Stone roads of Ecuador, blue-green water of lagoon Quilotoa, unexpectedly long rest in Ambato, using my skills and meeting interesting travelers
Thanks to the 12days of rest is the today’s up-and-down road (as usual in Ecuador, more up) and the stone roads easy.
In the evening the most happy from our visit at firemen station is the young dog with whom we play till the night and then it’s really problem to explain her, that she cannot join us in the sleeping bags. At 7am she wakes us up licking our faces…
Long uphill on panamericana to a pass at 3490m (thanks to the road makers and their notes at the curbs we know the altitude with 3 decimal points) and then finally a downhill! After 2km we meet a cyclist (always a good reason to stop) from Germany who is traveling from Buenos Aires to north.
Down, down and down :) and in Lasso we leave the highway – our couple-days detour to Quilotoa lagoon begins. We have quite detailed map of this area, but unfortunately it’s 40years old and the net of roads has probably changed. When we ask about road, everybody sends us to the main paved road. We wanted to go by shortcut on side roads but we give up and after 10km more we finally reach the Toacazo village, eat chicken in local restaurant and have coffee at the square.
With food supplies for 5 days we are turning from the new nice paved road to an old stone road. We stop a car to ask if this is the right way – the man probably doesn’t understands well and he points on the highest hill in front of us that there is the way. Doesn’t matter, direction is good, we will see :)
It’s said that the invention of bicycle helped to develop roads but here the off-road car came for sure before bikes.
in a small village we ask for a place to stay. We are attraction for small children with red cheeks but the adults send us to a bigger village where is a community center where we could sleep.
The roads climbs up and at the end we camp in ruins of an old house (we met the owner so it’s official). First we need to clean the floor from poo and then we discover a potable water tube 20m from the house in the middle of field – all what we need now. One visit of local women and children who laugh about our tent and don’t understand why we want to sleep outside and keep asking if we aren’t afraid… we don’t understand – afraid of what? (they said it’s not people nor animals). After a loong time of cooking of rice we finally get to sleeping bags. We wake up couple times when some dog visits us but the fears of locals (aliens, ghosts or other monsters) don’t come.
Between us and volcano Cotopaxi is just one valley but the clouds are still there and we aren’t able to see the glacier. We continue uphill and hope that it’ll end after every curve. The locals said it’s just a short uphill and then plano-flat (we are happy, that the driver from yesterday wasn’t right).
It’s one hour to the village and it’s possible to feel that the air got colder here. The road bends and continues on a level curve. It’s nice and easy to pedal here, we see hairy donkeys and enjoy the views. It’s downhill up to a bridge and then up and much more higher. With the altitude we loose strength, we feel lack of oxygen, road gets worse – gravel becomes stones and the inclination is bigger. We are not able to bicycle anymore so we push … but after 5m I realize I don’t even have enough energy to push and fall to ground. In a lee side we get energy from cookies and accept the fact that the pass really goes through the highest hill around (that means the driver was right :-/) and after another 1.5hours of suffering we reach the top finally.
Nice view to the other side in front of us and long expected downhill :). The road is bad – gravel, rocks, soil, bumps and sand – but even with the fully loaded bicycles we go damn fast… sometimes I need to wait for Jan who collects thing which I loose during the way because they jump out from my panniers (GoPro, handkerchief…).
Bicycles and panniers survive this difficult test and only losses are 3 broken spokes and torn gum on the speedometer sensor.
Last 90min uphill and we reach town Sigchos. Destroyed and not nicely surprised that there is nobody on the streets and most of the windows are covered with metal curtains and that the firemen are closed on Sunday (today), we end in a bad hotel.
We have mini breakfast (I’m starting to feel that we should be the weird ones who expect 3USD scrambled eggs at least from 3 eggs) and at 12 we finally move to mountains.
Beautiful surrounding, incredible views, vegetation change, downhills and uphills, 20minute fight with 100m of steep sandy road, sunset, never ending zig-zag on a really steep 3km road, final arrival to the Quilotoa village in dark with headlamps, bargaining the hostel price, a lot of smoke in the room while trying to keep the fire in the stove and long expected sleep in our warm sleeping bags in the altitude of 3860m.
After big scrambled eggs breakfast from 10 eggs with onion, tomato and paprika, advising other tourists how to get to the lagoon (we haven’t been there yet :)), we take the backpack and in good mood we go for a trek with the goal to walk the whole circle around the crater on the mountains surrounding it.
After one hour of walking and not getting even to one fourth we reach a modern glass-wooden viewpoint which totally amazed us – simple, nice and perfectly fitting to this environment. We give up the plan to go around, make some pictures of alpacas we go down to the blue-green salty water of this beautiful lagoon. After a short walk on the beach we reach another touristic trail, discover the “thermal water” (the water in the lagoon is really cold and here maybe one degree warmer). The way back is long and Jan starts to feel his lower back again. We buy a typical Ecuadorian scarf, make a lot of smoke in the room again when we try to start the stove again, I make pancakes and we get to sleeping bags before the temperature drops below 5°C.
We leave early in the morning, the day is full of uphills and downhills and we cross another 4000m pass where it’s raining, windy and cold. Then a 20km way down when our fingers and toes are freezing but we do it one one time without stopping, we join panamericana, get to Latacunga and sleep at firemen station in the center.
We are destroyed – if we took just panamericana, it would take us 2 days, like this it was 5. We are a little more acclimatized again, but we cought cold and Jan back hurts again. I have to ask: would we go even if we knew how long and hard it is? … Definitely! The detour to Quilotoa was one of the most beautiful and interesting trips on side-roads during the whole way – minimum of cars, incredible nature, majestic mountains and unbelievable colors of the water in the lagoon in the clouds :).
One more day of cycling (Jan with fever), puncture in the Schwalbe tire and when we see the “Ambato” sign we are thinking just about one thing – put the bicycles down in casa de ciclistas in and have at least one week of rest.
City of flowers with 200000 people is located on both sides of a deep canyon with a river and even a small detour could mean tough pedaling. Because somebody else is using our GPS now, we trustfully ask the people on the streets for direction. All of them are nice and send us somewhere even when they don’t have a clue where we want to get… and we spend 15km of going from one point to another and go some steep up- and downhills.
Then a car passes us, breaks and a sympathetic guy (Julio) gets off, welcomes us in the country, explains the way and give us his card to contact him later :).
Another uphill and we are almost at the same place where we asked the first time and … BikeHouse Ecuador! We park the bikes, Jan goes to bed, I chat with Leo – owner of the house with bike repair shop and fourth best mountain cyclists in Ecuador.
In the evening we meet his wife Dani and daughter Edelain. It’s Champion’s birthday today and he blows off the candle on the ice-cream cake. We talk long about bicycles, championships – he changes his bike every 4 months, this Sunday he’s organizing one competition, that we can stay as long we want and we are first Slovaks here… :).
Jan uses the next days to get fit (he visits a therapeutist in the center), we help with preparation of the competition, chat with Sebastian (cyclist from Argentina) and after I tell Leo I’m an interior designer we buy paint the next morning and the change of his shop starts (5 days of hard work, reparation of old furniture, reorganizing of the space, throwing out the floor and painting of new one, painting walls, tidying … and the improvisation for 60USD creates a shop with new face and satisfied owner).
We also go for a 4hours “short walk” in mountains – we mark the competition track. The next day we help during the competition – I make huge amount of scrambled eggs for breakfast and almost poison one of the competitors who eats two spoons and then summarizes “comida eslovaca es muy picante) and thanks (I put there too much spice because the tap on the dose wasn’t fastened enough – ups :D).
Each of us has a place to show direction to the competitors … I’m on the top at the end of 19km uphill with 1400m elevation gain and I give the poor guys water and bananas; Jan has the part of a steep downhill so he makes photos – but surprisingly the guys don’t go very fast and some are that tired that only walk with the bike; Sebastian cheers them up and directs them for the last part.
My place is at the road and therefor many people stop by – even Julio on his motorbike, so we can talk a little. On his KTM he made a trip from Ecuador to south of Argentina and then a circle through Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia back… Next year he drove to Alaska.
This whole day in mountains doesn’t help our health much and the next days we rest more, don’t do anything, drink fruit juices, visit the center of the town and make a T-shirt for Leo.
On Saturday we go by bus to Baňos – known touristic center surrounded by 3000m mountains with year-long spring, stable temperature, adrenaline activities and thermal baths.
We find a nice hostel and with bottle of “improved coke” we walk in the town, go to the thermal springs and in good mood to disco… There we show the local youth how to dance :D and after having enough of the tuc-tuc songs, we go to sleep.
The morning is much worse than we’ve expected but despite the hangover we do it on time to the start of duathlon where Leo is taking part. His friend with pickup takes us to the finish that fast that we probably won the unofficial “accompany vehicle competition”. Next 3 hours waiting we spend jumping to not freeze and then cheer the champion who makes it to the 3rd place and gets to the podium in our Slovak T-shirt.
We return to Ambato with a plan to pack our stuff and continue further south. But we meet there Kim – traveler from Korea, university professor of Buddhism philosophy, former monk who travels already 3 years with his 6-years old twins (boys Muni and Miri). He tows them in a trailer which weights 200kg in total!
They started in Korea, were backpacking in India (the 3-years old guys had their own backpacks too), then to Europe and then Africa on bicycle, on cargo boat to Argentina and now they have 1 more year to go north and then return to put the guys to school. Mama is from Czech republic, now with the other daughter in China doing post-doc.
First we cannot understand how a family like this can work – how can a parent live without seeing the children for 4 years… but during next 6 days (all of them were “the last one” :D) we spent with this interesting and educated guy we finally can accpet it without trying to judge if it is good or bad.
In between the long dau and night talks we also cook – Dzingischan BBQ, special chicken soup good for health (but working also like an aphrodisiac :)), stock from bones, dumplings, harula, french potatoes, pancakes and Ecuadorian specialty – cuy (cavy).
Jan changes the spokes on our rear wheels, I draw with the children, we visit botanic garden, meet Julio and go to his salsa lesson, Leo doesn’t want to let us leave (we should stay till Christmas), have a goodbye party, drink 2 bottles of rum, express confession of our friendships … and the next day we and Kim neither are able to leave :).
But doesn’t matter … the time spend with good company is worth it and we don’t need to hurry :)!