I thought I knew mud and rain, but my ride from Cuenca down to Loja was a revelation as to how bad these elements could be. I read a rough outline of part of this route which is accompanied by some great photos.
My ride began solo, Gina had decided to take the highway and give me a few days to break loose on the dirt. First I rode to Turi, a short uphill ride to the South of the city. From there I turned off on to a small dirt road leading to San Jose de Raranga. It’s worth noting that while on these dirt roads it’s not worth asking for the way to Loja because you will just get directed to the closest exit on to the Panamerican highway. In San Jose, ask for the most direct route to Gima/Jima which is a really friendly place and seemed to have a lot of restaurants and shops for its size. From there you will want to ask for a direct route to Nabon, and finally from Nabon to San Felipe de Oña. From Oña onwards, I reckon there is probably a dirt road you could find, but I opted to take the Panamerican (read track notes to see why) until San Lucas which wasn’t all that bad. From San Lucas we took a relatively flat dirt road into Loja.
I attempted this in late April, one of the worst months and I can definitely see why. From Cuenca to Oña the rain rarely let up. Up until Gima I didn’t have too many problems with mud, although the bus that had slid off the road was a different story. When doing this in rainy season you can expect everything you own to get wet. From Gima onwards, I was told not to take the dirt road to Nabon as I wouldn’t be able to ride a fair bit of it. I took this with a pinch of salt as I usually do, but the mud was insane. I couldn’t cycle downhill as my bike had no traction (some of this might have had to do with my worn out tread). There was one 20 meter (yes only 20) hill to climb which took me 10 minutes to get up, the super sticky mud made my bike almost impossible to drag uphill. Luckily, even in the conditions I had, probably only about 2-3km were unrideable, but the mud did get stuck in my chain which would get caught every 3-4 minutes (frustrating). Bring lots of oil. You’ll need to re oil and clean the chain multiple times a day possibly. Further on, the road was actually flooded but luckily it was still passable. Be sure to ask the locals about the conditions ahead but I do think I went through at one of the worst times and I still managed. By the time I reached Oña via Nabon, my chain was fucked and I wasn’t looking for anymore dirt until I’d done some repairs. The Panamerican section is straightforward but from San Lucas follow the Panamerican until just before a bridge, there is a dirt road which follows the river to the left. Take this turn off, but be aware if you’re going in the middle of rainy season, there can be mudslides. The locals neglected to tell us that the road was “impassable” until we had gone 10km down river. By that time there was no way we were going back, and a good thing too because passing the mudslides provided an excellent adventure! Be prepared for knee deep mud, and your bikes to get stuck. A suction makes the experience difficult, I definitely wouldn’t want to try passing one with a fully laden touring bike, but I did help a lad get his motorcycle across so anything is possible. We rolled into Loja mid afternoon, and went to a bike shop for new chains and cassettes.
Total distance is roughly 240km, and it took me 3.5 days to complete. I recommend the route even in rainy season, but in a drier season you could probably do the route a bit quicker.