The PanAmerican Highway is busy. We miss the quiet, unpaved tracks through the mountains, crossing high altitude passes and camping in the wild. We see a tiny grey line on our map which looks like a nice short-cut to Riobamba. Even the GPS shows a ridable track, so, let’s just do it!
‘Only’ 24 kilometers to the lake. Easy, right? Wrong! The first two kilometers are really steep and the track is rocky and bumpy, the elevation level drops a bit to 6-7%, but it’s a tough ride. But we are enjoying it; there’s nearly no traffic, the landscape is breath taking again and no villages or even people for that matter. We are alone again, alone cycling through landscapes we love. We pump our legs round and round and by the end of the day we reach the pass at 4000 meter. A short descend on a slippery track and we are face to face with Laguna Curebrillas.
In the mean time dark clouds have been gathering, so we quickly set up camp on the soft grassy area near the lake. That’s the good news. The bad news is, there is no way to cross the river and it’s swampy surroundings with our heavily loaded bikes. And even if we could, the track is way up and no road goes up to reach it. Well, first a good night sleep and we’ll figure it out tomorrow! Whatever the outcome, we really enjoyed cycling up here.
The Quilotoa Loop
We’ve heard many good stories about the Quilotoa Loop, so our expectations are high: tiny villages, deserted landscapes and volcanoes! That must be great.., unfortunately we are disappointed. There’s cultivation pretty much everywhere, a lot of houses and the road is a very smooth tarmac one! We believe there must be another route! So, at the next crossroad the decision is easily made: we choose the unpaved track and by the looks of it, it’s a shortcut too! How little did we know…
Well, we should have gotten a little supersticious when the 4×4 track smoothly turned into a track where no car has ever ridden before. And we really could have known, when the track just ended at the river. No bridge, no crossing. But returning? No way! That’s for pussies!
It takes half an hour to find a spot where we think we can cross the river safely; either it’s too deep or too fast flowing. Elmar finds a big stick which we can use to hold on to. I enter the knee-deep crossing, wade through the water half way and hold on to the stick for some balance. In the mean time Elmar carries our stuff to me, we switch stick and panniers and I cross the other half to the other side. Dump our stuff and walk back. We manage to have all the panniers and our Santos bicycles high and dry on the other side, except for Elmars Croc: it decides to go with the flow! Bye, bye Croc!
If you think this was it, well, you thought wrong! The next 5-6 kilometers are where the fun really begins! It’s up, up up. On a very narrow track, deeply carved. It’s like El Chalten to Villa O’Higgins.., times two! We remove our panniers, push one bicycle at a time (together) and then walk back and forth a couple of times to get the panniers… and again, and again, and again. We are completely exhausted when we reach a village after more than 6 (!!) hours of pushing. Luckily we find a hostel here. Well, we wanted some adventure, I guess, we got it!
After the Quilotoa Loop there’s another highlight waiting for us here in Ecuador. We cross the main highway and ride into Cotopaxi National Park. The Cotopaxi volcanoe is watching over us as we find an amazing camp spot just below it’s slopes. Let’s hope it’s not angry!
The top is hardly visible, clouds are gathering around and covering it like a blanket, but early in the morning we do get to see a glimpse. We spend half a slow day cycling at the base of it before cobblestone tracks lead us to the highway and Quito.