Ecuador is a beautiful country for cycling! Maybe even the best cycling country in Latin America so far. That is, if you leave out the most crazy – I like cycling calfs – dogs that live in this country as well. And yes, lots of climbing and I have had lots of rain (because of El Niño) but Ecuador was a big surprise and I’d love to return some day. If not for the spectacular nature, then for the people and different traditional cultures you meet along the way.
The border of Ecuador with Colombia coming to Ecuador I took in the eastern part doing a crazy road called ‘Trampolin de la Muerte’ in Colombia. Not for beginners or sissies. This was some serious cycling. Also reaching Ecuador’s capital Quito means you have to cycle the longest climb in Ecuador. Thats’s 75 km’s going up and another countless hills, mountains, descends before getting there. A 14 hour cycling day. Tough cycling.
As far as Quito is concerned. Not too crowded with tourists, UNESCO centre, safe. That kinda goes for the whole country. Go there and see it your self. Cycling or not.
Bicycletouring through Ecuador you can do via the coast, the mountain range (Andes / Sierra) or along the Amazone jungle side. I only cycled through the Sierra, the mighty Andes that started to get serious here. Was looking forward from the beginning to the Andes mountains, its cultures and coinciding physical pain going up. Would it really be as beautiful as I hoped? And how deep would I have to go physically and mentally to cross the Andes?
QUITO – BAÑOS
Cycling to Baños was a side turn to see an active vulcano. Not too tough cycling there but lots of rains though. I don’t like the rains when it’s cold. Everything gets wet (uh, yeah). Fortunately a local family provided a house, food and family atmosphere. These encounters are so rewarding! Always gives me the right energy, so many good people out there, remember that reading your newspaper.
Baños itself is definitely worth visiting. Lots of outdoor activities, hot natural baths with vulcanic water (was great for my back and neck). And from Baños you can see the active vulcano Tungurahua (there are about 5 or 6 active vulcanoes in Ecuador). The whole area was beautiful for cycling with spectacular views over nature, mountains, rivers and vulcanoes.
BAÑOS – CUENCA – LOJA
From Baños to Cuenca was steep with many km’s. Cycling the Andes can be very tough but – in my case – the mountains give me more energy in return then the energy it costs. Aside from that, reaching a tough summit and then going down 70 km’s per hour your endorfines and adrenalines really kick in.
Now Cuenca is a colonial town popular among travelers and ex-pats. It was rewarded as the best place to retire one or two times if I’m right. Cuanca still has an authentic vibe though and without a doubt one of the best places to cycle through when pedalling your way through this sweet country.
Cycling from Baños to Cuenca and Loja the power of the Andes (which was probably not even close to its real strength) becomes evidently clear. Because when the sun stops shining and the heavy rains and / or hail start with strong winds and fog, you wish you’d be some place else. I’ve had many moments, especially in Ecuador, when it got cold. Too cold and hard to handle cold. Especially in the descends.
At some point I cycled in Loja shaking from the cold. It took me a half hour hot shower to come back to my normal senses again. It was in Loja where I decided to call it quits and leave the mountains. My plan to go through Vilcabamba into the northern Peruvian Andes was gone. Rain forecasts made me do it. There are no regrets, I just couldn’t cope with it no more. Besides, cold and rain make my neck and back muscles feel like iron cables. Guess I have to return some day to finish the job huh.
Saying goodbye to the Andes was a ‘moment’ for me. Honoustly, I got a bit emotional. I mean, wet, cold, foggy, steep and tough climbs, serious dog attacks and bad coffee, and still it wasn’t easy. If you don’t get the message yet, I adore mountains! I consider them to be my wise, silent and mighty companions and that I’m a lucky being to be able to climb them.
The 2 days cycling west to the Peruvian border were stunning. Great people, small and beautiful colonial places where tourists are a rarity and spectacular views. Two beautiful days of cycling to say goodbye from Ecuador. Peru was knocking at my door, and although I had been guiding groups into southern Peru years ago, I had no idea what to expect cycling along the Peruvian coast in the northern part of this immense country.
Descending the mountains to the coast you feel the heat getting back. And yes, it reached 40 degrees when I got to some place called Lomos. The days after weren’t so hot by the way. It’s the cold humbold current that has to be responsible for this because normally it would be incinerating hot in this desert coast.
People along the coast are different then those in the mountains. And in Peru the desert coast has strong (head) winds, it is dusty in the small cities, there is trash beside the road and there is much less respect for cyclists. Took some time to get used to it. Don’t know if getting used to it is the right choice of words. Guess it’s just acceptance. Mountain pain is easier for me to accept than street garbage though.
Must say, cycling the Peruvian desert in the north wasn’t easy for me. I missed the mountains and did not receive energy from the people. Don’t get me wrong, the desert can be really awesome. Especially sleeping alone in your tent in the middle of it but I guess cycling through this part just wasn’t my cup of tea. Maybe also because I underestimated the strong head winds and the fact that I started to miss people back home. By the way, if you cycle there check your water supply very well please. I got a bit sloppy and had to do it with some drops at some point. You won’t die, there are cars passing by every now and then even in the remote areas, but still.
Arrival in Lima was great. That’s because an old friend who has a really good hotel there was waiting for me with a big smile and some ice cold beers. With him I could blow off some steam. And it was here when I got his advice to cycle from Lima to Ayacucho. Lima – Pisco – Huaytara – Ayacucho – Abancay – Cuzco. More km’s but also getting back into the mountains. Weather was better in this part so it was an easy choice. Also because my friend knows Peru like his back pocket (going to Peru? Check him out at: Raymi Travel ).
The man with the hammer
Before getting back to the mountains I had 2 more days ahead in the desert. But in Pisco arriving at the fire departement where I often sleep, the man with the hammer (Dutch saying) came along. I could hardly move my legs. The upper part was heavy, stiff, painful and it felt like I had been cycling for months ;).
Bad timing knowing I’d had to go from sea level to 4750 meter within days. And that without a decent acclimatisation. I mean, cycling around 3000 meter in Ecuador is significantly different than cycling around 4000 meter reaching a 4750 pass.
Back to the mountains
Upper pic was just half a day cycling coming from the desert. The cycling route Pisco – Huaytara – Ayacucho – Abancay – Cuzco was to become special. And yes, it was. Very much so. It was an adventure I will not forget. An adventure and chapter in this trip to Rio de Janeiro very special to me. It became a heavy test for my body and mind.
High altitude sickness, meeting special people, the most spectacular views, and some mental tests that made me long for my family and friends. The toughest was the combination of high altitude sickness (I guess I’m also sensitive for high altitude) and cycling up too fast to avoid the afternoon rain. My breath and brain couldn’t cope with it whereas my state of ‘perseverence’ told me I could do anything if I really wanted to. The 2 time close call from cars passing me within inches made me realise I had to start being seriously counscious. Being dizzy I just couldn’t always follow the white line and I started wobbeling around. Lesson learned. Next time: early acclimatise.
The trip Pisco – Huaytara – Ayacucho – Abancay – Cuzco in bullets. And check the link below for some awesome pictures of this trip..
Phisically & mentally
- Back-, arm- and neck aches
- Several days my leggs werent as strong as normally
- Lots of thoughts about family & friends (got a bit high altitude emotional I guess)
- Annoyed fast. Specially when the rains came
- Underestimated the hights. Again (happened in Nepal ones as well, they had to carry me down)
- Cold and strong winds
- Little sleep. Woke up at 02:00 a couple of times
- Less music in my mind during cycling than normally
- Breathing consciously to stay focussed
- Very very rewarding with truly stunning views
- Spending nights also in hostels for 3 euro
- Good food 1,50 euro
- Take an extra day or two is not a bad idea..
- Make sure you get good socks and gloves
- Acclimatise. Don’t ever underestimate the hights.
Cycling into Cuzco was cool. Cuzco is a nice place with lots to do and getting to know about Inca culture. Touristy though and changed a lot over the years but still worth the effort. Still my recommendation would be going to Ayacucho. That’s a hidden jem!
Now, current status, I’m thinking about heading through Bolivia and then into Brazil or cycling over another 4750 meter pass and head for Puerto Maldonando and start crossing the Amazone by bike / boat and then start cycling again from Belem in the north of Brazil. What to do? Heads or tails?
To be continued..
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