Ville couldn't refuse the opportunity to pluck one of the giant, wiggling, 4-inch-long live larvae from the bowl of squirming critters and stick it in his mouth, biting off the head, chewing the meat and swallowing it down alive...
Pasto, Colombia was a great stop for a couple days rest. We stayed at the Koala Hotel in downtown and although on the high end of our budget, the couple that own and run the place are incredibly kind and made some tasty pancakes complete with diced fruit to give us some extra juice to continue the climb south. We also met a super nice French couple, Leo and Virginie, whom we ended up riding on and off with on the next stretch to Quito, Ecuador.
Riding out of Pasto was a short long climb, followed by a gigantic easy, "whatcycling dreams are made of", downhill for 15 miles! Where Pasto was rainy, cold and chilly, we dropped all the way down to sunshine and some warm weather again. The road then climbed ever so slowly up along a meandering river in a deep gorge and we took in some stunning scenery the entire day to Ipiales. Ipiales was another crappy border town with not much to see but a place to sleep. We and the Frenchies woke up early and were at the border by 6:30 am only to find that the systems were down and with a gigantic line already waiting to get in or out of Colombia. For those not following the news, Venezuela is in a pretty chaotic state right now and two days prior to our arrival at the border, Colombia granted temporary visas to Venezuelans, making for a complete chaos at Immigration and a complete shut-down of the systems. Really sad and sorry for all the struggles the Venezuelan people are going through and have been struggling through! To lose everything you have worked so hard for in your life and to have your money so devalued you can't even buy food, is a very sad place to be for so many of these people.
After 5 hours of waiting in an ever increasingly agitated line, ONE AGENT WORKING even though there were 7 booths (inefficiency at it's finest), locked gates to keep the hoards of people outside until they could be filtered into the line, we made it to the front of the line and got stamped out of Colombia. Yipee! And biked about 100 yards to the Ecuadorian Immigration were we were stamped into Ecuador in about 2 minutes. Loving Ecuador already. From the border we could already tell the roads were amazing, multiple lanes, recently paved, and decent biking grades. We stopped at the first overpriced restaurant we could find to get lunch together and then pushed on up the hill passing rolling hills of green checkerboard pastures littered with colorful cows. It was beautiful, very similar to the countryside in France the Frenchies said.
First night in Ecuador we spent in San Gabriel, a decent sized little town high in the mountains with a cute central square, beautiful old buildings and a long walking street market. With the change in elevation (hovering around 9,000 ft/ 2,750 meters roughly), we have been biking in pants, layers and rain jackets for the mist, but very much enjoying the biking in cooler temps. Nights drop in temps enough to get to sport our new puffy jackets (we picked up warmer puffies in Bend to tackle the Andies). From San Gabriel we continued southwest through some beautiful misty countryside and even had the return of pretty extreme winds (we haven't had wind like this since Baja!). As Ibarra came into view, we were confused but excited that the elevation chart must have been wrong because we were almost in town and had a decent day of riding, until the road took a sharp left turn into a switchback and we began to climb. Luckily, the climbs in Ecuador have been really easy grades with switchbacks so far and we were in Ibarra earlier than planned. Debating to push on, we decided to get a room and have time to put our feet up and relax a bit before pushing on.
From Ibarra we had a very scenic and easy day of oscillating hills where we came around a turn to see Cayambe's snow-capped Mountain reaching into the clear blue skies. We find ourselves stopping constantly to get pictures or video of the scenery here in Ecuador it's so beautiful. In the early afternoon we passed Otavalo, a small town in the Andean highlands surrounded by volcanoes and where traditionally clad indigenous twonspeople sell colorful textiles and handicrafts. We stopped and sat to have some coffee while the world walked by, but are always so sad to not have the room/space to buy anything to pack along. Somehow , with the roads easy riding and the climbs easier to tackle than Colombian roads, we managed to get all the way to Guayllabamba, one long climb (and only 15 miles) away from Quito.
With an early start, we pushed the long, slow climb to Quito and met our good friend Freddy, whom we met just before beginning this bike ride from Alaska to Argentina, in Myanmar while traveling. What a great feeling to see an old friend after so long on the road! Freddy took us to his beautiful home right in the heart of the city and convinced us to drop our stuff and head with him on an adventure. Freddy is one of the oldest and most fantastic trekking/mountaineering guides from Quito (http://sierranevada.ec/en/home), and who has traveled all over the country and world climbing mountains. Freddy had to drive over 5 hours to the Amazon to pick up some students and bring them back to the city, but had a great plan for us to drive up into the mountains to Papallacta where there was hot springs to soak and stay the night in a hotel, then continue to Puerto Misahualli the next morning to pick up the students in the Amazon and drive back to the city together. And who is not more down for a fun adventure than these two wackos?!
First, we headed out of the city to drop down an insanely steep road into a ravine, cross a river and then climb all the way up to 12,000 ft over the Andean Pass and then dropped down to a beautiful lake where we found a hotel with thermal pools in back all to ourselves to relax and soak our soar muscles. The next morning, surrounded by the Andes, we could see Cotopaxi covered in pure white snow towering high above us. Back in the car, we dropped far down along the river and eventually turned up another highway climbing up and winding into the cloud forest. Having loads of rain, many places in the road had been previously washed away or were still scattered with debris. Lucky for us, Freddy is a sure-footed driver and we dropped back down as the heat and humidity of the Amazon Jungle engulfed us.
In Puerto Misahualli, we stopped for a quick lunch and to stretch our legs, where one of the local ladies was selling giant LIVE larvae to eat. Apparently a local delicacy, Ville couldn't refuse to try something that crazy, and picked one out of the bowl of squirming, wiggling 4 inch long critters and popped it into his mouth! I was so disgusted by them, I try a lot of things, but there was no way I was going to eat one of those! I took the video instead. We managed to find the two students, pack up their things, and back up the way we came we headed, arriving back in Quito around 7 pm for a walk around the hood, a bite to eat, and crash.
While soaking in the hot springs, Freddy had mentioned he really wanted to get to go do some hiking with us while we are here, and so this morning we laid out some plans. We are planning to leave tomorrow morning up to the El Boliche National Recreation Area to hike and summit Pasochoa Mountain (4,200 meters/ 13,779 ft.) and then camp at the base of Cotopaxi, summitting Ruminahui Mountain (4,721 meters/ 15,488 ft) the next day. From there we will get ourselves back to the Panamerican Highway and continue south towards Cuenca, which will be our next planned stop. Freddy has to come back to Quito for an appointment, but is hoping to meet us on the road with his bike to bike a few days with us. Very excited to have such a fantastic friend in Ecuador wanting to show us his beautiful country! If you have any interest in outdoor adventures in Ecuador or beyond, we very highly recommend Freddy at Sierra Nevada Expeditions (his website). Until next time ya'll keep on keepin' on...
K.G. & Ville
In Ushuaia, at the end of the World!
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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