Only one day we explore the lowlands before we climb back to 3,000 meters and follow the ridge of the Andes again. The coast of Ecuador is where our Chiquita bananas come from and we have seen that. We cycle 80 kilometers through banana forest, through the heart of the industry. We have to wait regularly, not for a flock of goats but a group of bananas crossing the road. Between the banana plantations, men pull twenty banana bunches along a steel rail that occasionally has to cross a road. 'The bananas go through the laundry and then into boxes' tells a guard. 'Some 2,000 boxes leave this company every day'. At the end of the day we have eaten each five bananas and buy a grilled banana with cheese along the road, an Ecuadorian delicacy. We try much more on our first day. That's what we like. "That looks good," Zoë says, pointing at her neighbour's plate. "What is it?" she asks when it is served. "Cows lip" says the man with a big grin. No magnifier is needed to see the lip hairs from the greasy meat. It is a mental game, between conscience and just eating, but it would be unfair to say that it doesn't taste.
The next three days we climb back to altitude. The steepness of the roads has no limit. The lowest gear is used all the time while the acid splashes out of our legs. The first day we are accompanied by a beautiful green tropical forest. We see all the processes of the cocoa plantation and learn a lot about tropical fruits. We experience an exciting night in an abandoned police station along the way. When we discover the office, we are delighted, it always has something to sneak around through an abandoned building, to make it our own and to blow up the mats. Much easier than setting up the tent and the missing window gives a kind of outdoor cinema effect. With a twinkling starry sky on our screen, we fall asleep. In our dreams we are shaken back and forth. Or is it a truck that causes this? Confused, Zoe suddenly sits straight on her mattress, all focused and the fingers on the floor. Finally, confusion takes place for realisation. With two hands she hits Olivier on his back. "An earthquake!" She says happily. Now Olivier is also in a shock. The moment we both realise that we are in a house that is full of cracks and that instead of being happy we may be better shocked and run out of the house, the seismographic vibration is over.
The ascent continues, days after days. The pristine percentages of the climb as well. A few days ago we started with full courage on the steep roads, but slowly they start to become less funny. We suddenly fall behind our schedule and not one day we reach our expected final destination. No day we do more than 50 kilometers, but there are no alternatives. The shortest roads are highways, which is against our cycling habits, so there is nothing else to do than follow the primitive and steep back roads. At Christmas we want to be in Mexico to toast together with Lieve and Ignace, the parents of Olivier, on a new year. Now that the days are beginning to draw, we can not relax. Suddenly there is a heavy atmosphere over our heads and we begin to blame Ecuador. The novelty of Ecuador has passed and we have trouble seeing the beauty. We only see that people greet us less than in Peru, that the roads are steep and that our time is ticking. Is the grass not that green on the other side? After Cuenca we decide to take the bus a short section. A solution for the time, but not for us. We feel smugglers, scraps and sad. Enjoying Ecuador suddenly becomes a task. We decide that worrying about 200 kilometers of bus is nonsense and try to give Ecuador one more chance. We choose two alternative circuits before we get to Quito, where Zoë will go to the gynaecologist for a new check-up after the illness tour in Bolivia.
Once again it are the unforgettable experiences that make difficult days easy and that keep us on the edge. Sweating by the hard labour we say to each other that we will find a place for the tent at the top of the mountain. Them we see a few grass huts along the side of the road and stop to take a picture. "Here we can sleep," Olivier says laughing. "Yes! Shall we do that? "Zoë shouts out loud. We look for the owner and end up with a family of woodworkers. Immediately we receive permission, but instead of leaving to our hut, we remain curious. All five sit on a big tree trunk, carving wood. While the father does the rough work, the son ticks out the details. The two youngest sandpaper and work the wood with plaster, while mother applies the paint. They tell us that they can all do the whole process themselves and teach us the good things about it. Two hours long we sit there. We are talking about differences between 'the West' and the world here. We notice that the children in Ecuador have a considerably higher level of education than in Peru, but it still remains difficult to understand that the Netherlands is as flat as a dime and that we no longer know farmers who work their land by hand. The children are fascinated and do not miss the chance to come and see how we prepare our evening in the grass house.
This is how we are, shared in culture. As normal as the 'choza' is for them, we are proud to enter this unique overnight place. And as normal are the mats and the cookset are for us, so enthralled are the three to watch how we unpack everything. They want to touch everything and learn how it is put together. Each of them flop on our mats and cuddle with the down sleeping bags. When Olivier picks up the zucchini, they say 'cucumber' intelligently. When Olivier explains that it is not a cucumber, they look at us, they have never heard of this. Even though we took the zucchini only 40 kilometers lower from the city, they all put a piece in their mouths with a dirty face. From food we go to music, and from music to life lessons. If one of them asks what time it is in Belgium and we tell them that our parents are already sleeping, they look at us incomprehensively. "How does that work?" And that is how we suddenly explain how the earth turns around its axis, why there are long and short days in the far north and that the sun seems to turn in the opposite direction in the northern hemisphere. They feast on our pasta, take a plate for the parents and bring us a warm tea with fried banana later in the evening. We say goodnight and do not see them again. When we get on the bike in the morning, they are already looking for the sheep in the mountains.
Once in Quito we break through the tensioned wire. Zoë leaves with confidence to the gynaecological examination, but when the doctor says 'there is a large mass here', her world collapses.
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