April 12, 2013
As 2013′s Major League Baseball season begins, that sage advice from the cornfield whispers truer than ever: If you build it, he (or she) will come.
The cross-country stadium hunter, that is. There are thousands of them, traveling city to city, spending their summers and their money on the road with the fanatic’s goal of visiting as many as they can of North America’s 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. Some ballpark chasers, as they’re often called, manage the grand slam of the stadium hunt—hitting all the parks in a single season. Those more ambitious have aimed for doing the tour in one month or less.
But most chasers devote their lifetimes to the pursuit, as Craig Landgren is doing. The 32-year-old Cincinnati Reds fan lives near Seattle, has visited 14 active stadiums and aims to see the rest in coming decades. Landgren is also the founder of BallparkChasers.com, an online community base for baseball fans with a penchant as much for stadiums as the game itself. He launched the website and the organization almost five years ago.
“I kept meeting people who had the same goal as me, to visit all 30 of the stadiums,” Landgren told Off the Road. “I decided there should be a community for this.”
Today, there is. BallparkChasers.com has 1,500 members. They use the site as a resource for tips and suggestions on how to most efficiently and most enjoyably make the Can-American stadium tour—including hotel and restaurant suggestions for each city and suggested multi-stadium weekend routes. Members also use the site as a social networking tool for meeting other ballpark chasers, often at games. Many ballpark chasers have become pen pals. Others have become best friends. Some are baseball newbies, while others have seen hundreds and hundreds of games.
For a few especially ambitious chasers, the pastime is not just a goal but a race—and among these people, records are kept. One member of BallparkChasers.com, for instance, named Josh Robbins, holds the so-called “land record,” having visited every stadium in 26 days without traveling by air—an achievement made especially difficult by such outlying baseball cities as Miami, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area and, especially, Seattle. Another member, Chuck Booth, holds the all-around fastest record of 23 days—several of these, obviously, doubleheaders. Booth describes the journey in his book The Fastest Thirty Ballgames: A Ballpark Chasers (sic) World Record Story, which he co-authored with Landgren.
Another stadium-hunting baseball fanatic, from Annapolis, Maryland, plans to ride a bicycle to every park in the country. Jacob Landis, 23, left home several days ago and will be pedaling the entire 10,500-mile stadium circuit, with van support. The journey may take 175 days.
Roberto Coquis and Judy Pino completed the stadium tour in 2009 with their months-old baby, Sofia.
Bob DeVries, of McHenry, Illinois, became a ballpark chaser in 2009. DeVries lost his wife, Shawn Marie, to a heart condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia in 2008 when she was 35. In 2009, DeVries spent all spring and summer touring the nation, visiting every stadium by September 6, four days before the anniversary of Shawn Marie’s passing. It was a way of keeping himself busy and focused while distracting himself from the alone time he suddenly had to face each weekend, DeVries, 49, told Off the Road. In 2010, the Cubs fan repeated the journey—this time with media coverage and a fund-raising effort for SADS.org, an organization dedicated to understanding and preventing heart-related deaths like that of Shawn Marie.
DeVries says the stadium tour cost him between $17,000 and $20,000 each of his two years on the road. He said the easiest region to tackle is the Northeast, where one can feasibly see a game at every stadium in a week. Some regions of the country, meanwhile, must be approached carefully.
“I made sure that the Astros and Rangers were both at home when I went to Texas so I wouldn’t have to go back again later,” he said. “I did the same thing in Florida and in San Francisco.”
Like so many ballpark chasers, DeVries says his favorite stadium in the country is the Giants’ AT&T Park. His least favorite is just several miles away, across San Francisco Bay—the ogreishly named O.co Coliseum. When The New York Times recently scored each park using Yelp ratings, the Toronto’s Rogers Centre came in last (though it’s still the finest Major League park in Canada, no contest) and O.co landed at number 29—the worst-rated stadium in America. High on the list were the historic Fenway Park of the Boston Red Sox—now the oldest active stadium in the Major Leagues—and Wrigley Field of the Chicago Cubs. Oriole Park at Camden Yards—built in 1992 and considered the first of the new wave of American baseball stadiums—came in fifth, while the Pirates’ PNC Park in Pittsburgh was named as the favorite.
Over the past 20 years, the baseball road trip has enjoyed an extreme makeover. Prior to the early 90s, many stadiums were drab and dull, or simply lacking in visitor amenities. Then, the Baltimore Orioles opened Camden Yards. The park was clean and efficient but with a retro brick-and-ivy look that evoked the good old days of classic American baseball. The Orioles had built it, and the fans came. Attendance spiked. Other cities followed suit, and 22 stadiums have since received splurgy makeovers, turning from crusty old venues of aging bleachers and spilled beer underfoot into semi-swanky tourist attractions.
As new stadiums continue to appear through the seasons, even the most accomplished ballpark chasers may find reason to take to to the road again. Currently, there is talk of moving the Oakland Athletics to a new home in San Jose. Some retired stadium hunters, too, will probably retrace old steps when parks receive renovations, which are forever in the works. Still others who have seen every active park, according to Landgren, make it a goal to repeat the feat, this time seeing their favorite team—not just any teams—play in each stadium. Some are looking to expand the chase into Japan, where Major League games have been played. A few look to an entirely other level—the Minor Leagues—and begin a whole new hunt in a land of smaller crowds, cheaper seats and players who aren’t millionaires.
The ballpark chase goes on.
Tips for the Tour: Following are a few suggestions for how to make the stadium tour (no skipping Toronto, Seattle or Miami!) at minimal cost and stress and with minimal backtracking.
Beware of rainouts. If you must race onward from a rained out game in order to catch other games for which you’ve already bought tickets, you will be forced to return later for another try. A rainout in Colorado could potentially be devastating for your summertime stadium tour.
If you’re driving, rent a hybrid car and reduce your gas costs.
When possible, visit two stadiums in a day. This will buy you time for later down the road.
For places with multiple teams within a small region, like Florida, the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California and the Northeast, try and visit when each club is in town.
Camp. It’s cheaper than sleeping in hotels.
Don’t go too fast, and save time to see the highlights of each city. This may be the only time you’ll visit them.
February 6, 2013
In Ecuador, from sea level to 12,000 feet and more, every village has its own soccer cancha or two, and rarely does a public park see a day go by without a group of locals assembling on the grass with a ball, a few beers and a sack of oranges.
But at Parque Alvarez, on the north side of Cuenca and the west side of the river, a strange and alien phenomenon has been occurring each Saturday for several years–football. Not futbol real, but futbol Americano. The group of players–a team of high school boys called Los Condores–arrives at 3 p.m. with several blimp-shaped pigskins and the challenge of squeezing a 15-by-40-meter (I mean, yard) playing zone in among the three or four soccer games underway at any given hour. There are 12 players on the team–and nobody else in the province for them to compete against.
“There is another team in Quito,” coach Robin Ramon, 21, tells me–but the two groups have never faced off.
The Condores have played for four years, Ramon tells me as his players stretch and perform calisthenics and awkward-looking neck-building exercises. They play tackle football, just like the pros, without protective gear or uniforms, and have learned the rules and regulations of American football on their own, both through reading and watching games on television. There is no football organization here–no league–Ramon says. He and these kids are it, though this minimal interest in one of America’s biggest sports could be starting to grow. After 30 minutes of warming up, the Condores split in two and face off. I hear that familiar chant of classic Midwest Americana–”Hut hut hike!” –and the game begins. While the boys laugh and giggle and make flying tackles like pumas, Ramon tells me that American football is catching on here. “It’s a long process,” he admits, almost with a frustrated sigh–but even the local mall is now selling footballs, he says positively, and Ramon expects that in another two years there will be enough interest among kids in the area to form a competitive league.
Four separate soccer games are underway in the same park here, the round black and white balls moving in graceful arcs back and forth, all eyes focused, nearly every person out here vying to get their foot on a soccer ball, as they’ve been doing since they were barely walking. But at the northeast corner of the field, the young Condores pursue a very different ball. They line up and jump into a quick flurry of action, ending with a tackle and a heap of boys or a lost ball, bouncing left, then right, in that awkward way of footballs–and the metaphor is irresistible: On the grassy soccer fields of Ecuador, which way will the football go?
February 4, 2013
At the Inca Lounge and Bistro, dozens of gringos–tourists and resident expats both–have squeezed into this popular watering hole just off Calle Larga and overlooking the river. It is Super Bowl Sunday in Cuenca, Ecuador–and though the kickoff is still three hours away, owner Mike Sena must usher in his customers early and shut the doors. The sale of alcohol is highly restricted in Ecuador on Sundays, and so Sena, an American who moved here four years ago from New Mexico, is keeping a low profile this Super Bowl and designating the evening a “private party.”
Only a few Ecuadorians have shown. One, a 37-year-old gold mining engineer named Pablo Crespo, was a soccer fan all his life but learned to love (American) football–and the Ravens–during the eight years he lived in Baltimore. “American football is more interesting than soccer,” Crespo concedes. “Every play is different. The players have to be smart, too, and need to read the plays and know what the other team is going to do.”
Soccer, he adds, “can be a little boring.”
London travelers Solomon Slade and his girlfriend Rebecca Wyatt, who have spent the past eight months cycling through Trinidad, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, are soccer fans and aren’t quite sure what to make of American football.
“Why do they need all the armor?” says Wyatt, 25. “Rugby players don’t wear protection.”
The two have claimed a table inside the bar and are prepared to spend the evening here, though they dread the prospect of a 60-minute game spread thin across more than three hours through timeouts and commercial breaks.
“American sports in general are hard to watch because they’re so stop-start,” Slade, 26, says.
Sena, pouring beers and mixing drinks behind the bar, says that football season generates a spike in his business here–largely from expat Americans but also among native Ecuadorians. He says interest in football among native Ecuadorians is growing in large part because many citizens here who worked in the United States before the economic crash have since returned home–and many of them as football fans.
But Pedro Molina, brewmaster at the nearby La Compañía Microcervecería, at the corner of Borrero and Vazquez streets, told me on Saturday evening that he sees virtually no interest in football among locals. His brewpub is closed on Sundays, and he said he had no plans to watch the game elsewhere–for, like most locals as well as hundreds of millions of people worldwide, Molina prefers the other kind of football.
“Soccer is the king of sports,” Morena said. “It’s a better game. It requires more technique and skill, because you can’t make physical contact.” It’s like a dance, he said–an almost nonstop, 45-minute dance–requiring agility, balance and fancy footwork. “How long is a game of American football?” Molina asked me.
Sixty minutes, I said, plus a couple of hours of breaks. Molina nodded, satisfied that he’d adequately assessed the two games–one a nimble sport of lithe, quick athletes, the other a brutish but slow battle of bellowing muscle-heads and lumbering jocks.
Earlier that same day I questioned three young men working out on the chin-up bars at the popular Parque Paraiso, on the north side of town. They said they knew about the Super Bowl but didn’t seem to think much of it and had no plans to watch the game. I asked which of the two sports–soccer or football–they thought was more challenging.
“American football,” Juan Merchan, 28, said. “It’s tougher on the body.”
But Merchan added that “futbol real” is more interesting to play and to watch since “it involves more improvisation and less plans.”
In the Inca bar, perhaps 200 people of every age category and many nations have crammed into the private party. Still, the Super Bowl has yet to begin. Elizabeth Eckholt, a San Francisco Bay Area native who has been in Ecuador for the past two weeks, says she is routing for the 49ers–though not passionately.
“I’m really here to see the commercials,” she says.
The game begins but plods forward slowly. Every few minutes, a break arrives and we are subjected to another series of ads for cars, beer and junk food.
“I can’t believe the unhealthy junk they advertise on this game,” says Wyatt, voice raised to be heard.
I have never spent six hours in a bar and I don’t plan to tonight. Last May, the Wall Street Journal‘s Bruce Orwall recognized the virtues of what he called “real football”, including soccer’s “subtle athletic grace, fierce national and regional rivalries and mercifully efficient, commercial-free matches.”
I, like him, I assume, am not entertained by Doritos and Calvin Klein ads. Okay–let Beyonce sing if she must, but this game should really be done by 8. I leave before half-time. In the United States, virtually every sports bar must now be crammed with football fans. But in Cuenca, beyond the Inca Lounge and Bistro, the Super Bowl may be happening but this world is not watching. The Sunday evening air of Cuenca is calm and still, the nation quiet on a day without drinks. In this land, soccer is the king of sports and athletes–not advertisers–kings of the airwaves. And for fans of futbol real, even after they watch a televised afternoon match, there may remain enough daylight to go play a game.
January 24, 2013
Climbing the Parador de Navas last week, I felt it happen—a ping of pain in the rear of my leg, four inches above the heel. An ache set in as we crawled to the top of the pass, and I knew it was back—my recurring Achilles tendonitis. I spent a week in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 16 months ago lying in a hostel bed, reading, typing, visiting the local gym, sitting on benches, eying the distant Rhodope Mountains and waiting for a similar Achilles strain to heal up—and I know the boredom that can arrive with athletic injuries. But this time, I have limped into Quito, Ecuador, a fast and modern hub of sophisticated people, energy and activity. Boredom should not be an issue here. Mangoes may cost $2 a piece from sidewalk vendors—a harsh reminder for the hungry cyclist that he is no longer in the boondocks. But there is life beyond cheap mangoes, and it can be found in Quito’s clean public parks, brewpubs, wine bars, bicycle shops, historic center and so much more. Here are a few things to do that can keep one entertained in this highest (when measured from the Earth’s center) of big cities.
Sample Local Microbrews I have no love for Peruvian wine—and as an alternative, my brother and I have taken to the abundant if boring South American lagers available in every corner grocery store. Thing is, I have no love for cheap lagers, either. So when I learned that two brewpubs operated within blocks of the Hostal del Piamonte, where I have been icing and elevating my leg, I ran for them. Limped, anyway. At Cherusker German Brewery, we found a club-like scene with leather sofas and a rustic brick interior—and four beers on tap. That could leave many an American beer nerd thirsting for more options, but in Ecuador, the chance to drink a Belgian-style dubbel and a dark, smoky stout provided much needed respite from lesser beers. After one round, we walked north several blocks to sample the other city brewpub, Turtle’s Head Pub and Microbrewery. A pilsener, a Scottish amber and a stout made up the extent of the house-made beers. The amber was malty, thick and chewy, the stout creamy, smooth and sweet.
Hunt for Espresso Machines Each time we emerged from the desert or jungle into a village in the past three weeks, we listened for that sweet song of the espresso machine. One time I even asked the villagers, “Please, for mercy, is there an espresso machine in this town?” I was thirsty and desperate and hopeful, and the town’s main street boasted some relatively upscale establishments. Several men gathered around me, all frowning and shaking their heads in befuddlement. “Say, Fred, what’s this kid talking about, what with machines that make coffee and all?” “Beats me, Leroy. Does he think he’s arrived in the future?” I even made the whooshing-hissing noise that coffee drinkers so love to hear at 7 a.m.—but the men shook their heads. “Let’s go! His mind is gone.” They had not heard of an espresso machine. But Quito is fast, smart, slick, modern. In hundreds of bars, cafés and eateries, espresso machines hiss like the finest apparatuses of Europe. Cafe lattes arrive with hearts and mountains shaped into the foamy milk, and espresso comes in cups like thimbles, as smart and sophisticated as coffees enjoyed in the bistros of Paris. Top recommendation: Este Cafe, on Juan León Mera street.
Work Out on the Exercise Bars in Parque El Ejido As we rode into the center of Quito on our first day, I had my eyes peeled for that sure signature of any modern metropolis undergoing swift and progressive social development: outdoor exercise bars at the public park. After checking into our hostel, we walked several blocks back to Parque El Ejido, where we had seen among the people and the trees some playground-type structures that looked very promising. Sure enough, we found them—a rock-solid, two-tiered set of pull-up bars in the shade of the trees. A security guard (they stand around every corner and behind every tree in Ecuador) paced slowly around the jungle gym while Andrew and I got to work. My brother, ten pounds lighter than he’d been in Lima, started with an all-time best set of 20. I did only 17—but, really, who’s counting? See you at the bar. Note: The same park comes alive with scores of market vendors and thousands of visitors each Sunday. It’s a good time, but you’d better get your bar time in early, before the kids arrive.
Stalk the Aisles of the English Bookshop Quito is great—but if you need to get away fast, step into the compact, book-stuffed space of the English Bookshop, in La Mariscal. Owned by London native Mark Halton, the store—at Calama and Diego de Almagro streets—provides a refuge of wisdom and intelligentsia for English speakers craving some bookish conversation and quiet time. The shop is crammed with used quality literature (well, there’s also some sci-fi, but never mind), plus a selection of Ecuador travel guides for rent.
Enjoy the City’s Many Miles of Bike Paths Quito bears many marks of a sophisticated hub of culture and style—enthusiastic brewpubs, art museums, numerous sporting goods stores and air-conditioned supermarkets. What more could one want? Bike paths, of course. Leading through the city are miles and miles of them—two-directional lanes separated by barriers from the auto traffic and leading to all corners of the city. But bike paths can always use improvement. In Lima, for instance, the hip locals dump heaps of trash in the bike lanes and set the rubbish on fire. In Quito, businessmen who haven’t ridden a bicycle since they were 8 years old use the lanes as personal sidewalks, and at intersections pedestrians gather in the bike lane as they wait for the light to change. No—not all Ecuadorians are totally wise yet to the concept of the separated, designated bike lane. But parts of Quito are almost as cool and edgy as Amsterdam or Portland, and locals will catch on.
Ride the Gondola to Cruz Loma Lookout Taking a ride on a gondola is a bitter pill to swallow for a proud cyclist with a leg injury. But the TelefériQo Cruz Loma chairlift, beginning at the western edge of Quito, ascends 2,700 feet in eight minutes, taking passengers to the best vista point in the region—Cruz Loma, near the top of Mount Pichincha. The cost is about $9, with discounts for privileged locals and even the option to bring a bicycle to the top and ride the trails back down to the city. Sounds like a blast—but I’ll wait until I can make the entire journey by my own strength.
Get Screened for Malaria at a Local Medical Clinic If you’ve got the shakes, the shivers, nausea, achy joints, stomach troubles or a headache and have traveled in malaria hot zones anytime from a week to a year prior, you had better get checked out. That’s the logic we followed when Andrew came down with sluggishness and other flu-like symptoms on our second day in Quito. We decided that if his condition persisted in the morning, we would go to the hospital. He woke up in a sweat, and off we went on a new adventure. The Clinica de San Francisco was just four blocks away from us, and by 9 a.m. Andrew was having blood drawn and his internal organs examined by stethoscope. The doctor said that Andrew’s relatively mild symptoms did not appear to be malaria-related, but Plasmodium falciparum is a disease to be taken very seriously. The most deadly type of malaria, it is especially dangerous if not identified and treated within 24 hours of the first visible symptoms. The doctor said the test results would be e-mailed within three working days—plus two weekend days. Isn’t that cutting it close, we asked? Don’t worry, the doctor answered; Andrew does not have malaria. We hope so.
And Keep That Leg Elevated
January 23, 2013
We Enter Malaria Country The desert gave way to the muggy climes of the tropics, at last, in the northernmost 50-mile stretch of Peruvian coastline south of Ecuador. We had been pedaling past cacti in the morning and hadn’t seen a sign of a mosquito in Peru—until that afternoon, when we passed a billboard reminding travelers to defend themselves against malaria. We noted the warning—but anyone who has toured on a bicycle knows that stopping to dig through panniers is a chore best deferred until a later time. “We’ll take our malaria pills tonight,” I shouted to Andrew. Thirty feet ahead of me, he answered with a thumbs up.
Near dusk, we turned toward the coast to stay the night at Puerto Pizarro. We headed down the side road and noted signs for mangrove swamp tours. We realized that malaria country had sneaked up on us—bad news when preventative pills are to be taken daily beginning 24 hours before arrival in the malaria region. Entering town, we encountered a pair of cops who waved us to the side of the road and warned us to get inside quickly, before it got dark. “Ah, yes—mosquitoes,” I said. “No—people here will see the gringos and try to rob you,” one of the men answered. They directed us to a hotel. After paying, we hurried across the courtyard to our room—a separated cabin with three beds and a bathroom for $20. Andrew fumbled with the key. “Quick, there are mosquitoes,” I said. He dropped the keys as he slapped one on his arm. “Bug spray!” he yelped and unzipped his pannier. I went into my own saddlebag for my malaria pills. I shook out two of the shiny red tablets and handed one to Andrew along with some bubbly water. He said, ”I don’t think this is textbook malaria prevention,” but took the medicine anyway. We opened the door, shoved in and slammed it behind us.
We were in the tropics. A brief warm rain fell that night, and in our bungalow beds, sweating in the humidity, we studied our map. We had just 20 kilometers to the border. We would be in Ecuador by noon.
We Enter Ecuador The next day, after passport control, the landscape transformed dramatically and rapidly. Large trees with splayed out trunks like buttresses stood grandly in fields, outliers of the rainforest. Other trees, with huge and voluminous canopies, grew on one side of the Pan-American Highway while their long, graceful branches dropped fruit pods on the other side. Banana orchards began, and continued for miles. Scattered among them were cacao trees, with large football-shaped red pods hanging from the branches, and vast sugar cane fields. Breadfruits dangled from elegant but wildly prehistoric-looking trees 70 feet tall with leaves like fan palms. Large green iguanas skittered across the road. Road-killed animals the size of sea otters with shiny black tails lay on the shoulder—some sort of jungle beast we couldn’t recognize. And while plant life fought for elbow room on almost every square foot of soil, that supreme conquistador of invasive species grew in groves—the eucalyptus tree. The people looked and behaved differently than in Peru, too. There was an obvious African origin in many of the locals we greeted as we rode. They honked their horns less—much less—as well. We also encountered more and more men and women carrying machetes, pocketknives of the jungle. Several miles to the east, across the banana plantations, the Andes began as an abrupt bluff blanketed with forest and disappearing into the rain clouds. Roadside households offered direct sales of fruits grown in the backyard. Avocados, watermelons, mangoes and pineapples lay in piles outside front doors, as did Pepsi bottles full of sugar cane juice. We needed money, and in a town called Pasaje we approached an ATM by the main square. I entered and removed my card, typed in my pin and waited for what riches would emerge. The machine sputtered and rumbled and emitted a smashing surprise—American dollars.
We found beautiful bunches of bananas for sale at roadside fruit shacks—and they were hilariously cheap. A cluster of 25 red bananas—the specialty sort that fancy groceries in the States sell for $1.80 per pound—cost us 50 cents. The same shack was also offering traga, cane sugar-based alcohol infused with different fruits, like grape, apple, watermelon and cacao. We bought a bottle of banana traga and moved onward. We stopped for lunch under a bus shelter, and a local man named Antonio came out of a home with his two kids to meet us. We asked him about local fauna—especially bears and jaguars. Long ago these animals occurred here, he said, but people have shot them all. “But up there, jaguars and bears still live,” Antonio said, pointing toward the mountains.
We Enter the Andes Our destination was Quito in five days, and after 200 miles of pedaling through Ecuador’s muggy, hot lowlands, our road led into the Andes. Our spirits rose with the altitude, and we realized we’d been sorely missing the mountains for two weeks. But cycling in the Andes is not quite like cycling in other ranges. In the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Rockies, the Sierras, the Toros—in nearly any range of large mountains in the world, a cyclist can say with certainty after several hours of hard climbing that the top of the pass is near. Not so in the Andes, where even the lower of the many mountain passes are higher than the highest summits of other ranges. Climbing from La Troncal over the mountains and eventually into the so-called Avenue of the Volcanoes, we saw an amazing transformation of the land. Whereas the lowlands teemed with bananas, iguanas, mangoes and malaria, two miles above we saw country with a strong resemblance to Mediterranean Europe. Cows grazed on green mountainsides among scattered pines. Trout streams flowed out of the canyons. Plum and apple trees grew in yards. The clouds broke occasionally, offering staggering views of the land’s vertical relief. Vast chasms plummeted into V-shaped stream valleys, towns and shacks clinging to the slopes, while the peaks vanished above into the fog. At several points we were able to see what lay ahead—miles and miles more of steady ascent, with no switchbacks in sight.
Descending trucks spewed the smell of burning brake pads. Motorcyclists dropping out of the high country were bundled up like Ernest Shackleton. The summit, obviously, was still hours away. But the monotony, the gasping for air, the slow, slow pedaling, our aching necks—it all finally ended as we crested out on the top of the pass. Trucks, buses and cars honked their congratulations. We believe the elevation there was about 12,700 feet. On the north side were checkerboard farms and villages scattered over rolling hills and looking like Ireland. Beyond, the titans of the Andes loomed, snow-covered volcanoes three miles high and more. The summit of Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador at 20,500-something feet (sources give varying heights), hid behind a veil of clouds. Due to the shape of the Earth and its equatorial bulge, Chimborazo’s peak is the Earth’s closest point to the sun.
Speaking of the sun, it does amazing things in Ecuador’s highlands. Its path leads it high overhead every day of the year, coaxing plant life into bloom that could never live at such altitudes elsewhere. We saw fig and avocado trees sagging with fruit at almost 10,000 feet—an elevation at which even pine trees struggle to grow in the middle latitudes. And whereas grapevines go dormant each winter in most places, farmers in Ecuador—and winemakers—may harvest two crops per year. The sun is so powerful here that it even burned us through our T-shirts.
Up Next: We Enter the City of Quito