of hills. Not a particularly difficult exercise given the topography. A lot of left and right turns, contra-gyrations around roundabouts, rattling over cobbles, swerving wheel grabbing grates and dodging sunken drain covers. Seeming to have way more uphill than downhill, but well stewarded with tapes and crowd barriers. Fathers with novices wobbling along on starter trikes, manicured mothers and elegant daughters, grey beards rediscovering the bike. Through these we make our way, smug satisfaction when we crest yet another rise, heart rate steady, surrounded by puffing locals.

As we had anticipated, the paseo makes its way into the main square. That supposedly deserted plaza in the middle of that supposedly deserted city centre. There's a group of acrobats performing to a crowd of hundreds, there's a vendor making ice cream for a queue of tens, there's the hawker of the new and the resurrected: selfie-sticks and nose crashing 'clackers'. The juice sellers are crushing an exotica of jungle fruits, another is spinning blue candy-floss. Families wander unhindered as music drifts from somewhere to my left. The transit police rendered redundant, reduced to interrogating their mobiles.

Silent Sunday in Colonial Quito. Tomorrow it will be a very different place.