Friendly Equador

It was great to be on our bikes and heading north from Loja, on the Trans Equador Mountain Bike Route (TEMBR). We had a sweet riverside trail to follow to get us to the outskirts of town and then we enjoyed the ride alongside the Rio San Lucas that climbed us gradually to join the E35 highway, better known as the Pan American Sur highway through Equador. It is the main paved north-south road and the route most regular touring cyclists take. Fortunately for us there will only be short interludes on this, at times busy, highway that we will have to use to join up the more interesting dirt road sections. In places they have saved on concrete by leaving out a few zigzags that would make some of the gradients easier.

The small town of Saraguro was an unexpected treat. It was a very attractive town, had an amazing beading culture and a fine dining restaurant that would have held its own in any large city. We were also finally able to find Equadorian fuel for our cooker – the list of names it goes by continues to grow: alcohol puro, ron de quema, alcohol industrial..

The following day was a highway bash to Oña and then it was a refreshing finish to the day climbing up a dirt road above Oña to a camp at the top of the hill.

We are finding the Equadorians to be very friendly. The next morning we enjoyed a second breakfast prepared by a young woman Veronique who was running the small shop in the small town of Hornillas. I was tasked to holding her month old son while she prepared eggs, cheese tostadas and babaco juice for us. We were on dirt roads all day with continuous undulations. The few villages we went through were pretty quiet until we got to Nabón where there was a big college anniversary fiesta happening and we figured people had come from neighbouring villages for the event.

From Nabón we spied an alternative dirt road that would save us 10km and a few hundred metres of climbing. It was nice riding and we had Jima in our sights, but the day and our energy levels were running out. The last climb was tough, much steeper gradients and roller coaster riding adding even more uphill metres to our day, but we pushed on. At the town we thought was Jima, we were told 3 km more – 6km later we rolled into town a trifle spanked.

There was no one at the only hostel in town, rain was threatening so we left our bikes on the hostal verandah and walked up to town for dinner. Fortunately the friendly hostess was there by the time we got back and we didn’t have to think about camping in the rain.

It was a short steep hop over the hill and down to the metropolis of Cuenca the next day. Our hostel is in the historical centre and close to good eating and city sites. On our day off we visited the city aviary and main museum, and sought out a variety of eating options. Onwards and upwards now to the highlands and volcanoes Equador is known for, that is, after one more coffee and pastry.