Casa de ciclistas

San Gabriel (2)

By now all of us have heard (too often) the old Proust line about how the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new places but in seeing with new eyes. Yet one of the subtler beauties of travel is that it enables you to bring new eyes to the people you encounter. Thus even as holidays help you appreciate your own home more — not least by seeing it through a distant admirer’s eyes — they help you bring newly appreciative — distant — eyes to the places you visit. Pico Iyer

For a few days I’ve stayed in Tumbaco, fifteen kilometers east of the capital of Ecuador, Quito, in a so-called casa de ciclistas, which is Ecuadorian cyclists’ home. In his house, delectable Mr. Santiago and his family, for nearly twenty-five years have accommodated cyclists from all over the world. Instead of heavy snowfall, winter in Ecuador brings daily afternoon thunderstorms and downpours, so Mr. Santiago offers a garage (called bunker) for putting up tents. The garage was spacious enough, but since I do not like crowds, I opted for the garden, and finally I put up my tent near a small bush, which attracts buzzing insects flying around it every morning.

Besides me, there are three pairs in casa de ciclistas: Czech, Portuguese and Argentine. The Czechs and Argentinians go to the north, while the Portuguese go to the south. During the day, an integration between pairs and me basically ends up at semi-smiles, greetings and short sentences, such as: Que tal? (How are you?), to which I reply: normal, and is usually ends a conversation. Then I go back to my tent and talk to Moomins.

I took a bus to come to the capital, after a poor night and even worse early morning. Perhaps I confined too much in myself and definitely needn’t have tried to catch up miles, which I allegedly lost during a long break spent for a convalescence in Colombia. Of course, thinking in terms of profits and losses, while cycling, is ridiculous, similarly like catching up anything, but I remembered about it afterwards, when again, I was not really able to go any further.

So, with an odd impression that the world is spinning around me, I packed the bike into a bus and went to Quito, where I checked in a roadside hostel, which turned out to be a quasi-brothel (the prices were “per hour”, but Mrs. Lola graciously allowed me to pay just for two and I was able to stay until morning, undisturbed). Then, the next day I went to the hospital. There, I did a CT scan and this time, no longer seeking a shaman or a herbalist, I went with the results straight to a specialist. The person who gave me the scan, scared me a little that I have a cyst on my sinuses and that it has to be cut, so I had almost bought a return ticket and with one foot I was already back in Poland. However, I wanted to consult the CT scan with a specialist.

An elderly, seemingly seventy years old, slim, tall man, immediately aroused my sympathy. He had a warm voice, and said that he also rides a bike a lot, asked plenty of questions, not only about my sinuses, and it was the first doctor who didn’t prescribe me an antibiotic “just in case”. I was also given steroids, for which in Panama I paid an extortionate amount of money, and, on that occasion, he cleaned my ears, but most importantly – he said that I could try to continue the journey, in those conditions in which I am about to go: in cold weather, low temperatures, strong winds and frequent rainfalls, all of which at an average altitude of ten thousand feet above sea level.

Of course, if my symptoms get worse, I will have to go home, but when I heard “if I were you, I would try to go further”, I felt reassured that my state, at least for now, is relatively safe. Indeed, there is a cyst, but it is too small to be operated and it’s hard to say if a month ago it was smaller or bigger, because instead of doing an exam, I visited Colombian witch-doctors, shooting up strange stuff and inhaling hot brews.

A package with warm clothes came from Poland, while more stuff, for the rest of the journey, is waiting in Lima. Will I get there? I do not know, tomorrow I’m heading out again. I’m not going back now, I’m not ready yet. Thank you all for all your kind words in e-mails, for a small financial support for a morning soup, especially now, when my budget is shrinking fast, after all these medicines and pills, appointments, check-ups and unintentional but necessary stops in hostels. I promise to take care of myself (Mom, do not worry, I will return in one piece, and I promise not to go crazy:)

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