7th till 13th of October 2018.
The longer away from home, the more you understand that family and friends are the most valuable in your life. Sharing moments of joy, discoveries, contemplation. Talking, sharing home cooked food, creating memories or wondering about the past and future together. Being able to be together in the same room, touch, hug. Being able to help, support, be there.
Sunday was such a rainy day we decided to rest, work on the blog and plan our further trip. Leaving a cold and wet Otovalo on Monday, rested and ready to bike from 2,500 m to 3,700 in 23 km.
Road to hell.
Should be doable even if there would be more elevation meters and steep sections. But I underestimated my body, it refuses to work, heart racing and dizzy spells after the first +10% climb on the dreadful cobbles stones.
No possibility to bike next to the cobbles and on top of that, there is only a meager 100 meter visibility due to heavy mist and as an extra there is rain during lunch time. We refuse the ride offered by some guys in a pickup truck, when we were eating our lunch under a tree, slightly protected against the rain. The steep cobble stones forced me to push the bike most of the time. Frank was strong enough and biked almost everything uphill, helping me to push my bike when it was very steep. One of our worst roads, nicely captured in Franks diary: “I hate cobble stones”!
Most pain was forgotten once we reached laguna Cricocha (at 16:00) where we could drink a warm cup of tea and coffee with an empanada.
A few more kilometers over a dirt road brought us to the wild camp spot next to the second lake, laguna Chiriacu.
What a joy to camp again, as it was dry till we set up the tent.
Enough water at the lake and a curious morning visitor topped of the first time wild camping after a very long time. Our visitor was an Ecuadorian wolf (Lycalopex Culpaeus Reissii), that is a sub-species of the Andean wolf.
We followed the TEMBR (Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route) dirt further down to Malchingui over some technical parts, very remote and without any living soul in sight.
In El Quinche we find a decent hotel with laundry service. While wandering the streets we have a little sneak peep into the big church and are surprised by the shiny, golden altar.
It is the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Presentation of El Quinche. This 16th century wooden image of the Virgin Mary attracts more than 800,000 people on a pilgrimage to the shrine in November. Even now it looks like a very busy town but when checking in Wikipedia it has less than 13,000 inhabitants. Are we getting to use to remoteness?
Waiting for a train.
Biking out of town we need to follow the busy asphalt road a bit, as the TEMBR suggests this detour due to a non-passable landslide. We are glad with all this info and a bit further we can pick the trail up again. Today we follow an old rail road track, great benefit is that there is nowhere more than 4% incline or decline!
With some great surprises: “single track” between clay walls, a landslide which is nicely “fixed”between the clay walls. First we carry our gear over the mud heap and afterwards get our bikes! Meeting Peter from California, now living with his Ecuadorian wife and kid in Quito and teaching at the university.
Following the old railroad through tunnels completed in 1920’s. This railroad was built to connect Quito with San Lorenzo at the Colombian border. Now already 50 years out of use but they are converting more and more to very attractive hike/bike area. Part of it is even guarded! This road is such a present for us. Great weather, remote but not too rough, once in a while crossing a road with the opportunity to stock up or have a second breakfast, it almost feels like holiday!
Come on up to the house.
Arriving at Tumbaco we decide to opt for the Casa de Ciclistas. These are places that welcome bikers against a voluntary fee and offer a place to camp/sleep, water and toilets. As we would love to connect with some other bikers we decide to stay at this place. It also offers a sheltered space (called the bunker) where Frank can change the fully worn brake pads, while I go and do the grocery shopping. Benefit of staying at a Casa de Ciclistas is not only the camping, but also the possibility to cook! Santiago is already offering his garden 20 years to bikers passing by. What a great soul!
We only meet Brazilians Djejson and Veronica, biking from Brazil on a bamboo bike, in the morning as they returned very late during the night from Quito.
We have two options to continue: choose to continue the TEMBR to Pintag and Cotopaxi or find our own route. As there are a few bikers a few days ahead of us and as we know they have biked to laguna Chiriacu in only 4 hours while it took us 8 hours, we get in touch with them and they confirm what we heard from others. This stretch is even worse, they had to push quite a few times and there is a lot of mud. Decision is taken and we follow a rolling asphalt road over volcano ridges to San Rafael, further to Amaguana and a final 10 km over the E35. It is busy and we start longing for quiet roads already, but all in all a relatively easy 50 km ride, even with 1,000 meter elevation and head wind.
In Machachi we find such a good hotel we decide to stay two days and enjoy the luxury of a really good bed. I visit the local market and ensure we have enough food for the next few days while Frank works on the blog.
Hitch a ride.
As the road to the Cotopaxi north entrance from Machachi is known to be a very rough, very steep cobble stone road, we decide to pre-arrange transport for the next day. It feels first like cheating, but we just could continue at 3,000 m and follow the highway, with tons of traffic and pollution, or skip what we already have experienced is a ride in hell and ensure we still can travel further over the TEMBR. For me it did help that even in the description of the route on bikepacking.com they mention that it was easy and worthy to arrange a lift for the most difficult parts. So stupid that I still let myself influence of what others maybe would think. Frank is way more relaxed in this, but he is at the other hand also the one that is pushing us to perform even more and skip as minimal as possible.
After a great filet-mignon prepared by Mami we are the next day ready for a bumpy ride up the mountain.
We can’t resist to say several times that we are so happy that we have not biked this part. And we are even happier when we arrive at the lodge and find a beautiful camping spot at the foot of the Cotopaxi.
To ensure minimal footprint we prefer to camp at an official camp-spot instead of wild camping.
Being the second highest mountain in Ecuador and an active strato volcano in the Andes Mountains it attracts quite some tourists. Lucky us, even being Saturday noon we are the only ones camping and there is not so much activity.
Seems that this impressive 5,897 m high volcano has been more than 50 times active in the past 180 years with mainly mud flows, creating new valleys around the volcano. Last mayor eruptions were in 2015-2016, but climbing is again an option as per late 2017.
As we are not tired we can hike to some Inca ruins in the area.
When we return from our hike we see in the distance that an other tent is added to the campground and even more fun we see two other bikes. And yes they are Janneke and Konstantin from @Guidiary. Great to finally meet them as we already are trying to see each other for the last 7 months.
They first traveled with a van but are now biking from Mexico. Long time a bit behind us and since they flew from Panama to Bogota they were now ahead of us. As they love the combination between mountaineering and biking, they have climbed quite some volcanoes and mountains giving us the possibility to catch up. How fun to spend an evening in the lodge, with a beer and great fish, sharing stories and listening to plans! They both worked and saved hard to be able to travel in a more relaxed way, choosing between camping and small hotels, having the budget to support local economy or rent alpine equipment when they want to hike the highest top in Ecuador. For them this journey will end in March next year but with great new adventures ahead of them. A few hours later, just before dinner we see that an other tent has joined, with another bike and Barbara from Switzerland joins for some more stories.
What a great evening and what a great closure of an epic week.
Cotopaxi is still covered with clouds when we slip into our cold sleeping bags. Will it reveal itself more than the 5 minutes we have seen it today?
PS1 Continuing road construction as in the past.
PS 2. Last week we asked which of the 6 tree photos you liked most. Everybody voted for image 5!