While I was away in the Galapagos the rainy weather has turned into summer days accompanied by strong winds, which are to last for the next 3 months…. apparently. After the holiday I was eager to get back on my bike and make some progress, but stayed an extra day in Quito as there was a Canadian cyclist keen to share the road.
Stephanie from Quebec and me planned to traverse the Cotopaxi national park and than carry on with the Quilotoa loop. We left early next morning and circled around Quito to the south, traversed a couple of villages before heading towards the north entrance of the park. The road changed from asphalt to pavement to cobblestone and our progress slowed down accordingly. Cobblestone is really hard to ride on especially once it gets steep and with a heavy load. We had to push our bikes on several occasions and progress slowed down to a meager 5km/h and got very frustrating and exhausting. When a 4×4 came past we took the chance and got a ride to the entrance of the park. The landscape changed from green farmland to a high altitude paramo. We were now at about 3800m and the Cotopaxi Volcano (5897m) with its snowy top dominated the barren landscape. It is a stunning place, but windy and cold. We cycled on a sandy track towards the beautiful volcano and had to work hard to keep our breath. We seemed to be the only ones in the park until we hit the main access road to Cotopaxi, which is a classic climb and tourist attraction. There is a good road al the way to the hut at 4800m, from where the climb starts. The campground was only a few km along this road and had no amenities. We were too tired to care and settled into our tents after a quick meal. We woke up to mist, rain and a lot of wind, and quickly made our way down the hill to the south entrance of the park, realizing that the proper campground with toilet and kitchen was only 1km along from where we had camped. We joined the noisy and smelly Panamericana again just before Lasso, were we decided to stay the night. It was just too windy to carry on and we felt we deserved a lazy afternoon. We found a nice little hotel, but left again early next morning to bike the Quilotoa loop, which is including the market in Zumbahua, described as one of the nicest excursions in Ecuador. The road to Sichos, 2800m where we stayed the first night, was stunning and all asphalted, but still hard work with many ups and downs: high Andean landscape with steep valleys and patchwork fields high up the mountains. The local Indigenous in the remote mountain villages are still wearing the traditional clothes and dark hats. The next day was a hard slog on cobblestone/gravel and earth road to Chugchilan 3200m and than a steep sandy climb to Quilotoa at approximately 3900m. The day had started out calm with beautiful blue sky but turned windy by lunch time. At the end of the day we twice thought to have reached the top but to our disappointment the road kept on climbing and the wind was fierce and head on. When we finally reached Quilotoa we were totally exhausted but happy to have made it. The daily average was only 7,4km/h. But we were rewarded with a nice hotel with real feather duvets and a fireplace in the room…all for a bargain of $12 including dinner and breakfast, after some negotiating. Because of the low season they dropped the normal rate of $25. It was so nice we decided to stay an extra night, allowing us to visit the Quilotoa lagune the next day and rest in the afternoon. The last day started with a great downhill to Zumbahua were we stopped to ring our families which had birthdays to celebrate: my Mum, my Grandma and Stephanie’s Dad…Happy Birthday!! We than had to climb back up, than had a great downhill before climbing all the way to 4000m…..which seemed never ending especially with the windy conditions. But than a long 25km downhill was the reward. Back in the main valley the noise, smells and traffic were a shock to the system after the remote time in the back country. We stopped for a hot chocolate in Pujili and than found a nice hostel to stay in Latagunga. The next morning we visited the famous market in Saquisili, but were too obsessed with the food and missed the artisan market altogether! Probably saved me some money!!
Since neither of us has a proper road map of Ecuador nor a GPS we had to use the PPS for our trip: pare, pregunte y sigua – stop, ask and and carry on!