Suffering slightly from the local …food, we initially planned to limp to Popayan, 150km down the road, but superb weather and better roads cleared the ‘food’-poisoning and we decided we could make Pasto, our last stop before the Ecuador border, in one go. According to the lyrics of barely-recollectable pop doggerel, heaven is apparently a halfpipe. This is patently rubbish, as the last few days have proved that heaven is in fact South America (leaving aside the stratospherically high murder rate and drug trafficking), two bikes and no job. Roads down to Pasto led us through stupendous scenery in t-shirts, balmy 35 degree temperatures and blue skies overhead, desert scrub hills opening out to the left whilst on the right cotton-wool cloud tendrils leak through gaps in the crests of blue saw-toothed mountains marching alongside us as we head south – a truly incredible experience. Our first military and police stops – more through curiosity – preceded our arrival in Pasto, which compared to Cali and Medellin is tiny, only 250,000 people against several million. Needless to say, the GPS (ahem) failed again and we got temporarily lost before our personal motorcycle police escort turned up and guided us at ridiculously high speeds through to crowded streets to the hostel door. A nice cathedral and a pretty cool town square notwithstanding, Pasto lacks restaurants and internet cafes (we’ve been spoilt recently) but did contain a high percentage of threatening youths glowering at us – presumably (it being the Colombian equivalent of Valentine’s Day) fearing the competition from two stunning chaps such as ourselves – cue a Hasty Retreat ™ to the hostel.
7.41am and we were ready for another game of Border-Dash – 88km to Ecuador – which went without a hitch, Matt’s Spanish effortlessly shepherding the bikes through customs after a most entertaing race with a local taxi through the spectacular canyon roads amidst herds of cyclists (who’d want to cycle up 40km of twisting roads at 3000m?!) to the border. Once through (and back to US$ currency – NICE!) we headed for Quito, roads dropping slightly from the 3500m plateau into dusty desert scrubland. The riding here is incredible…roads twist and zigzag along canyon ledges and across dried rivers, the route blasted out of sheer rockfaces exposing the seamed sedimentary layers beneath, constantly changing altitude as we descend into one gully, scrape around a billiard-smooth surfaced hairpin and bore up the far face of the valley, XT engines thumping away as they gulp down the thin air and drive us along through the jaw-dropping scenery. It’s hard to describe how good it actually is to ride here…parts of the route remind us of the A537 in Derbyshire…although if this road had a pub at the top it’d be called the Tiger and Cello, it’s that much better.
The remaining kilometers to Quito wound down rapidly until the city’s outskirts envoloped us. Looking a bit lost – although we weren’t, actually – a lovely women by the name of Mercedes helped us out, putting us to shame with her fluent english – with her help we located the hostel area where our standard luck for finding a hostel held – once again plucked off the street by a hostel owner with (hooray!) bike parking, approximately three hours ago. Local beer comes personally recommended – Pilsener, apparently – next stop Latacunga.