Final miles in Equador, city time in Quito

With time running out for us we had a few variations of a plan on leaving Quito. We threw bikes and ourselves in the back of a bus heading north to Tulcan, a large town only 10km from the Colombian border. It was pouring down with rain through the afternoon and Tulcan was as appealing as a wet cat. 

We found a cheap hostel and dinner and hoped the next day would dawn fine for a departure south. In the morning the cat was dry and vastly more appealing!

Before we left town we had to visit the cemetery. Wow! A sight to behold with the most amazing topiary hedges and characters interlaced with traditional graves, family tombs and vertically stacked burial ‘plots’ common to South America where space may be a premium. 

We left Tulcan behind as we climbed on a dirt road up to the high country or paramo. Potato harvest was in full swing, with truck drivers asleep in the sun beside their trucks while the pickers were working hard filling sacks with the spuds to be transported to market. Higher still the rolling hills were covered in frailejones, a unique plant only found here, in Venezuela and parts of Colombia. Millions of them covered the hillslopes as far as the eye could see, quite remarkable. The rough track climbed up to the El Angel scenic reserve park HQ, deserted except for a lone ranger who kindly let us pitch our tent inside a drafty picnic shelter. After a day of sun (and remarkably no wind) the cloud had dropped and the rain started. Sadly the cloud was down the next morning so we could not visit the mirador for a high view of some lagunas. 

Instead we descended the cobbled and at times muddy road to a second breakfast at El Angel township and then a speedy descent down pavement to the heat and aridity of 1700m (2000m below our cold damp paramo camp). From fields of potatoes to massive sugar cane plantations and suddenly the communities were dominated by negros of African descent. We spent the night in the railway town of Salinas where Mattius took us to his Grandma’s house for dinner. We were asking around for the local restaurant and he took us under his capable 12 year old wing. We were very happy to pay for a home cooked meal eaten in a family casa.

Next day we followed paved and cobbled roads to the city of Otavalo, nestled under the slopes of Volcan Imbabura. We were tired by the end of the day having roller coastered our way in and out of numerous gullies as well as leaving the sugar cane plantations well below. 

We were looking forward to our final night on the road being camped beside the high Mojando lakes but with heavy rain overnight and a bad forecast for the next day we went for option 2 .. good coffee, bagels, the large Saturday market and a bus ride to El Quinche and then riding the rail trail into the Casa de Ciclistas on the outskirts of Quito. 

We enjoyed the rail trail that skirts the eastern side of Quito avoiding the busy roads that connect the city’s  4 million inhabitants, and deposited us comfortably back in Tumbaco for a night.

It was time to clean bikes, bags and pack into boxes ready for the flights home before 3 nights in the big city being bike-less tourists. We stayed in Old Quito and walked the streets and up the volcanic plug sitting at 4700m above town for an amazing view that encompassed 5 of Equador’s glaciated volcanoes, aided by the city’s teleferique.

On our final evening we stumbled into the Fiesta de La Luz pre opening walkabout. The Festival of Light was starting the following night and we thought we would miss it, but with a growing crowd, and police escort (to manage traffic), we were led around Old Quito stopping in plazas for dynamic light shows projected on the sides of cathedrals, static displays above streets and funky giant I lluminated puppet balloons.

We start our long journey home in the wee hours, looking forward to being back home but looking back on some great adventures and experiences. Thanks for the company on the ride!