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Quito, Ecuador to Latacunga, Ecuador

posted Sep 11, 2010, 2:50 PM by Paul Gareau   [ updated Sep 11, 2010, 5:09 PM ]
Hola. Since I left Quito, I've had some of the hardest and most scenic riding of the trip. First I headed toward the small village of Rumipamba. Leaving the city wasn't too bad, but I missed two of my turns and had to do a little backtracking. I was in the town of Sangoli before I knew it, where I turned onto the "Volcano Route" in the direction of Rumipamba. Most of the road beyond this point was cobblestone, and so steep in places that I could only get off my bike and push. Combined with the high altitude, I could probably only push 100 feet at a time before having to stop to catch my breath. Even on many of the less steep sections, I could only go a short way before having to stop for a breather. Very tough riding and I would not recommend that other people take this route to Cotopaxi National Park - it would be much better to enter from Machachi instead. 

There had been signs all along the volcano route for a bunch of services in the area of Rumipamba. When I got to town, I found that none of these services actually existed, and I ended up camping next to the volleyball/basketball court in the center of town. While the town itself was nothing spectacular, I liked that it was a real, little Ecuadorian town with some indigenously dressed people and lots of animals running around - including "free range" horses that just seemed to wander around on their own. I could also see just the top of Cotopaxi, which led me to believe that it was much closer than it actually was.

On the way out of Rumipamba I passed a few places where it would have been possible to camp. One was at a lodge, the other was near some waterfalls that were just off-route. The riding after Rumipamba was still very challenging, but at least I didn't have to do any more pushing. I had a few more occasional glimpses of Cotopaxi along the way, and once the landscape opened up, I had a pretty good view of the entire volcano.

Like Matt and Dylan before me, I had rain half way through my day from Rumipamba. Matt had told me that they stayed at a place called Chilcabamba, so I did the same after only about 10 miles of riding. Chilcabamba ended up being a really cool place, so even though it was a short day, I didn't mind hanging out there. There was a nice dining/common area with a wood burning stove and a big pile of magazines and photography books. The rooms there were over my budget, but I was allowed to camp in the garage, where I also cooked some pasta for dinner. 

I finally had some really good and relatively easy riding on dirt roads into Cotopaxi. There were a few wooded areas along the way and I had some company, since one of the dogs from the lodge followed me all the way to the park entrance. Before I reached the park, I passed an open grassy area with a small stream that I thought would have been a great place to camp. I saw some people moving around maybe 100 yards from the road, so I headed back to make sure I was in the right place. The people I saw were an indigenous family who were picking berries from the bushes that were scattered throughout the area. They told me that I was, in fact, on the right road, and that the berries they were picking were called something like "mortillas", and after confirming they were OK to eat, I tried a couple. They were pretty good.

The pine trees ended right after the park entrance, and the landscape completely opened up, with only grass and massive boulders that had been dropped by previous eruptions of the volcano. I could see a few patches of blue sky, and my weather forecasting alarm clock said the sun was on it's way, so I hid behind one of the rocks and ate some food for a while, waiting for the top of the volcano to appear. I decided to ride on a little farther to a lake where an internet map had told me there was camping, and I waited there for a little while longer for the volcano to reveal itself. There were clouds moving in three different directions, with some small gray ones rising in front, and some other dark looking clouds moving towards the volcano from the west. I was on the edge of my proverbial seat waiting for the small ones to move before the others took their place. Finally, for about five or ten minutes, I had an almost perfectly clear view of the volcano, and snapped probably 100 pictures. My favorite is here. Almost immediately after the clouds obscured the volcano again, there was more rain. I rushed just a little ways farther down the road to where the campsite actually was, and pitched my tent in time to stay relatively dry. Like the previous day, it was only about 1PM when the rain started, so I had to spend quite a while sitting in my tent before finally going to sleep.

The next day was extremely foggy, so getting another Cotopaxi sighting in wasn't going to be possible. I rode to the park restaurant and museum where I waited until about noon for a little more warmth. Finally I bundled up and rode almost entirely downhill back to the Pan-American highway. I wasn't happy about having another extremely short day, so even though it looked like there was more rain on the way, I decided to continue beyond the town of Lasso (after doing a little grocery shopping) and onward towards Toacaso. Before I arrived in town, the sky opened up again, and when I saw a sign for a hacienda, I turned down the road to see if I could stay there. I hid under the roof overhang for a while before someone drove up. I couldn't really understand him, but the gist of it was that I couldn't stay there. So, after waiting a while longer for the rain to let up, I continued in the direction of Toacaso where I was sure I had read that another PanAmer had stayed, even though the guy at the hacienda had told me that I'd have to backtrack to a place I had passed after Lasso. 

Luckily my memory was right and it wasn't long until I arrived at the "Posada de Simon" in Toacaso. I wasn't really in a talkative mood when I got there, but there was a complimentary tea that I felt obliged to drink while the owner asked me about my trip and told me about the area. She told me about the organic garden they had out back, and the elevations of my next three towns off the top of her head. She also mentioned that another cyclist had been there, who I assume was the person whose blog I had heard about the lodge from.

Breakfast was included with my room and while I was waiting for it, I talked to the woman's husband who had been out the night before. They both had to leave to go somewhere, and before the left they told me that I wouldn't have to pay for either the lodging or food. Awesome! 

My goal for the day was the town of Sigchos, and my road there is part of what is called the "Quilotoa Loop" (or "Quilotoa Circuit"). The Quilotoa Loop is made up of a few roads that pass through a number of small indigenous towns and through some incredibly amazing landscape. The great scenery started almost immediately, with more of my favorite patches of hillside farms, and later on a massive green valley that I descended into and had to climb back out of before arriving to Sigchos. A picture of one of my favorite views is here

About half way up the climb to Sigchos, the road changed from pavement back to cobblestone. At first I could avoid it by riding on the shoulder, but later on I had no choice but to endure the slow, bumpy ride. I stayed at the "La Posada" hotel, which actually had WiFi, and $5 rooms. I had considered riding farther on to the town of Chugchilan, where I knew there were a few hostels, but as usual, the clouds were coming in fast, and it wasn't long before the town was engulfed in fog. I walked around town and through the mist for a while, and had to stop in front of a church where I heard some incredibly beautiful and eerie singing that was perfectly appropriate for the foggy weather. I didn't actually go inside, and when the song ended I realized it may have been a recording. Oh well, it still sounded really cool.  

The next day I rode only 15 miles to Chugchilan, which was easily one of the best and most scenic days of my trip. It took long enough that I probably couldn't have finished before dark the night before, and even if I had tried, the fog would have obscured all the amazing views that I ended up having during the clear morning. I had written "Mama Hilda's" on my map, after reading my travel guide, so even though it was the last of the three hostels I passed, it was my first stop. It was really an incredibly nice place, which was quite a contrast to the rest of the run-down small village. 

By this point I was starting to worry a little about my money situation, since I had only left Quito with $100, 3 dinners and maybe 3 lunches. I talked to the owner's son about the road ahead, which he said to be like the ride from Sigchos, still unpaved and with much more climbing. Once again I had to make the call to take a short day, and since I could camp there for $5 and eat dinner in town for $2, I didn't have to worry too much about my funds. When the other guests were all heading to the dining room for their included dinner, I started walking towards town for my $2 chicken dinner. The owner's son and another person who worked there stopped me and said I could eat there with the rest of them. I made sure they knew I hadn't paid, but this didn't seem to be a problem. There were a bunch of interesting guests and we had a good conversation over dinner. 

The ride from Chugchilan to Quilotoa was definitely the hardest of the entire loop. The towns were only about 10 miles apart (14 miles according to my GPS), but I spent about 3.5 hours riding. It was cloudy as usual, but there were still some great views of the famous Laguna Quilotoa, which is at the bottom of a volcanic crater. I stayed at what appeared to be the newest and nicest hotel in town, which was also right across from the crater viewpoint, and I managed to talk the price down from $10 to $8 (the funds were getting very low at this point), with dinner and breakfast included. I had considered staying there an extra day to do some hiking around the crater, but since I wouldn't have access to an ATM for at least two more days, it wasn't going to be possible. 

I got some more pictures of the crater before I left, and started the descent toward the town of Zumbahua. I arrived there just before more rain started, but by this point I was very reluctant to do another short day, so I sat it out and eventually left with the small town of Tigua as my goal. As always, the views along this section were incredible, and I ended the day with a great downhill to the "Posada de Tigua", a small guest house on a working farm. This gave me plenty of great photo opportunities and I walked around that night and the next morning taking pictures of just about everything. My favorite is probably a little girl leading two alpacas back to the barn. I camped there for $3, and had the home grown and home made breakfast with the three other guests for only $4. The night before, the other guests (three Australian woman) had given me the leftovers of their lunch, which was a very welcome addition to the noodles I had brought with me.

The road from Zumbahua had been all paved, and I was expecting the rest of the ride to Latacunga to be relatively easy. I should know better by this point, and I ended up having my highest pass of the trip - over 13,000 feet! Just past the top the rain started again, and it was just above freezing with only about 50 feet of visibility at times because of the fog. When I passed a small store/restaurant I wasted no time getting inside and warming up with two cups of coffee. I bought some other snacks while I was there and sat around for probably a few hours while the worst of the rain passed. After I got back on the road, it was an easy downhill into Pajili, where I had to look around for a while for the road to Latacunga. The rest of the ride was very easy, but still wet, and I found the Hostel Tiana without much trouble. 

Both the weather forecast and my fancy alarm clock said there would be rain the next day, and even though there was plenty of blue sky in the morning, the idea of more wet riding just didn't appeal to me, so I decided to stay in Latacunga another day before heading toward my planned rest day stop, Banos. 

Start: Quito
Lines at:
1. Rumipamba
2. Chilcabamba Lodge
3. Campsite in Cotopaxi
4. Toacaso
5. Sigchos
6. Chugchilan
7. Quilotoa
8. Tigua
End: Latacunga