31st of March till 6th of April 2019.
Planning with the certainty you will have to be flexible to change is a given when you are travelling by bike. We did not reach Molleturo on Saturday evening but for the first time during our biking travels we spent a night at the community center of a 35 people counting community. No electricity, toilet outside but shelter against the rain and our MSR tent sheltered us against spiders and other crawling or flying creatures.
How lucky we were that we did not get a lift yesterday as we now have this experience. Moreover, the drizzle and mist of yesterday turned into a lovely sunny Sunday morning. The legs have to become stronger, biggest challenge is to give ourselves enough time for that. “Luckily” Frank has a cold so he is not too pushy. Climbing on gravel from 1500 m to 2500 m in 20 km in a lush green environment is sufficient for us.
It takes all day and when on Sunday afternoon it starts raining again, we call it a day when we finally arrive in Molleturo. Do you see with what the kids are playing?
Last kilometers up to Molleturo are a struggle, suddenly a car is approaching and slows down, the driver sticks his arm out of the window and without stopping hands me… an energy bar! Tears in my eyes and enough energy to reach the village center.
Go to church
We ask around for a place to sleep and are directed to the church. As rain is definitively in the air we are very thankful that padre Pablo has a room for us in the parish hall.
Warm welcome with cookies, fresh cheese and warm milk fresh from the cow. For dinner we have our first guinea pig (cuy) on the market. Good to have tried it but it will not become our favorite food.
A blue Monday starts, a positive blue as the sky shows some blue spots after some heavy downpour during the night. I don’t complain that we have had a roof above our head and we thank our pastor with a pack of biscuits and a small donation for his church.
Today is a day of riding on the concrete of a bigger road. After 16 km we have finally climbed an other 1000 m but at 3650 m we are still not at the top, energy levels are very low and we have to admit that we will not reach the refuge at 3950 m before dark. Discussion on spending an extra night at this side of the mountain with reaching the top tomorrow and biking down to Cuenca, or trying to catch a ride so we still can hike El Cajas National park.
We choose the last option and almost immediately find Carmen and her husband willing to take us to the top. Even if it is only 10 km it saves us almost half a day biking as our oxygen is low and legs are not yet as strong as before. Thanks again Carmen and wishing you all the best with your health!
Having a bit of spare time and feeling a little guilty for not cycling all the way up, we still hike around the Laguna Toreadora before we call it a day. What a different landscape. The precious, delicate altiplano vegetation with veils of fluffy clouds peaking around the corners.
The refuge is very basic with bunk-beds and very old mattresses (without sheets) so we sleep on top of the non inflated air mattresses and are happy with our super warm sleeping bags.
Do you see the tiny blue spot on the bottom left photo, yes somebody was brave enough to camp at the other side of the lake.
Our hearts are not really happy to be forced to sleep at this altitude but they better get used to it as more will come in Peru.
Breakfast with great oatmeal makes us strong enough to face a simple day. We contemplated on biking through the park but voted against it as the impact of bikes is higher than of just walking and we have already seen the impact of just walking on this very fragile environment.
A tiny bit uphill and then we see our first lamas of this trip.
I notice I have not slept a lot during the past days as these fluffy creatures make me emotional. And then an unbelievably fast downhill section starts over a perfect road with almost no traffic. Good test for bikes and breaks. Only downside of the smaller gear ratio we now have, is that you sooner reach the max on what you can add to your downhill speed by pedalling. No complaining as we now can cruise even more. In less than 2 hours we cover the distance of all of yesterday. Entering Cuenca makes us wonder why we go to a big city.
The heat is on
But we want to sniff some culture, eat some different food and find a good place to sleep. Just outside the center a newly renovated hotel with again new beds is calling us to stay for two nights. Climbing up 3 flights gives us a room with a great balcony. We only use the balcony for less than ½ hour as we wander around town or we sleep or it rains too hard. How welcome a warm shower can be! After sorting out what needs to be washed we head into town. Beautiful old buildings, great food and then suddenly no more energy.
I want and need to lay down. No more museums but a nice bed while Frank works on the blog. In the evening it is pizza time. Also here you see those different layers of wealth and possibilities. At one corner of the street you can eat in a restaurant soup, rice with tiny bit of chicken and fresh juice for 2.5$ and at the other corner a normal size Italian pizza will cost 15$. I still find it strange to see such really big differences. Next day is spent on the blog and finding a new water heater. We love the possibility of making our own coffee and breakfast before leaving, no need to search for food in the morning. And as long as it is rainy season and distances between villages don’t force us to camp we will continue to stay in small hostels.
The search for a new water heater takes us through most of new Cuenca, seeing enough of old Cuenca in the distance.
With more than 400,000 people it is the 3rd largest city of Ecuador, established by the Spanish in the 16th century and becoming independent in 1820. Known for its historical center, universities, hat making (Panama hats!) and textile industry. For us we are happy with our little retreat and fast internet and pre-schedule the blog of last week so you could read it last weekend.
And the fun part of resting is making some more give-a-ways. (two in the plane, one today)
Leaving Cuenca the next day we think to be smart and follow E35 till San Antonio and decide from there to bike into the mountains to pickup the TEMBR.
In San Antonio we follow a white road to connect with the TEMBR.
What a mistake, locals already wonder why we take this road as they say it will be steep, and it was. A lot of stretches are even so steep I can’t push my bike alone and I have to push Frank while he is biking. At one moment we are so fed-up we want to catch a ride but of course none is showing, What is happening with us that we are even contemplating catching a ride. Fortunately once we pickup on the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route (TEMBR) the road levels out and we can bike again. Still uphill but doable. Large houses are spread around the dryer country side. Most trees are removed. Reaching Jima we call it a day and find Hostal Jima, a strange house that has seen better days, but with warm water. We are the only people and wonder how they can survive as we pay 10$ per person.
But it seems to be a location where weddings can be held or other celebrations. Short hike up to the village and we can have a basic meal and chat with the locals.
Leaving Jima we follow a beautiful dirt road, legs are getting stronger but it remains steep up-hill. Dry area with a few cows.
Chatting with beautiful local people we discover there will be a fiesta in Jima this weekend and they are practicing today, the reason this lady is waiting for a ride in her colored clothes.
Watching the clothes
Fun to see that also here in the more remote areas wearing traditional clothing is still part of every day life. I have not dared to ask how many layers they wear under their skirts to make them so bulky, I do know most of them wear knee long trousers under them. Now following the TEMBR, which is a designated route, we wonder if locals see a lot of bikers, but it seems still to be quite rare that they see those funny white people with luggage struggling up a mountain. They often don’t understand why we would do this. Do you? Do we?
It is for the encounters as above that we do it! The lady spinning wool by hand reminds me of my childhood when we could try this during a workshop, I also remember my mother spinning wool but with a spinning wheel as ZEN meditation practice.
When we see that the top is still a very steep ascend, we know we still have to cover a lot of distance after that with ups and downs and we have a small dip, we arrange a two km lift to the top. We won’t receive the medal for doing EFI this week.
Bumping down the road we discover Franks Ortlieb lost a screw which can be solved with a tie-wrap.
When we finally arrive in Nabon after a beautiful but very exhausting day and are looking at the square for a place to sleep, Abner who is just closing his shoe shop, says he has a new place to offer.
We are one of the first guests and they only have to take care to put up a shower curtain as everything is flooded after a warm shower. Again happy to be inside as during the night heavy rain hits town.
A week of moments
And then it is Saturday again. So strange that the first full week has passed, that we are getting used to our new bikes, that we are getting used again to the rhythm of eat, bike, eat, sleep, repeat. That we have now more time to rest than when we were at home where we were torn between all different social activities (without any working pressure!) That we appreciate again and again that we are able to do this with the two of us, enjoying roughing it, basic life with basic food but still with a budget to take small hostels if we don’t want to camp. That we enjoy being outside even if it sometimes means biking in the rain, eating at the side of the road with the most stunning views or exhaust fumes prickling your nose.
That we can do this together and can stand to be together almost 24/7. Do know that it is not always fun but as long as you respect each other and can talk about it you will be able to cope.
We arrive this Saturday in Oña after one of the most beautiful rides in Ecuador. @Bikepacking.com team thank you for putting this together, I don’t know if would have gone these road without you explaining it first.
Ps Did you know you can walk your pig?