Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Latacunga to Cotopaxi National Park

We decided to try and avoid the busy roads and found ourselves on a lovely quiet backroad which went through the town of Mulalo to the South entrance of the Cotopaxi National Park.
It was a nice surpirse, as we had been expecting to have to ride on the Panamerican highway some of the way.  On arrival at the park entrance, we had to show our passports but didn´t have to pay any entrance fee - as we had been expecting.

 We cycled up the newly sealed road and finally found ourselves at the visitors centre.  It was a steady climb and a strong headwind.  The lady at the visitors information centre, informed us it was another 5 minutes up the road (by car that is).  The now gravel road was rough and steep and the headwind was giving us a run for our money.  However, before we knew it, we spotted the campsite and chose to camp next to two lots of travellers.  One in a very flash jeep - all kitted out for touring, and a cute little yellow VW combi.  One couple was from Germany and the other from France.

Our cozy campsite for the next 3 nights.  Cotopaxi in the background.

Cooking up eggs for dinner and lunches

We enjoyed chatting to our fellow neighbours and were very lucky to have the German couple upload the Ecuador maps onto our GPS... something that we had spent all too many hours trying to do!

Look what we woke to!
We decided to hitch a ride to the car park near the top of Cotopaxi where we would then walk up a very steep track to the Refugio at 4800m

The first car we flagged down stopped and we jump on the back.  It was invigourating!

What a view and what a day!

Climbing the steep track up to the refugio from the car park. Even though we had been at this altitude many times, our lungs still burned and we had to move so slowly.

From the refugio it is possible to walk another 15mins or so up to the glacier.  As dumb as it was, they wouldn´t let us pass without a guide.  We managed to find a nice guide who let us join their group and walked up the .... not very steep and not at all dangerous route to the glacier.

Even the girls came along for the walk

Heading back down to the carpark was a lot easier and lots of fun - running in the loose scoria

We decided to walk back down to the campground crosscountry... instead of taking the road.  We enjoyed a nice lunch away from the crowds and sheltered from the wind.

It was steep in parts but amazingly beautiful and peaceful.  

Just us and the wildlife.

The next morning we awoke to drizzle and low cloud.  Our German friends headed back to Quito and our French friends had left the night before. It was just us and Volcano Ruminahui which we intended to climb.  We waited and waited for the cloud to lift and finally by lunchtime it did. whoop whoop.
we quickly packed our bags, equipped with our newly loaded GPS, headed off into the hills.

It was a clear path to the summit of Volcan Ruminahui at 4721m, but quite technical over the last 200m of climb.  At the top we were disappointed that the cloud had rolled in and we had no views.  However, we were happy to be able to have reached the summit.

As we had left quite late in the day, we had to make a quick descent back into the valley below and enjoyed running through the tussock

The view back down to the valley and Laguna Limpiopungo were stunning.  All of the tourists were gone (many come and walk around the lake) and it was beautiful

We arrived back at camp just on dark.  It was weird having the whole place to ourselves.  We had to cook in the dark but it was worth it.

Our last day in the park, we awoke to deer very close to our tent. We used up the last of our fuel on a cup of coffee and packed up ready for the descent out of the park and towards  Quito.

We were over the moon to find ourselves on a single track bike trail which  ran parallel to the bumpy gravel road.  We had huge smiles on our faces

Once out of the park we hit this cobbled road.  We were both amazed at how long it went for .... and how long it must have taken to build.... but were also both quite over it as it was super bumpy and not too comfortable to ride.  We wished we had had our full suspension Treks for the first time!

We passed many farms and expansive haciendas

Debbie winning Tour de France!!!

We could have got to Quito today, but were not quite ready for our last day of cycling... and the busy bustling city.  We found a nice hostel in the town of Sangolqui 13km out of Quito!

Latacunga to Puyo via Banos

After a lazy morning and a large American breakfast, we headed out of Latacunga and into the drizzle. Our destination for the day was Banos.  We had left most of our gear in our hostel in Latacunga and we were looking forward to a day of cycling with almost no gear.
We had researched the route the night before and were pretty confident in our ability to find some nice back roads and avoid the busy panamerican to Banos.
Boo, it was not to be. We were constantly coming across numerous intersections with confusing signage and were getting more and more frustrated.  The rain and cold wasn´t helping our moods so just out of Ambato, we decided to jump on a bus.  What a joke, it cost us 30c each and we didn´t have to pay for the bikes.  So easy.  We met a nice guy on the bus who gave us directions from that bus station to another bus station, that would take us to Banos.  Although it would have been an awesome descent into Banos, the traffic and the rain were very heavy and we were happy to be warm and dry in the bus.  Our second bus ride took about 2 hours and cost us $1.20 each!!!  We would have easily eaten $10 worth!

We arrived in Banos to more heavy rain but found a nice hostel with a courtyard so our bikes were kept safe and dry.  Our hostel even had it´s own Turtle!

We enjoyed a hot shower before going out to lunch at a very funky cafe... which also showed a movie for free each night.  We were happy to see that Gandhi was playing that night... so we spent the rest of the afternoon in the cafe watching the movie.

The next day we awoke to rain and thick clouds and decided not to ride to Puyo that day and instead spend another day in Banos.  We had all sorts of plans to visit waterfalls and climb surrounding peaks, but the weather was terrible.  We met a lady who informed us that the road to Puyo was actually closed due to slips. We felt a bit vulnerable as our hostel was at the base of a big hill!
The hot pools that Banos is famous for were also closed due to the danger of slips, so after a walk around the town and some time updating our blog we returned to our cafe and enjoyed another movie.

Finally the rain had eased and we set off around 7am, eager to enjoy the downhill ride to Puyo.  5 mins out of town we came across a huge traffic jam.  The road had been closed all night due to slips and trucks had backed up. Luckily for us they had just finished clearing the road, and after about a 15min wait, they waved us through.

Tunnel Bypass´s

The currently active volcano Tungurahua.... which is spewing out black smoke

Apart from the road being busy from the build up of traffic, we enjoyed some spectacular waterfalls and raging rivers.  We did feel a bit vunerable as there were lots of slips along the way.

There were several long tunnels along the way but each one had a detour for cyclists.  These were always a releif to get off the road

Pailon del Diablo - devils cauldron

don´t fall in!!!

Rio Blanca (white) meeting Rio Negra (black)

Puyo - the gateway to the amazon basin.
They promote this ride to tourists and call it the Highway of the Waterfalls - La Ruta de las Cascadas. We are not sure whether the road was busier than normal due to the slips and overnight closure but it certainly wasn´t that enjoyable being on such a busy road.
The town of Puyo was nothing special and it felt quite funny to arrive somewhere, only to catch the next bus back to where we had just come from.  But there was no way we were going to cycle back up the 61km to Banos.
Our bus took us back to Latacunga and our waiting luggage.