I got so excited over posting about Cayambe… I neglected to share what happen in the previous weeks. Here are moments during the first month in Ecuador.
Ciao, Colombia. I will miss you, you beautiful country; Colorful mountains, friendly people, salsa music, and buttery cheesy arepas with aguapanela (mmm). We crossed the border into Ecuador just one day before Paul’s 3 month visitors allowance was up. We rested for a couple days at the border town, Tulcán. Turns out its a pleasant little border town with some surprisingly good bike parts shopping. It was apparent that we were not in Colombia anymore; the drivers were no longer courteous to cyclist and the bakery breads were no longer sweet and soft, but dry and tasteless. Oh well, time to move on and discover the best of Ecuador.
The river line between Colombia (right) and Ecuador. It’s nice that they don’t have a wall!
We visited the topiary garden cemetery of Tulcán, with our new friend…
Stephanie! The 22 year old Canadian who we crossed on the road in Tulcán. Stephanie joined us for about two weeks of cycling into the Andes. She arranged a stay at a Casa de Cyclista (Cyclist House) located in a suburban town outside of Quito, Tumbaco.
Before the climb to Quito, we arrived to this arid valley town. It was a community of the African settlement, with “black pride culture”, according to the signs. We were fascinated to find this Afro-Caribbean diaspora between the indigenous communities, of the Andes mountains. Here, the locals are drying beans on the side of the road.
A full moon on the equator (one degree north). The moon never looked so bright!
We camped at a fire station in the valley.
After a few days uphill, we arrived to Otavalo, a town famous for it’s markets. The indigenous Ecuadorians wear fedora hats (shown above). We stopped to do a little hat shopping, in this hat maker studio. Some were made right there in Otavalo, others were imports from Colombia, and Italy (Borsalino). I got myself a classy green Borsalino.
We had an overnight at the fire-station of Cayambe (a town north of Quito and lies at the foot of Cayambe volcano). The firemen were very hospitable. For years, the Cayambe fire-station have welcomed touring cyclists-they even have a book for all the visitors to sign. The crew had given us a room with beds and they shared their dinner with us. For questions about mountaineering, we couldn’t have been any luckier to ask the honorable professionals. These men are the rescue team of the mountains, namely, Cayambe. At the time they suggested to check out the annual procession to the summit of Cayambe, that would take place in some weeks. Little did I know, then, that we would return to join them for the climb of Cayambe.
The following day, leaving Cayambe, we crossed the “Mitad del Mundo/Middle of the Earth. This landmark is one of the only accurate place in the world to determine the equator.
We crossed the equator.. twice.. according to Paul’s GPS. Here, the Pan American highway crosses back into the North, after visiting the Mitad del Mundo. About 30 minutes later, we crossed again onto the South.
Casa de Cyclista, Tumbaco
We were hosted at the lovely antique home of Santiago, the Casa de Cyclista, for a couple weeks. Here lives; Santiago (in the photo), his wife and two lovely daughters (not to be confused with the two ladies in the photo- They are Stephanie and a New Zealand cyclist). For the two weeks there, I met cyclist from Canada, Mexico, Argentina, New Zealand, Scotland, Germany, and.. Paul and I represented France and the States. I even found my Swiss buddy Chrigi in the “Book of Gold” (A book filled with farewell/thank you letters from previous cyclist). Every time, it was sad to say goodbye to the friends at the double doors of the lovely front courtyard.
I was sad to say goodbye to the Argentinians: Nacho, Romina, Germán. These guys have a traveling food business, selling empanadas. The invited me along to sell my chocolate oatmeal balls (oatmeal+bananas+chocolate+rolling them golf ball size). I love the Argentinians for these reasons; their bold, they have great smiles, they travel regardless if they have savings in the bank.. they just throw some jerrycans on their racks, hustle some empanadas and live the life.. and they will proudly tell you how to travel like them! Gracias amigos! Espero un dia nos encontramos en el camino. Gracias por todos!
Behold, these handsome cyclist of the world! From left, Nacho (AR), Joanna (UK), Germán (AR), Marc-Antonie (CA), and Emilie (CA).
The day we had to say, “ciao” to our Canadian friends, Emilie and Marc. Fortunately, it wasn’t a “good-bye forever” because we saw them in Quilotoa a few days later.
Mountain man, Paul, loaded the bag and locked on the carabiners, and out the door, for a mountaineering journey of Ecuador.
Then my day came to leave the Casa de Cyclista of Tumbaco. I left with two new cycling buddies, Axel (GDR, left) and Joanna (SCT). These two awesome people just reunited after months of separation in Latin America. We took a route to the North Gate of the Cotopaxi National Park. We were warned, the road was rated difficult for cycling. Sure was. Day one, we climbed for hours on a steep grade uphill, pure cobblestone. Here, we took a break at noon (and still, day one). We didn’t reach the North Gate until the following day.
Ahhh, wild camping in the country. Finding frost on our tents, the next morning, gave evidence that we were reaching higher altitudes.
It took another morning of pushing uphill though sand and cobblestones. On day one, Axel’s bike rack broke. Day two, a pin to attach my trailer, popped off just 3 km before North Gate. Despite the rocky road… we had made it to the park! Here we took another dirt road, which was slightly easier to ride on, winding around the west of Cotopaxi.
Off road. Wild horses roam the range.
After a day of blissful riding in Cotopaxi Park, we found an empty campsite, provided with amenities. The campsite was at 3,900 meters, the highest place we slept during our tour. We cooked a warm meal and ate by the fire, and watched the day fall to night, on Cotopaxi.
After our Cotopaxi leg, we rode further south to the city of Latacunga. There, we left our bikes to the fire-station of Latacunga, and caught a 3 hour bus to Quilotoa. The Quilotoa is a crater lake that sits at nearly 4,000 meters. It was very windy, here at the lip of the crater. We had a surprise encounter with Emilie and Marc. We spent the night as cheap travelers, camping only in front of a hostel, taking a cheap dinner, and Emilie allowed us to sneak into their bathroom for a shower.
Party in Zumbahua!
Joanna, Axel, and I hitchhiked about 20 kilometers to check out the Harvest Festival in the indigenous village, Zumbahua. There was a parade of dancers, a bullfight, and I was crowned Village Queen (ok no, I just jumped on the small horse and joined the parade, thanks to suggestive friends and agua de cane / sugar cane alcohol).
With my small horse, and crew, I was the shameless Queen of Zumbahua!
Engaging in the midway activities a game of table-football, foosball, kicker, taca taca, gitoni- call it what you want. We recruited the local players for a match between SCT, US, and GDR.
We climbed on a ramshackle stand to watch the Zumbahua bullfight.
After a crazy hoedown and hootenanny, Andean style, we hit the road again, for Ambato. There, we stayed with Warmshowers host, Leonardo. Leonardo runs the Bike House and a open home for touring cyclist. Everyone participated to cook a meal representing their country, like Axel’s German schnitzel and potatoes. The Canadians cooked pasta carbonara (pictured).. Italian it is.. but, whatever, it was delicious.
And after a small, but memorable journey with the cool gang of bike bums I met up with the mountain man, Paul, in Quito.
I wish my friends on the road out there, for safe and fun journeys in South America, and beyond. Thank you all for the lovely red scarf chocolates and hugs. Missing you all!
And for my Americans.. hope you had a nice day with your BBQs and fun under the sun!