Date: 15th June – 23rd July 2012
Where: Ambato – Mocha – Cajabamba – Alausi – Zhud – Ingapirca – Cuenca
Distance: 3954 to 4120 miles
It was time to leave Ambato, and so we said goodbye to our excellent host, before embarking on the big down-up to circum-navigate Ambato centre. The up-down trend continued until we finally reached a dump of a town (Cajabamba) where we spent the night (changing rooms illegally half-way through the night as our room was so noisy and uncomfortable). The clouds had gone in the night and Volcan Chimborazo popped out to say hello in the morning. The tallest mountain either of us have ever seen from the ground (Sarah saw the Himalayas from her aeroplane seat once)…Fotassa! We were then up on a high plain, beautifully cultivated by the locals and criss-crossing the railway track they plan to open soon. Once open, this train journey must be one of the most amazing in the whole world. The descent from this plateau eventually arrived, and what a downhill. Steep and with a tailwind we rarely dropped below 40mph, with Geoff topping out at an exhilarating 51mph before he got scared and applied the brakes…just in time as sharp corners and mist suddenly appeared and tributes to those who have died appeared on almost every corner. Just as suddenly, the clouds parted, and a flat patch of land appeared beneath us covered with the town of Alausi.
From Alausi we had heard of a functioning train ride down the valley that sounded quite exciting. After the success of Baños and Puyo we threw caution to the wind and our schedule and decided to go. We had to ignore all common sense to pay the $25 fee to ride the train, expecting great things from the Nariz del Diablo (Devils nose) with switch backs down a cliff face. It was nice, but a complete rip-off…enough said. Leaving Alausi we found mountain after mountain after mountain eventually arriving in our first Inca ruin (Ingapirca) one day later than planned. The ruins were interesting enough and have whet our appetite for Peru, more fun though was the ride out the next day up a nicely graded dirt track to the Pan-American past many elaborate houses (can’t say we agreed with their taste though!). Many Ecuadoreans live and work abroad to send money home, and this area in particular seems to have benefitted from this. As we approached the top of the track we saw some cycle tourers on the Pan-Am and energetically waved them to a stop. Eventually we recognised them as Dave and Marnee who we’d met in Quito. Quickly agreeing to cycle together to Cuenca, we set off down the hill.
In the excitement of cycling with other tourers we forgot ourselves outside of the town of Azogues and ignored the ‘road closed’ signs. The landslide which covered the road was exciting to bypass, definitely glad of our helmets! We were also grateful to the workmen, who were slowly clearing the road, for helping us down off the rubble with our bags and bikes. On arrival in Cuenca we were just looking for a hotel when a man bounded out of a taxi and explained he was a cycle tourer and gave us directions to a hotel which was filled with bikes. Apparently 21 tourers had stayed in the past week alone! After a day walking round Cuenca we got a bus to Loja to begin the stretch for the border, a stretch of dirt and mud which other cycle tourers have found to be amongst the most difficult they’ve done. Still with Dave and Marnee as moral support we figure we’ve got a chance!