Our ride from Cotopaxi took us into Lactancunga for a much needed restock. I kept buying fruit and veggies in bulk as they were so cheap, and in turn this required me to carry our backpack loaded up with 20lbs (or $1) of goods! We had seen some small roads on our maps which would carry us west of Saquisili all the way to Quilotoa. Following the Panamerican up north 5km or so, we turned off towards Saqusili and a world of adventure. Basically, our map had roads, but none of them seemed to correspond with the actually existing ones.
At first I felt like the venture would end in failure because the locals said there was no route to Quilotoa from Saquisili. We carried on, instead asking directions for the next small towns we could see on the map (Guantochico, Chulucotoro) and eventually people started having more knowledge of a route. We camped in a small town along the way, the name escapes me but the people were lovely as is usual of every Ecuadorian town we pass.
On the way from Saquisili to our first camp in a small town’s market hall on my birthday
If I’m honest, the whole ride was a blur. At some point we realized we had to ask for the “Camino” to Quilotoa, and eventually we ended up in a small settlement where an old fellow led us to what I would describe as a cliff face and pointed down to a river. An alternate route was possible via “the hospital” but as the cliff route seemed much more direct (and adventurous!) we decided to tempt suicide and go down. It was steep but with our relatively lightish bikes it wasn’t too much of a hassle. I would not recommend fully loaded tourists try as the alternate route would be much safer and more enjoyable, also I wouldn’t be caught dead trying to go up as it would take ages. From the river back up towards the Laguna was an actual dirt road, rideable for the most part. The road followed straight through to merge back on to the highway and from there we climbed the paved road for 4 or 5km up to Quilotoa. Unfortunately, we didn’t even enter Quilotoa as there was an entrance fee ($2 per person) and we had been under the impression the whole time that it was free. In retrospect I wish we had gone to see it, but the day was fading and we didn’t want to be caught in a tourist trap for the night. We cycled down the hill towards Zumbahua and along the way passed the Yacucocha community who kindly lent us their church to sleep in for the night.
Rainy morning ride
Down we go…
Finally reaching the end by the bridge
The morning brought a nice descent and short climb into Zumbahua, where we perused the market for fresh produce and bread. The mountains were getting pretty chilly and were very rainy, and Gina and I only had down jackets as a warm layer. We decided to buy some nice alpaca sweaters and gloves, but only after we bought our wares did we realize that we had very little money left. There were two ATMs of sorts in Zumbahua, but my cards wouldn’t work in either, so we found a lovely camp spot in the garden of the owner of the gas station, and Gina set up camp as I took a bus back into Latacunga to get some money. It’s a sad feeling when you realize the sum of two hard days of riding can be compressed into a measly one and a half hour bus ride.
From Zumbahua, we began climbing on asphalt until we reached a turnoff onto a dirt road towards Angamarca and El Corazon. The road became muddier and our tires had a hard time gaining traction, we had to ride through puddles to clear the mud from our tread. Once we reached the junction to Angamarca or El Corazon, we opted to go left and bypass El Corazon as the climb back up would be significant. We ended up arriving in Angamarca mid afternoon just as the rain was picking up and decided to spend the night at the house of a local who took pity on us.
Nothing but mud on the roads.
And the mud continues.
There are two options from Angamarca to Simiutug, one via El Corazon and the route we took which climbs about 900m in 9km up a steep dirt road and follows with a few undulations of 100m or so. It was a tough ride with tons of mud and rain. Once closer to Simiutug, there is a junction in the road and one can either ride left or right and reach the town. The right option goes downhill to 2500m forcing you to climb back to 3200m. The left climbing up another 300m but then steadily going downhill to the river where you have to climb up another 200m into Simiutug. We opted for neither of these options, as we managed to locate a “shortcut” by taking the right option and continuing 200m. There is a tree covered entrance to a muddy horse path on the left that we decided to take. It was steep and a few small parts where we needed to pull the bikes up solid slabs of rock. It was so steep and muddy that we began to slide down unwillingly, and falling was inevitable (actually, for once I fell and Gina didn’t). It was possible to descend, but climbing would be another story. The track came back out at the bottom of a river where we had to climb up another 200m on a very obvious track around the right hand side of a mountain, followed by 100m of descent and a final 3 kilometre slog into the town. We were going to camp in the Central Park, but some kind strangers (thank you Beatriz and Johnny) gave us a roof over our heads for the night.
Fog in the páramo (seemingly predictively from about 11am onwards)
Nice flat-ish section
Steep gravel/rock/mud downhill
Looking back at some of the route
Yesterday we had a short ride into Salinas via the new road which is actually still under construction and really muddy. We decided to stay in a hotel, our second yet since being in Ecuador. Our acquaintance Mike Howarth told us that it was rainy in the mountains here, and boy was he right. Today consisted of a good cleaning of the bikes, and eating lots of cheese and chocolate which are specialities of Salinas. although it’s a detour, I dare any cyclist to say no to chocolate!
My apologies about the vague route information, usually I’m a little bit more aware of the details but the past few days have been a real struggle for Gina and I. We haven’t taken any rest days, and when we do have a day off it usually consists of getting caught up on bike maintenance, laundry, or email etc. I recommend this route to anyone who will happily deal with mud and rain, the fatter the tire the better! The detours we took on horse trails were cool, just because I don’t think many other people have taken them. If you’ve come across this post and need some better directions then let me know and I’ll try and come up with a better description.
Route info: See/download GPX route here