Quito-Sangolqui-Parque Nacional Cotopaxi-Lasso-Toacazo-Isinlivi-Yanaurcu Grande-Chugchilan-Lake Quilotoa-Zumbahua
Before the actual post, here are a few photos from our time in Mindo.
|Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Mindo|
It´s hard to say goodbye to our wonderful hosts who have provided a second home for us here in Quito, and to all our new friends at Construbicis. We can´t thank you all enough!!
For some bike-building photos, see here.
We end up leaving Quito around one in the afternoon after spending an educational morning with Carlos learning about a few important bike maintenance techniques. Despite the large size of Quito, the ride out of the city isn´t too bad. We take a bike path down to the old town and then a busy road which fortunately has a shoulder for much of the way. After a big descent on the Pan-Am, we turn off onto the old highway, which takes us through a collection of small towns and has much less traffic. Since it´s already getting late, we decide to stop in the town of Sangolqui, where the friendly firefighters let us stay at their station. It´s the nicest station I have ever seen, with a huge tower for practicing rescues from high buildings, a volleyball and basketball court, and a massive dorm room that no one is using, except for, now, us. Best of all? Bakery and fruit store right across the street.
We sleep in a bit, tired from a week of bike building and learning that was more exhausting than we expected. Out of town, our road is paved then turns into smooth cobbles, then into uneven stone cobbles. Slowly we begin to bump our way up into the high mountains. The road is beautiful, bordered by green farmland, river gorges, and the occasional large waterfall. The bumpy ride is improved by our new shocks and wide tires, but it´s still exhausting. Soon, after a quick lunch in a tiny town, we leave the farm land and enter high altitude paramo (grassland). From here the skyline opens up and views are incredible. On the right, a jagged caldera, on the left, a colorful rocky peak poking into the clouds, and in front, the immense, snow-covered volcano, Cotopaxi.
|Cotopaxi was a bit shy. This picture was taken from an altitude of around 12,000 feet, which gives some scale to just how big the volcano is.|
We wake up to sunshine and clearing clouds after a night of rain. Our campsite is blissfully warm and sunny, but once we´re back up on the road we feel the full force of the chilling wind. Thankfully the climb is gradual, and after a night of rest, I´m better prepared to tackle the sandy road. It´s not long before we reach the park entrance, where two friendly rangers greet us, take down our names and wave us through. We continue into a grassy wasteland strewn with boulders from an eruption long ago. On closer observation, the area is quite beautiful, bursting with wildflowers. I spot red paintbrushes, yellow asters, purple-blue lupines, and fragile geraniums. Flying around us are some andean lapwings and carunculated caracaras, both new species for us! Unfortunately, the huge volcano at our side is mostly hidden by clouds; you would hardly know it was there.
|Fields and Cotopaxi|
|Ascending to 13,000 feet on ¡pavement!|
|The church in tiny Yanaurcu Grande|
Out of town our road turns sandy and rocky, and the wind really picks up. At one point it literally blows our bikes around. Most of the time I´m focused on the trials of the road, but when I do have occasion to look up, the scenery is fantastic. Surrounding us are green hillsides with long, fluffy white grasses blowing in waves with the wind, and huge jagged boulders. Volcanic remnants perhaps?
Finally we reach the top of the pass and it is time to head down. We stop multiple times as Danny helps me improve my mountain biking skills. I can ride all day and night on pavement, but I still need a lot of practice to feel confident on these rocky mountain roads. It´s worth the challenge for the amazing places we get to visit.
Once in the picturesque town of Isinlivi, we decide to splurge and pay to camp at a hostel. We cook up a delicious dinner and enjoy talking to the lady who runs the place. She gives us info for a shortcut we can take tomorrow!
After a big oatmeal breakfast, we´re back on the road. Out of town we descend a ways down to a river valley, and then begin to slowly climb back up. We begin following the lady´s vague directions for the shortcut, and at first the road surface is good and climbs gradually up the cliff along the river. When we reach a junction, we´re not sure where to go, but luckily a truck pulls up (the only car we have seen all day) and the friendly family inside gives us some road beta. We decide to head right and up to the main road. Not quite as easy as it sounds. The road turns extremely steep, with loose sections of rocks and sand. We´re reduced to pushing our bikes in sections. Still, all things considered, when we reach the main road, we agree that the shortcut was faster, more scenic, and a better challenge than taking the main road out to Sigchos.
|The back route to Chugchilan|
|Lago de Quilotoa|
|A pensive dog|
We ask some American tourists if they would mind taking a picture of us with our bikes. They seem a bit embarrassed to admit that they came from Quito today via bus.
Back in the town of Quilotoa, a little collection of houses near the rim, we find a place to stay for $10. It´s freezing up here with the wind, so it´s worth it to pay for a bed inside tonight and a hot shower. The family who owns the place lets us use the kitchen to cook dinner, and afterwards the place warms up with a big fire in the wood stove and some flying, passionate, indigenous music. Danny joins in with his ukulele. The littlest kids of the family stumble around trying to dance and are completely adorable.
|Jose: an artist, musician, and father in Quilotoa|
Inspired, I head up to the lake to do my own painting, and we do some people-watching. This place is swarming with tourists taking selfies.
After lunch, we head out. A short ride brings us to the town of Zumbahua where we find internet and groceries. The wonderful Father at the local church opens up the school dorm next to the church for us to spend the night. We have bathrooms, beds, and wonderful thick blankets. Such kind people.
From here we´ll be heading south on some more back roads towards the volcano of Chimborazo and then Riobamba. There is limited internet access in these areas but we´ll do our best to write another update soon.
- Leaving Quito: We connected to the Pan-Am and turned right onto the old highway after bridge #8 (the bridges are clearly labeled). From here, ask for the old highway, a roughly paved road to Sangolqui. Not sure if this is the best route out of the city, but it wasn´t bad.
- Sangolqui to Cotopaxi National Park: follow the well-signed Calle Juan de Salinas southeast out of the city to a rolling climb on cobbles. After about 15 or 20 km, the road turns to dirt at the paramo. Windy with loose rocks and sand in places, but always rideable and beautiful.
- Cotopaxi National Park to Lasso: We took the road on the west side of the volcano. At first it is dirt, then it turns to washboarded gravel. Partway down, the descent becomes paved. Near the bottom you will pass a large mine. Take a left on the road here. This is beautiful dirt, running parallel to the Pan-Am for a few kms before turning to pavement and bringing you to a bridge to Lasso.
The other option for Cotopaxi is to do the Vuelta de Cotopaxi mountain bike route around the east side. Other bikepacking blogs have info on that; check theridesouth or whileoutriding. We heard upon arriving that it was a swamp and decided against it.
- Pan-Am to Toacazo: paved ascent, not too much traffic.
- Toacazo to Isinlivi: Look for a blue sign for Insinlivi along the main road. The road starts as cobbles for a short, mostly flat section, then there is a paved switchbacking climb. After the town of Yanaurcu Grande, the road turns to dirt\gravel\sand. An incredible ride.
- Isinlivi to main road connecting Sigchos and Chugchilan: theridesouth has info on a direct route from Isinlivi to Quilotoa, but with phrases in the narrative like ¨the suffering is not yet over,¨ that route seemed a bit too masochistic for us. We still managed to find a decent shortcut to avoid going around to Sigchos. Follow the main road on a smooth dirt/gravel descent to the big river. About 100m after crossing, take a left. It´s a small road on Open Maps. Look for yellow splotches of paint on the rocks near the junction. There´s a smooth dirt climb up to another junction where there are two options (actually three, but one is a short path to some houses): 1) Staying left/straight, we learned, takes you down a road to the river, and then up a trail to the main road. Apparently you may need to push your bike in sections. Could be fun. Or 2) Veer right. (this is what we did). This is an extremely steep climb up to the main road, with loose sections. We pushed our bikes for parts.
- Main road to Chugchilan: well packed dirt with nice grades and little traffic, excellent riding.
- Chugchilan to Lake Quilotoa and then to Zumbahua: All nicely paved, not much traffic. Steep leading up to the lake. Entrance is $2 per person, and if you want to meet Jose and his family, his place is the handicrafts store on the left just after entering the little town.