With rain, mud flows, walls of wind, sandstorms and a night at 4000m in a shepherds choza, we have certainly had an interesting time of it since leaving Cuenca.
We left the city of Cuenca on the TEMBR route which after following a mellow riverside track took to the hill suburbs on gravel roads. It weaved it’s way vía steep ups and downs and looking back over our shoulder, at times it felt we weren’t making much headway progress. The reality was that the city extends north a long way. We struggled to find a campsite on public land that day and ended up locked in a small farmlet for the night after getting permission from the señora.
Next morning In drizzly conditions we joined the Pan American highway for a few kms, and enjoyed a warming restaurant breakfast before we diverted onto the old rail trail (slightly modifying the TEMBR to suit our northbound journey).
We came to a large muddy slip across the track and pig headedly carried on across. Knee deep and sinking into the very wet landslide material, we realised it was probably not the cleverest place to be and tried to move fast across it without losing shoes or falling over backwards into it and never being seen again. On this cold, damp day the entertainment and adventure factor cheered us up.
Covered in mud we carried on the at times unrideable track and rejoined the TEMBR near the top of a climb. We missed the top section of easy downhill rail trail riding by mistakenly taking the gravel road – my excuse was that the phone screen was covered in muddy paw prints… but we found our way back onto it for a lovely descent to the river, on the way borrowing a farmers high pressure hose to clean ourselves up a bit.
Onwards to Ingapirca where we had a good look around the Inca ruins (most famous in Equador) and elected to stay at a hostel nearby where we were able to scrub up some more and dry the wet tent.
We left the drizzle in Ingapirca and rode Pan American pavement all the next day to Chunchi. There was a fierce cold wind from the east which fortunately was more to our backs.
The following morning Alan woke with a incoming migraine so our wee touristy train trip on the famous Devils Nose section of Equadorian rail entertained us for a few hours and gave him a chance to start feeling better. The double engined train is able to descend a steep rocky face by way of zigzags (with line extensions at each change of direction) so the train doesn’t need to go ‘round’ any corners.
Next day and next town was Achupallas, reached after a 1000m climb above a beautiful canyon. Skies were blue but we were beating our way into a VERY strong gusterly easterly. Coming round some corners we were stopped in our tracks by the wall of wind, at times having to wait till the gust passed and then pushing our way to the next sheltered section. The final 300m was mostly a strong tail wind, thankfully.
We asked for an early breakfast at the lovely hostel, hoping to beat the wind, but it carried on all night and all that next day. No one told us that Equador had winds on par with what we have experienced in Patagonia. Clear skies again and photos that fail to show the enemy wind on our way up to 4000m. On the positive side we had good distant views of the Chimborazo Volcano (at 6268m it’s summit is further from the centre of the earth than Mt Everest because of the equatorial bulge), and, on some reaches of the windy road we had the wind pushing us along.
From a high point the route veers more eastwards and in the high open pampas the gale force winds turned us around, it was just too strong to ride into, we would have been pushing the flattish descent into incoming rain for many km and so we chose the paved road that would link to the Pan American highway in NW direction. The still gale and now crosswind was scary so when I spotted a choza (shepherds shelter) across the fields I stopped to check it out. Inside it was calm, dry and just large enough for our tent. We were done with battling the wind and at 4000m it was a good height for re-acclimatisating, so we moved in for a pretty comfy, dry night.
In drizzly rain and reduced winds the next morning we descended to the busy little town of Guamate to catch our breath and eat the best custard filled doughnuts. Onwards now to hopefully closer encounters with Equadors highest volcano.