30th of September till 6th of October.
Born on a different cloud.
My soul feels stripped to the bone and my heart vibrates more open than ever.
Crossing the border with Ecuador reminds us of the impact of where you were born and raised. The freedom of living in Europe with its open borders. The freedom it brings of being an European, even when travelling abroad. The luck we have had to be born into our families and being raised in a free culture with education possibilities. People with the same capacities but born and raised at a different location, resulting in a total different life, for the better or the worse.
Being at the border between Colombia and Ecuador at 6:30 on Sunday morning ensures we are just ahead of all the Venezuela refugees who stayed in the border refugee camp. Being homeless and depending on donations, not sure of the future ahead. Seems that people are already returning home because of the non welcoming attitude in South America.
Stories of hours of waiting in line to cross from Colombia to Ecuador were not applicable to us. An early wake up call paid off with exit and entry in 60 minutes. Btw. do you see the orange stretcher, most public places in Colombia have those, seems to be mandatory, although completely useless imho . The person who got this approved made it!
We bike to a sleepy Tulcan, have a second breakfast before finding a decent place to spend the Sunday.
Gone to earth.
Reason to not continue is the opportunity to visit the beautiful cemetery of Tulcan. How impressive is the impact of the caretaker of the city’s municipal cemetery Josè Maria Azael Franco. In 1936 he began sculpting the rows of cypress bushes under his care into a variety of shapes and designs. There are the archways and angular geometric shapes that can be found in topiary collections around the world, but Franco also created a number of unique natural sculptures all his own. The garden features animals, angels, Incan symbols, and bulbous, iconic creatures squatting in a row, they even have a mouse! Currently his 5 sons are taking care of continuing his lifework and it became not only a beautiful cemetery but also a place where people from around the world find some peaceful time.
Next day we are ready to start the dirt road bike-packing route to Reserva Ecologico El Angel.
Full day of mild climbing through an agricultural steep landscape dotted with cows, slowly changing after crossing the treeline and entering the protected area.
For the first time we see frailejones again, the sunflower related plant, which grows 1-1 ½ cm per year, captures moister out of the air and releases most to the earth, ensuring rivers to flow! Good thing is that they are removing non native trees.
Turning corners the landscape is one endless field of this beautiful plant, sharing the earth with several different type of grasses, mosses and a plant with an amazing tall club-like flower of 6 meters tall. This is the Puya Clava-herculis, family of the bromelia of which the pineapple is also a sibling. It is native to Ecuador and south Colombia and only grows between 3.700 m and 4100 m in the grasslands we are now biking through, the paramo.
The road becomes a bit rough and when I can’t decide which bump to take I myself take a literal bump on my knee. Yes we sometimes fall over with our bikes. Just rinse and continue.
Around 15:00 we arrive at the park office which offers us a place to sleep in one of their bunk beds. There is also some space to camp but Edwin prefers we sleep inside as there is rain coming and the camp space will flood during rain.
As we still have time we hike to the lakes and get an amazing view over 16,000 hectares of this outer worldly place. With the frailejones standing as guarding soldiers at the hill tops and a thunderstorm releasing its energy in the distance. The climb to the mirador is recommended for “healthy hearths” only and we have to say it is only now that we really feel the impact of being at 3,800 m.
We accept gladly the offer of cooking our diner in the basic kitchen of the ranger station, bit faster than on our one burner stove.
Night is a bit rough for Frank as he decides to sleep on the floor (on his sleeping mattress), shoulders feel the beating of the rough road we traveled today and the cold at this altitude, but it was totally worth the effort!
Going down to Salinas is a joy for me, mainly rough cobblestones.
On the way down we see all stages of potato agriculture. Everything done without mechanical support!
Salt of the earth.
The Salinas we visit is a poor, basic village with 2,500 people. We are lucky that local store keeper Jesus helps us to find a place to sleep. $8 per person for a bed and a cold shower. We cook by candle light, as there is a power cut, in the corridor of the hostel as there is no other possibility. It is one of the dirtiest places we have slept but it is an area where we would/could not find a place for wild camping. Now a poor, non-described town which seems to be in the past one of the richest areas of Ecuador. Salt has been mined here for centuries, traded for gold even before the Spanish came. Now only mined for animal use. Our first impression of Ecuadorians is that they are more closed, don’t ask questions, but are very welcoming, Jesus even gave us cold bottled water for free from his very basic shop.
(btw, not our toothbrushes in the windowsill!).
The next day, only a few kilometers outside town, there is a campground with cabins in the middle of nature, bummer! To help other travelers we put this little gem on iOverlander. An app recommended if you travel by camper or like to camp. Maintained by other travelers, so non biased info.
As we want to minimize biking on the Panamericana we decide to pass through Tumabiro, Urcuqui and pick-up the bike packing route in Imantag. Normal route goes through the mountains but is now not recommended due to conflicts around illegal mining, the alternative offered was following the Panamericana and we are very happy with this choice of road.
Even if steep in some places and even if I miss one turnoff resulting in 4 km extra climbing the road is smooth with almost no traffic.
Only today I did not plan so well as I presumed there would be a place to sleep in Imantag, but we could not find anything. Frank not happy that we have to bike an other 10 km cobblestone uphill to Cotacachi. I am even more frustrated than him. At least he can bike the +10% incline, while for me this is too steep in the afternoon and I need to push my heavy bike. So from a first planned easy ride of 20 km, it becomes 30 and later +40 km with a lot of incline.
The house of gold.
Frustration is quickly forgotten when just outside of town, we find the Yellow Guesthouse, deciding straight away we will stay here two nights. Hurdled in the middle of nature, with only the sound of birds and barking dogs we enjoy the good care of Narcissa & Jose. Rich breakfast is included and we can use the kitchen to cook dinner. Luckily we stocked up with groceries before biking here and we have the whole house for ourselves. First time in a very long, long time that we sit on a couch and can read a real paper book!
Enjoying the luxury of space and kitchen. Sleeping in and resting, reading, cleaning the bikes and working on the blog and trying to find out where there are less cobblestone roads. This place is so much better than the first spot we checked. One thing you need to know when travelling in Ecuador is that everything is way more expensive. They now work with the dollar and it seems that this has had the same effect as the Euro has had for us. Only reasonable priced products are fruits and vegetables when you buy them from local people. First the first time in ages we eat broccoli!
As we want to visit the local market on Saturday in Otavalo we have the joy of only a very short, mostly downhill ride to this mountain village. But first my Specialized tire need to be repaired, showing the same issue as Franks: metal from the outer tube is puncturing the inner tube.
Hope it will hold until we return home to change our set-up. It gives me time to chat a bit more with Narcissa, 24 years old and married with Jose 29, and 2 kids of 7 & 4. Seems that having kids at this early age is not uncommon and they even become mother at the age of 14. She works full-time for $400 per month and have a little house on the property. Very happy with her work and possibilities. She does not understand why I have such short hair as a woman, as everybody – also men – wear long hair. We recognize men and women by their traditional clothes but when you see a woman and a man from the back in trousers and wearing the same type of hats, you don’t know if they are woman or man as they both carry a long braid on their back. Beautiful strong black hair, in school they made it mandatory to wash it every day. Now only every week. What a work!
The off-road route to Otavalo passes over a bridge where men are working, no indication that it is blocked for traffic. They don’t want to send us back, so they level a big heap of sand so we can cross. A car coming from the other side needs to turn back and find another way.
Deciding to stay at the Hostal Valle del Amanacer as this one is indicated on the bike packing route and we hope to meet some fellow travelers, but for two nights we are alone. Rustic, basic hostel without cooking facilities. But we stay upstairs with a shared balcony cooking our own breakfast and coffee.
We can’t resist to try the delicious pizza at Dona Esther, which seems to be run by a Dutch couple, Wendy & Arthur already living here for 15 years and building a great hotel with a perfect restaurant.
Saturday is the day to visit not only the artisan market but also the animal market, that we like even more. Here we see quite a few other tourists and one asks us what we think of this. Well, if you have not visited animals markets in 3rd world countries or if you are a vegetarian it is probably not the place to visit.
For us it is submerging in the real culture of this region, seeing and feeling the respect of how people treat their animals, how they negotiate with each other, is great. Only heart breaking is seeing old battery hens which are here sold to be butchered. You see they have had a terrible life, but that is not any different in our part of the world.
The artisan market is too much focused on tourists and we suspect much is factory produce, maybe even from China. For us the local food market is more fun.
Beyond the tears.
For me today is very emotional, first not knowing why I suddenly get tears in my eyes when I see beautiful girls of 13-15. Later acknowledging we wanted to spend some time here because the adopted daughter of one of my oldest friends comes from here. Seeing girls looking the same as her makes me wonder if we should not have adopted and also offered more opportunity to a child.
It comes so close and it opens some buried feelings of not being blessed with children. What a roller coaster this week. Lets see which roads we will travel during week 70 of Spinning South.
We often take multiple pictures of the same scene and then do not know which to use. Which photo is your favorite of the below? Please like.