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Huayhuash

October 21st, 2014 · No Comments

After arriving in Huaraz, i was starting with paul (here his account of the trek) on a bus at five the next morning. A breakfast break in chiquián and a rather rough ride to llamac later, we were ready for our first day of hiking to the laguna jahuacocha and the first views of the snow capped mountains of the huayhuash range.

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Even though the direct sunlight fades already in the afternoon while being in the valley, the light stays with one at least on the mountain tops for a good while longer.

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And the rising sun creates a nice backlight in the early morning hours.

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But the new morning also brought bad news. Paul’s stove was gone. Someone had taken it out of the tent’s vestibule during the night. After an initial phase of doubt what to do, we continued with the only difference being, that we had to do with fires from now on. (photo by paul)

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This shepperd we met the day before. Then he had asked us for pain relieving pills for his knees and we couldn’t help him. Instead we offered him some of our clos wine this time in the hope it would help. (photo by paul)

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We continued up valleys with the ever so beautiful changing play of light and shadow offered by the clouds.

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While climbing up the passes, pausing to take a photo became a favourite for a quick breather. Paul in front of the panorama of huayhuash before cresting the yaucha pass.

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Especially during the first half of the trek we were delighted to have such good weather and views were consequently amazing. Leaving the main trail soon after Huayllapa, we instead chose to explore a side valley and the area around laguna jurau. We left our tents and stuff at the campground close to the laguna and went on exploring without load on our shoulders and thus felt quite ready for more adventures. (photo by paul)

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It turned out to be one of the most stunning sceneries in these already rich surroundings. Three blue lagoons nestled between the mountains. (photo by paul)

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After returning to the camp and having lunch, we made our way to the san antonio pass, or so at least we thought. Being the pass shown in the official maps, we didn’t think it would be too difficult to find it. But after two hours of a fruitless search, we half angrily and half impatiently opted for the ‘we-will-find-our-own-way’ method. Though it was a difficult scramble uphill, it seemed we made good progress in the beginning. But when the light of the day was fading and the weather had turned really bad on us for the first time, a light rain soon had developed into a hail storm, we soon agreed, even if we would make it up the moutain, we would still be far from a suitable spot to camp or a source of water. So we retraced our steps to last night’s camp site. The downhill part being only slightly less exhausting, with the knees soon groaning and memories of the shepperd and his plee for pain relieving pills flashing through the mind in lack of more positive thoughts. Since the trip had, despite a stolen stove, been going really well, this was a bit of a sudden setback that had to be digested.

In the evening, while another attenpt to make fire went rather smootly, because we had carried fire-wood in our backpacks and thus were in possession of dry twigs, i thought i would not want to climb any passes the day to come. But already while lying in the sleeping bag a while later, the “why not” questions was making itself heard, and the crushing defeat, felt not long ago, had changed to a small mishap one could deal with easily.

While coping with the failed attempt in the evening, we both forget to stow away firewood and were only left with wet wood and no dry things to start a fire in the morning after a rainy night. Despite it taken us an hour to get a fire going and some effort to keep it alive, there was hardly any need to ask the question what the other wanted to do. After breakfast we packed up, climbed up to the laguna jurau and went on the lookout for the startpoint to another pass we had heard of by joshi, a fellow trekker we had met the day before. It took over an hour and some moaning on my part, at first not believing when paul was shouting down from the mountain that he had found the path. But some stone pyramids unquestionably pointed the way, along which the laguna kept us company…

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almost until we crested the last pass on our circuit at punta cuyoc. (photo by paul)

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All in all a tough but rewarding six days in the mountains. Despite a stolen stove, some tough weathers around the passes and one pass we never even found, we kept our chins up and could enjoy some of the most stunning scenery we’ve seen so far. Thanks to paul for asking and doing almost all the planning as i don’t know if i had undertaken this trip by myself. Now it is time for some rest days in huaraz and visits to the countless bakeries to regain some calories.

 

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cajamarca

October 21st, 2014 · Comments Off

On the way from Celendin i stopped at a small village where the market was in full swing on a saturday morning. I had a late breakfast while the candidates of the coming election and their supporters were wandering through the crowds and trying to win over some votes at the last minute. All the while cows were looked over and prices negotiated.

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The road was blocked, which gave the drivers a nice excuse to use their horns even more often and vehemently than usual.

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In times right before an election, there is hardly any house, or any other surface for that instance, that isn’t used for propaganda. One area was full of this outhouses, which probably was the consequence of a campaign pledge by a former candidate… one that was fulfilled for a change.

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It was getting late when i arrived in cajamarca and got to the plaza de armas with its iglesia san francisco.

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I spent some time soaking in the atmosphere of the historic city center and was in no hurry as there are many hotels just off the plaza.

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The search for a place to stay though, turned out to be more difficult than expected. Just as i was getting a “sorry, we’re full” from the sixth guesthouse, i met james of pedalinforpennies.info, who was in town with anja and marko. Both their guesthouse were full as well but after finally getting hold of a bed for me, we could get some much needed dinner and were soon busy exchanging route plans and former stories from the road.

The next morning a parade was passing by the guesthouse and i was wondering if the potrayal of jesus was not too much lifelike.

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Others were carrying the logo of the day “feliz dia de la biblia” and were dancing and brought thus some welcome joy into the parade.

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A tour take its toll, this time in form of a broken bottle cage. luckily i found an able welder to fix this.

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Huaraz is the next stop where i will catch up with paul, with whom i rode parts of central america. And maybe i will seek an adventure off the bike, trekking though the cordillera blanca or huayhaush.

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cañón del marañón

October 21st, 2014 · No Comments

Just before reaching chachapoyas, there is the turn off to leymebamba, from where the road continues as a narrow strip of asphalt, which almost has the feel of a dirt road. First next to the river utcubamba and then climbing up into the mountains…

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until one is at eye level with the clouds.

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The road then drops down 2000 meters through the cañón del rio marañón,

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where it feels like one could see inside the guts of the earth.

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With dropping altitude, the heat was increasing and not even the airflow could keep the body cooled. The landscape became barren until this little oasis around the river bend came into view.

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Since no one wanted to change my dollars into soles and i was unable to withdraw money at the last cash machine, i was left with seven soles for the last two days to celendin, which are around two euros. Luckily i had some supplies with me and it is amazing how far one can get with so little. In balsas, at the bottom of the canyon, i bought a pineapple, mangos, bananas and a cooled coconut, had a superb lunch and was still left with some soles to spare.

The uphill part looked like a desert after the lush green around the river.

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It started to rain on the other side of the valley, but weather seems to move really slow in these parts of peru and it never made its way to “my” side.

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It is more than forty kilometers of climbing from the river and i didn’t make it up to the pass that day. Instead i stopped shortly after the village of limon, with around a third of the climb still ahead of me. The next morning i woke up relaxed, as i knew i had done most of the work the day before. A rather head scratching episode happened on the last bit up to the pass. An old man sitting on the side of the road stopped me and asked for help. He wanted me to transport his two bags while his idea was to walk beside me. These two bags contained almost as much stuff as i have with me. I tried to explain to him that i was unable to carry twice the load and i would be happy to help him find a ride instead. Though the traffic was light, still a car was passing at least every half an hour. But he seemed pretty fixed on the idea that my bike would be the perfect solution. After five minutes and not having the feeling that this was going anywhere, i left the man and his two bags on the side of the road and wished him good luck.

From the pass it is only half an hour downhill to celendin. a nice town and just about the right size to spend a rest day. Small enough to get around walking with only light traffic and quiet streets, and still big enough to provide everything one needs. Here at the plaza mayor.

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Painting above the entrance to one of the bars next to the guesthouse…

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which has this courtyard restaurant around which the rooms are located.

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After a well-needed rest day, i made my way to cajamarca.

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Kuelap

October 12th, 2014 · No Comments

The old fortress of the chachapoya, now the name of the district and its capital, derived from the culture of andean people which thrived in this area from the 6th century until they were conquered and subsequently integrated into the inca empire, shortly before the arrival of the spanish conquistadores. Since i started late from san pablo after visiting the gocta falls, i arrived after dark in tingo, and wasn’t too unhappy about being waved off the street by some people sitting in front of the first building in town, which turned out to be a new hospedaje without a sign yet. From Tingo starts the 9km uphill trek to kuelap. I bought some supplies in the morning and found a companion while shopping: the dog from the hospedaje across the street. During the first flat part he was still with me, and when i tried to send him back at the beginning of the uphill part, this was answered with a look, that said i could forget about that, and so we did the hike together.

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It was decisively hot and i started to worry about the dog, still following me twenty meters behind with his tounge almost hanging to the ground. The dog was obviously looking for water and soon went on ahead until he had vanished around a bend. Sometime later, i heard a splashing noise and by the time i arrived, there was no more room in the bathtub.

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Clouds moved in as we were getting closer to the ruins and offered a welcome break from the heat. So the second part was easier and soon we arrived at the end of the trek directly at the entrance,

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where a guide informed me, i had to walk half an hour more to the parking lot where the ticket office is. By the time we arrived there, i was angry. Why should the people who do the hike have to walk five kilometres more, just so the people who arrive by car have it easier. The looks of the people passing and their shouts about how cute the dog is, did not help to improve my mood and the guys at the ticket office had to listen to a rant from me and just apologetically mentioned, that it was the decision of the ministry of tourism. It wouldn’t be the first time that decision making too far from where its effects are felt, leads to rather unfortunate results. Finally back, the entrance to the fortress is a narrow corridor, which made it easier to defend.

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The only structure being completely rebuilt is this house to give some impression about how it must have looked like in former times.

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Some llamas were present and especially one stuck out with its pirate look.

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Kuelap is built at the highest point in these mountains and is often surrounded by clouds. Maybe that is where the name for its people comes from: the warriors of the clouds.

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The downhill was easier and we arrived back at the village to some refreshing rain. While passing a tienda, a familiar face showed up. Maggie and Bryan, whom i first met around cuenca, had just arrived and we spend the evening exchanging our latest experiences.

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gocta falls

October 3rd, 2014 · No Comments

until recently i was cycling through a cold or mild climate, that had changed to decidedly warm since coming into peru and being at an altitude of around thousand meters by now. when i found the immigration office, it was devoid of personal. like on the ecuadorian side, the officials are acustomed to a relaxed day and are wandering around or having extended lunch breaks as, if no bus is arriving, not much people cross the border here. when the guy finally came back, his first question was not for my passport but instead he inquired about my food supplies and if i had any salty crackers on me. as i was pretty sure this was no questions related to customs, i offered him some sweet ones instead, which he refused. after copying the details of my passport, he changed his mind though as no salty crackers magically appeared. he then went with me outside to the bicycle and as i was about to eat my last peanuts, he asked for a handful of these as well. i am not saying i had to give him something to eat, but i believe it made the immigration process much smoother.

the first week i enjoyed the paved roads, rather gentle climbs and was getting used to new landscapes and people. there wasn’t much to see though in the first days until the turn off at pedro ruiz, from where the road follows the rio utcubamba. along these route are ruins of the chachapoya people and their funeral complexes in the mountains as well as some waterfalls, that, until recently, were only known to the people of the surrounding villages.

only as recently ‘discovered’ as 2005 after being kept a secret by the locals, it is an ongoing dispute how high the waterfall actually is. the different sources would put it anywhere between the 3rd or 15th largest waterfall on this planet. there are two access points, each a village on the opposite sides of the same valley, san pablo and cocachimba. the latter being a bit more touristy and the former offering better options to explore the upper regions of the fall, i decided to steer my path towards san pablo. from the turn-off to the dirt road, it went uphill and it began to rain heavily. the only time i stopped was when a rabbit came running towards me, which seemed strange… the answer was coming shortly afterwards chasing the rabbit: a weasel. it being distracted by my appearance,gave the rabbit another chance of escape which was short-lived. although the weasel was just a third of the size of the rabbit, it took only a second until he had his body firmly slung around the rabbit’s neck and his teeth in the very same. as i was wheeling past this scene, the weasel let go of the rabbit, which was wounded and blood dripped together with the rain on the muddy road. i stopped for a moment, in which the rabbit only managed to drag itself to the side of the road, unable to take flight. when i continued, there was no sign of the weasel but i am not sure how the rabbit fared after i turned the next corner.

when registering at the tourist office for the hike to the falls, which costs ten soles, i inquired about a place to camp and was offered to put up my tent on the village square.

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seemingly the whole village was passing me as they went to church and, though a bit reserved, the atmosphere was friendly and slightly amused as to what this stranger with his bike was doing camping in the middle of the village. the next morning i started the trek to the falls. it starts as an easy walk and is also easy to follow as it leads through fields along the valley filled with clouds.

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after leaving the fields behind and entering the forest, the atmosphere is changing and becomes rather enchanting, and in such a place, fairies aren’t far away.

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when reaching a junction, one can decide to continue towards the zone in between the first and second stage of the fall, or take the route to the first mirador…

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and then downwards, which leads through denser rainforest the closer one gets to the bottom of the fall.

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the waterfall dissolves halfway through the second stage and arrives at the bottom as a curtain of spray of water.

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the gusts of wind and spray is that strong, that nearing the waterfall, one gets completely soaked within a twenty meter radius and getting closer is not that inviting. during the hike to the bottom, there are also good views of only the second stage, which is about 500 meters high.

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by the time i turned towards the lower section, i was still thinking about doing the other part later on, but when i was back around the first mirador and the turn-off, i decided to call it a day and slowly walked back to the village to get on the bike and make it to tingo that day, the starting point of the trek to the ruins of kuelap.

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dedication to camping

October 3rd, 2014 · No Comments

it was a hard time leaving the relaxed vibe of the guesthouse. the climbing was getting harder towards the border, and for the last kilometers, the dirt road with its steep inclination was a real struggle. it was the campspots and the atmosphere in the evening that made this stretch worthwile. on the first night from vilcabamba i found a campspot on a terrace out of earth created by moved during the roadworks of recent times. i enjoyed setting up camp earlier these days to have enough time to cook and enjoy the beautiful light in the evening

the good weather was lasting throughout the night and offered this starry sky to look at.

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the next day i met, zuza & michal from the czech republic who are travelling with sang from belgium towards the north. we spent an hour or so chatting and exchanging tips and good wishes for the road ahead.

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besides the camping, the ride through this beautiful valley around valladolid made the goodbye of ecuador special. the road is going slightly downhill until this river crossing…

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and turns into a construction site a bit after palanda from where the road changes to dirt. other cyclists had bad luck here and had to ride through deep mud after much rain fell and some who tried to overcome that stretch by bus where disappointed, when the bus got stuck and had to turn around. two days without rain was enough to dry the road sufficiently and i had no trouble getting through. the climb to zumba was still enough work and when i stopped for lunch, i wasn’t that sure anymore that i would make it to the border in the afternoon. the two following climbes were of similar kind and i camped in between them at a river crossing.

so the next morning i just had one last beast of a climb to overcome until the border with peru was near. a really laid back border post, where i stopped for a late breakfast and to change some dollars into soles. ecuador was brilliant. i had as good of an experience with the people as in colombia, and the diversity and above the reward of going exploring is high as there is so much to see in this comparatively small country.

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vilcabamba

September 28th, 2014 · No Comments

having heard a bit about vilcabamba beforehand, i approached the town with mixed feelings. there are a lot of ‘gringos’ staying long-term and half of the businesses are owned by ‘extranjeros’. i arrived on a sunday, while the market was on. the central square was filled with people and as the sun was out, two out of three were walking around with icecream in their hand and soon i held one in mine as well. a guy was giving massages in the shade of the trees and had even brought a special couch for his clients. it was a weird mixture of foreigners and locals and i couldn’t make up my mind if i liked what i saw. by that time i saw deborah, whom i met in the hostal in cuenca, sitting at the fountain. it is really not difficult to run into each other as the village is hardly more than two blocks around the village square. we sat a while longer around the fountain to catch up on recent events and planed to meet later at the izhcayluma hostal a bit outside of town. this would become my home for the next ten days, with good company and good food to go along. like in cuenca, i was motivated by other people staying there to go out exploring and to get over the urge to just rest. luckily i found time for that later on.

with jasmin, an opera singer from germany, i went on the izhcayluma loop, which starts and ends close to the hostel. after the first part on dirt roads through the outlying farms, we soon were walking along this ridge.

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the weather was nice and the trek just the right amount of exercise which slowly but surely puts a smile on your face…

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with these views of almost all surroundings of vilcabamba.

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one of the bars in town was throwing a party one night and we had a reason to leave our peaceful island on the hill and join the crowd. a band of ever changing members was playing throughout the night and the atmosphere was inviting to stay for another drink.

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there is also a bike shop in town which doubles as a museum. once like maya-pedal, the idea was to construct bici machinas. but the project is now shifting to the creation of art. the goal is to set up a business and sell art, furniture and lamps out of bicycle parts. we could visit the ‘junkyard of ideas’ in the front…

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and later the soon to be patented final versions, of which photographs weren’t allowed, inside. a traveller passing through made this sign, which is now stored away in the ‘museum’ for now as well.

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after the first days being rather filled with activities, i finally found some time to solely relax. sleeping long and then the healthy breakfast were a perfect start into the day. fresh fruit, homemade granola and joghurt as well as bread and jam were served. one could eat as much as one could and the fruit juice, the coffee as well as the view from the panorama terrace were going along nicely. i had to say goodbye a couple of times during this time as most people only stopped for two or three days, but luckily new people arrived and i found myself in the best of company throughout my stay.

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the pilgrimage to loja

September 28th, 2014 · No Comments

cycling out of cuenca, i met maggie and bryan, a canadian couple cycling south as well. we met again on top of the first climb out of town where i had stopped for lunch. while eating a guy came scrambling out of the bushes from the other side of the road and from what i gathered from the conversation he had with the lady of the roadside kitchen, he had started on foot from cuenca at five in the morning. this was only the first of many pilgrims we saw along the way to loja where the most important festival of the year in honour of the ‘virgen del cisne’ was about to start soon.

we were on the lookout for a spot to camp when we passed a hacienda in front of which javier was waving at us. a cyclist himself and competing in earlier years, he now catered for the pilgrims passing along the road, keeping a fire going throughout the night and having some food and hot drinks available. he invited us to camp at his place, an offer we gladly accepted. a perfect campspot beneath pine trees next to the house, with a bathroom and a nice indoor place decorated with all sorts of antique things, from bicycles to radios.

many animals were roaming around. next to all the horses, a donkey seemed to feel out of place and was looking for some company.

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the next morning i left early with plans to meet up with the two at a hostal in loja. having heard it from maggie and bryan, a pilgrim and other cyclists along the road confirmed that there is a dirt road following the river on the last part to loja and thus avoiding another climb and the traffic along the main road.

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the atmosphere among the pilgrims was more relaxed as the the goal was near. even better was the provisions handed out by people along the road. some even made their way out of town with a pick up truck loaded with pots and everything one needs for a proper lunch to come and greet the arrivals.

hearing mixed things about how difficult it would be to find accommodation in loja, i tried it with only slim hopes. it seemed the pilgrims had already taken over the town and at least all affordable accommodation was booked out. so i cycled out of town and took the turn-off to the podacarpus national park. it was a beautiful ride into the park while the sun was setting behind the ridge on the other side of the valley.

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there are places to sleep at the refugio, but as the park was closing when i arrived, i pitched my tent next to the outdoor kitchen. rusty, but still a nice hangout for the evening.

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the next day started with cycling the dirt road back to the entrance and then the downhill continued until malacatos, where i stopped for lunch before making my way to vilcabamba.

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cuenca y las cajas

September 28th, 2014 · No Comments

like in quito, i stayed at ‘el cafecito’ hostal, which has a relaxed atmosphere, superb breakfast and came this time with a glass covered court yard complete with bicycle themed art on the walls.

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after the chimborazo round, the first days were spent solely relaxing until new arrivals were luring me out to see something of the city.

the new catedral by german born architect juan bautista stiehle is one of the most famous buildings of cuenca, despite its shortened towers. due to a calculation error, the foundations wouldn’t have been able to hold the weight.

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especially at night a nice sight: the illuminated santo domingo church, which we visited during mass.

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on the way back to the hostal, we watched a while as these guys were doing capoeira on the square just next to the hostel. especially the kid was on fire.

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the next day we made a trip to las cajas. it took a while to get the right bus out of town but around noon we finally started our little walk. with me were maria and judith, two musicians from germany who were volunteering around guayaquil with ‘musicians without borders’. so music was the main topic while wandering about, from wagner to musical education.

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a nice diversion was this enchanted looking forest where the girls mingled with the trees.

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our break we made at another laguna, sheltered from the wind and with nice views of the reflections of the clouds in the water.

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we also visited the panama hat museum and factory. ecuador being the original producing country and probably just the way of import to north america over panama led to the name. after some relaxing days and good company it was time to start towards loja.

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riobamba

September 13th, 2014 · No Comments

the downhill continued and by the time i reached riobamba, it was time to peel off some more layers of clothes. jo, a friend from france whom i had met in indonesia, sent me the contact details of borja, a friend of his in town. i ventured through town to find a place that could weld my bottle cage and to get my trousers stitched, before i headed to the house where borja and nathalie live. here with the two of them before saying goodbye.

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they had a spare room they could offer me, and after settling in, eating a fruit salad and taking a shower, we went out to the park for some slacklining. from the park one can see, on a clear day at least, the three vulcanoes in the area: chimborazo, tungurahua and altar. vulcan tungurahua is better viewed from baños, but the outbursts of smoke and ashes looked impressive from the distance as well.

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borja on the slacky slackline.

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as much as i like my stove while travelling, it is nice to prepare food in a proper kitchen. we bought some mushrooms and other stuff which i usually don’t carry with me while biking and made a feast complete with a bottle of wine back at the house.

and since in the last post, there is only little to be seen of chimborazo, here another picture of borja cycling past it a couple of days later to better weather and viewing conditions…

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while blazing the trail to salinas and then some descent of 4000 meters towards the coast. thank you borja and nathalie for a great time and a relaxing evening.

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