In my entire trip I passed a lot of beautiful towns, but the nicest ones were definitely Salta (Argentina), Chachapoyas (Peru) and Cuenca (Ecuador).
The last one I left after some great days, meeting many backpackers, having good ice-cream and food and the one or other party.
I first blamed the few beers the night before for the heavy legs, but when climbing the my daily 25kms over a pass I didn’t feel good at all. After my arrival in Canar I headed straight to bed and didn’t leave the next day. This rest day helped me to recover a little and in the usual cloud-rain-sun mix I cycled more or less easy 70kms to the town of Chunchi. I met the first cyclist since longtime and had a long break with him (www.juergenradelt.blogspot.com).
The road from Chunchi north was amazing as it went along a deep valley before climbing once again one of this typical Ecuadorian 25km passes. On the way I met a French couple on a tandem (www.infinitytandem.fr) and together we attacked a very steep climb out of this valley. On the top the landscape changed slightly and far away we got a few on the volcano Chimbarazo in the sunset. The night we spent in the garden of the fire-fighters of Guamote – together with my spanish cycling-buddy Ruben (we cycled the “rollercoaster” in Peru together), who arrived at the bomberos an hour after nightfall.
Ruben and me continued the next day together, the road stayed for while nicely flat. While I have enjoyed a nicely paved road with little traffice for the last few hundred kilometeres (“old panamerican highway”), at the town of Riobamba we got on the actual “Panamerican highway” with lots of traffic. It’s not that much fun and their crazy way of overtaking at any time brought some additional adrenalin.
We passed the volcano Chimborazo (mostly in clouds) and got to the village of Mocha. Ruben is a big fan of sleeping at the fire-fighters and so we climbed another steep km to the village. The bomberos were to small to host us, but immediately a few people helped us and finally the major of this town invited us to stay in his house. It was absolutely great, we had an entire apartment for us and the major’s family was very friendly! Muchas gracias!
Back on the highway we speeded up to get as fast as possible to Latacunga, where we arrived at noon. My plan was to check the possibility of a guide for the climb of the volcano Cotopaxi. All agencies had about the same price and program and I probably would have gone with one of these agencies, if I wouldn’t have bumped into a bikeshop. The owner, Joacquin, was a guide itself and quickly I decided that I want to do the Cotopaxi by bike and walk to the summit with a guide. We went to see friends of him in agency, got a special price and everything was organized for my big adventure.
Saturday morning I left with little luggage from Latacunga to the Cotopaxi refugio at 4.800m. The guide was supposed to come the next day, so that we would summit on Monday morning. Until the Cotopaxi National Park I cycled with Ruben and then turned towards the refugio. I have done before climbs of 2.400m and in Bolivia I’ve spent some time over 4.500m, so I thought without the usual big luggage it should be fairly easy…and it was until 10km before the refugio.
At some point a very strong wind came up and together with the very steep gravel road cycling was very hard. After 2hours (for 10km!) I made it to the parking of the refugio at 4.500m. You could see the refugio 300m above, but the wasn’t real path going up and I had to push my bike through deep sand and snow up to the refugio. Pushing didn’t work well (sand, snow & ice-cold wind) so that I carried my bike and the luggage meter for meter up the hill. I was completely exhausted when I arrived with my bike at the hut…none of the tourists waiting to climb the Cotopaxi could believe that I cycled to the refugio. As everyone took pity on me, I didn’t have to cook but could eat with one of the many groups. Everyone went early to bed, because they wanted to climb the Cotopaxi that night. In the middle of the night, the altitude sickness started to hit me hard and I was vomiting all night. Usually I would have stayed at the hut for another night, but in this conditions climbing the Cotopaxi wasn’t realistic, so that I cycled back down to Latacunga – no Cotopaxi, but still a big adventure.
After one day to recover from the Cotopaxi it was time for the last stage of my trip. Only 80km away from Quito I made a detour to the Laguna Quillotoa. Two australian cyclists already warned me that I could expect a lot of “subida” (uphill) on the way there. And they were right: of a bit more than 50km, I climbed for 40km. Totally exhausted I stopped in the late afternoon 2h away from the next village. I asked a farmer – living and farming on a steep hill – if I could set up my tent in his garden. Everyone came down from the fields to see the “Gringo” set up his tent, the family itself already had lots of children, all helping me with my tent and talking “ketchua”. Although the family didn’t have much, the hospitality was great once again. They got some of my pasta and I got some of their potatoes. In the end the family even offered me to sleep in their house (12m² and 2 beds for about 10 people), which I declined.
For the group picture just before my departure everyone came back from the fields and the best jackets and hats were worn.
I still didn’t feel very good this day, so that I cycled only 10kms before going by camionetta the last 15kms uphill to the Laguna Quillotoa. It’s volcano crater lake and you have a stunning view from the edge. I went for a walk down to the Laguna, but I have to say that it’s way more spectacular at the edge.
From this little beautiful and touristy spot I took a great gravel road north to the town of Sigchos. The 50kms were very spectacular (at some parts the road went in a dry river bed) and offered beautiful views. On the way I met a dutch couple, which must have been in their sixties, cycling across Ecuador…very impressive!
When I arrived in Sigchos it was once again pouring rain and I hoped better weather for my last cycling day…and there it was: I started my last day with awesome sunshine and spectacular views on a volcano. After a few kilometers on a “pavé” which would make every Belgian road planner jealous, I went into the last climb of my trip. On the top got into clouds and on the downhill into rain. Arriving wet, but happy at the panamercian highway I decided to take a bus into Quito.
On Google-maps the bus terminal didn’t seem to be too far from the new center of Quito and I didn’t believe when the lady at bus terminal told me it would be another 30km into the center. On the city highway I sped quite a bit and got just before dark to my final destination:
Ecuador – Quito – the casa de ciclista de Construbicis (Carlitos, Santiago & Daniele)!
I was welcomed by Carlos and his colleagues/flatmates and we went straight to a “cycling-bar”, where we had a few beers to celebrate my 9.974km.
They run a very good bike shop and live in the second floor of the shop (which is right in the center of the new town of Quito), where they just started to have a casa de ciclista. I enjoy very much having kind of a proper home after 6 months travelling every day.
On Saturday I met up with my friend Hendrik from Stuttgart, who has been living near Quito for a year to do his social service. It was his birthday and we celebrated it with my first “brezel” since the beginning of my trip. As Hendrik had a running competition on Sunday morning we did a small pasta party in my new home.
Every Sunday, Quito closes its main road and opens it only to cyclists. Together with Hendrik, I explored the northern part of the City.
The last week of my trip I spent mainly with organising (passport & luggage), hanging out with my friends from the casa de ciclista and working a little bit in the bike shop.
Thank you so much for everything – Carlitos, Santiago & Daniele – the time in your casa de ciclista was worthy end to my trip!
Stay tuned for my 10.000km story!