My journey on Instagram, part 4, from Quito, Ecuador, to Mancora, Peru.
The last few days in and out of Cotopaxi National Park were pretty incredible. I joined up with Michael for the ride to the park. The first day was mostly sunny and we could see Cotopaxi's iconic cone in the distance. After a burst of rain, we camped in a farmers field, then continued the endless cobblestone ride the next morning. The cobblestones ended as the landscape and skies both opened up – the views more than making up for the rain. We got to the park and Michael headed off the hard way through the park, while I, with my heavier load, took the easy way. This morning I got close up views of Cotopaxi and hitched a ride up the mountain and hiked up to the snow line. Up next – the Quilotoa Loop.
The morning light on Lake Quilotoa ! – a crater lake inside a 4,000m high volcano. The last few days have been rather short ones from a riding perspective and today my plan is to push it as far as possible to the remote town of Angamarca and beyond along the Trans-Ecuador Route. Most of it is above 3,500m, so we'll see how that goes.
When the day involves some 2,500m of climbing over 50km, including a seemingly endless series of ascents at 10-20% grade in thick fog denying me the joy of the views, it feels good to spoil myself. I was so bagged towards the end that I hitchhiked part of the last climb, depriving me of the final descent but also ensuring I'd make it to my destination of Salinas de Bolivar by night. There's a chocolate factory and a cheese factory in this town, which means its time for a day off.
This is Father Antonio Polo. In 1970 he arrived as a missionary in the poor village of Salinas de Guaranda in Ecuador and helped transform it. He helped the locals receive training, materials, loans and more to start up a number of community cooperative businesses. Today the town of 1,000 is home to manufacturers of cheese, chocolate, salami, wool, soccer balls and more that export their products across Ecuador and beyond. All the businesses are locally owned and the profits are returned to the community. Salinas is held up as an example as a small town pulling together to lift itself out of poverty. I just happened to run into him while on a short walk yesterday and he invited me to his home for a coffee.
Chimborazo – I didn't see a lot of you but the bit I did sure was impressive. Also, got to see wild vicunas – the Bambis of the llama world. The consistent rain and fog the last few days has beat me down so I'm on way to the jungle, where it will probably rain even more but at least it will be warmer.
I've just emerged from the edge of the jungle, where the Andes meets the Amazon. It meant more sun, heat, cable-car river crossings, rickety wooden bridges, and three nights of river-side camping where twice I was approached by friendly locals welding machetes. But I decided I don't like being a dripping ball of sweat all day so I bussed it to Cuenca and have to decide where to go from here.
Ecuador keeps on delivering beautiful alpine landscapes. Today I went for a hike in Cajas National Park with a great crew. We hiked up to a ridge line, then back down through alpine lakes, streams, marshes and meadows. The views were stunning all around and I'm excited to bike through the south end of the park on Wednesday, once I get bike back from the shop. Also, there was wild llamas.
I branched off the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route leaving Cuenca and instead took my own route that I mapped out online and fortunately ended up being another trip highlight. It climbed into the alpine and stayed there through countless stunning landscapes. I dropped out of the mountains onto the road to the coast, where I ran into three other bike tourers who were on their way to Mancora. We were shown wonderful hospitality by an Ecuadorea family that night and because I was thinking of going to Mancora anyway, I decided to join them. We rode 100 kilometres and now find ourselves in banana country, within striking distance of the border with Peru.
When it takes three hours to get across the border, disrupting your plans for the day, it's nice to get given a place to stay by the local firefighters. I've heard about the hospitality of the bomberos in South America, but this is the first time I've taken advantage of it. We got beds, a shower and the volunteer on duty showed us around town.
I made it to Mancora, a busy town with a beautiful beach in northern Peru. To be honest, the ride here was pretty miserable and stressful. The highway was busy, there was no shoulder, the road was lined with garbage, the scenery was dull, and it smelled of a mix of sea water, garbage, and dead animals. On the plus side, there was free camping on the beach in Zorritos, some good company and it's 30 degrees and sunny.
It's hard to get in the Christmas spirit when you spend your days sitting on the beach and the extent of your daily activity is walking to the market to get lunch. But as nice as that was, I feel more at home in the mountains, so I'm taking two buses to get to Chachapoyas, where ill spend Christmas, see some pre-Incan ruins and resume biking.