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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.


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


with these views of almost all surroundings of vilcabamba.


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.


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…


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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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 of the tower’s original design.


Especially at night a nice sight: the illuminated Santo Domingo Church, which we visited during mass.


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.


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.


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


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


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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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.


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.


Borja on the slacky slackline.


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…


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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Around Chimborazo

After the Quilotoa lagoon, it was only a small downhill to Zumbahua, where i arrived during the busy saturday market. Hats are a must there and the streets were filled with people in their tradional clothes, mostly colourful while young and old wearing a fitting headpiece. I changed my brake pads which was drawing a interested audience and it took a while longer while answering so many questions. After a late breakfast, i started the paved climb out of the valley.


It would be the last stretch of paved road i would see for a couple of days before taking the turn-off to the dirt road to Angamarca. Along the way i saw some llamas grazing, a view i guess will become common from now on.


I stayed a night in Angamarca after a remarkable downhill of around thousand meters in altitude. The next day continued up and down until i came to El Empalme. I only wanted to stay for a break at a tienda, but after some chatting to the family and playing a concert, to which a truck filled with people stopped at the road side, i accepted an invitation by the family to stay the night.


We took a walk through the mountains past blackberry plantations to their farm, where they grow corn, fruits and have several animals. Kids seem to learn quickly here. After trying to get hold of one of the chickens, this girl, after being shown it only once by her mother, was able to do it herself.


Before dinner i wanted to go for another walk and, climbing the hill in the back of the family’s house, the cloudcovered coastal plains came into view.


The views grew more and more promising, and i continued uphill and that planned little walk to stretch out my legs turned almost into a proper hike.


The light slowly started to fade and i just sat down for a while and watched the sun set.


Until a group of children were making its way to my locations. Which turned out to be mostly the children of the family, some of them just returning from a soccer tournament and the fiesta down at El Corazon, sent by their father to look for me, as they were concerned i might have got lost. Chatting while returning to the house with the oldest daughter about her study plans and universities in Germany, we arrived in time for dinner and the obligatory blackberry juice. Perfect for me, but i’m not to sure the kids are still excited about it after having it three times a day during the season.

The next morning was pretty relaxed riding but later it was a long climb before reaching Simiatug and i was glad to find a good guest house to rest. A good decision as it turned out as the next day started with an even heavier climb and, nearing 4000m, the heaviest wind i have encountered yet on this trip, joined in. Since the road was leaving in switchbacks towards the pass, it meant i could cycle with only little effort in one directions and had difficulty even pushing my bike into the other. Some encouragement came from a bus driver who stopped to hand me some caramel out of the window.

Through a windy and cloudy world the road changed to cobblestone after cresting the pass but after fifteen kilometers led me to a paved road, where i turned east towards Chimborazo. The last couple of days cycling took its toll and after only some kilometers from the main road between Ambato and Guranda and the turn-off to Riobamba i pushed the bike off the road into a barren country to set up camp. The rain luckily waited until i had pitched the tent and while i was cooking dinner changed to snow, which seemed the fitting weather for this sort of country.

Having no idea how far i was from the mountain, as i could hardly see two hundred meters, i was at least so lucky that for some fleeting moments i could have a glimpse of Chimborazo. The curtains drew for a couple of seconds but, by the time the camera was out, there was hardly anything to see anymore.


Passing the visitor’s centre, the long downhill starts towards Riobamba. my campspot was around 4400 meters and i was packed in four layers of clothes. By the time i reached the next small village and was received with the words: “it’s cold, isn’t it”, i could only smile and started to peel off two layers of cloth as it was getting too warm.

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Quilotoa lagoon

Starting from the panamericana at Lasso, i followed the paved road to Sigchos. After being a bit boring for the first ten kilometers, this changed luckily soon.


The second part to the lagoon is also popular with hikers. But as the road is taking a rather long way around the mountain ridges with the views staying mostly the same, i was happy to have the bicycle with me to get me around the next corner a bit quicker. The first kilometers out of town i was riding with a boy who was just coming out of the colegio and asked me if i would be going the same way. The pedals of his bike were gone but he still made the hour ride to the colegio everyday. The sky is something most people arriving in Ecuador are mentioning as being special. Maybe it is the colour or the clouds or the combination with the mountains, but it keeps being interesting.


Quilotoa is not only the name of the lagoon but also of the village next to it. I found it rather strange that there is a gate at its entrance where people who want to enter have to pay two dollars. The village itself is rather a cluster of shops and hotels next to the big wooden viewing platform. Not too excited about the atmosphere, i decided to camp slightly above the lagoon outside of the village. I found a place sheltered from the wind and was rewarded with this sunset.


In the morning though, i had to scrape off the frost first before packing the tent.


And since i was still close, i paid another visit to the laguna in the morning. If you enter the village before seven, nobody seems to be in charge of collecting the entrance fee.


I met another group of germans which i met on the bus ride back from Quito to Cotopaxi and they were about to start the walk around the lagoon. Having already spent some time the last evening and seeing it now again in the morning, i decided to push on and after a quick downhill i was in Zumbahua, from where the next part of this leg around the vulcan Chimborazo starts.

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It was another cobblestone road, worse than the one leading to the Laguna de Mojanda, and steeper in parts. I didn’t make it to the park’s entrance that day and set up camp, from where i had no views of the vulcan yet, but a nice sunset with the valley filled with clouds beneath.


The morning was cold and very windy. The cold left sometime after, but the wind would stay with me the whole time. The road had changed to sandy gravel by now, which was only slightly better than the cobblestone. By ten o’clock i reached a hostal and restaurant. Having skipped breakfast while battling the wind to get my tent and other stuff packed, this came in handy. Their breakfast filled the whole table, with eggs, bread, fruit, yoghurt, cereal, pots of tea and coffee… and i took my time to do justice to each of these offerings. The big glass windows not only kept out the cold wind but also allowed for some views of Cotopaxi.


The road continued for a while until it reached the main road coming from the southern entrance of the park and leading towards the refuge from where tours start to the summit. I had met a group of germans during breakfast which had just returned from this icy cold world after they had reached the summit in the early morning hours. They spend around five minutes on top as the weather conditions where anything else than inviting. I made a small detour to the Laguna de Limpiopungo and arrived at one of the two campgrounds within the park, from which this view can be had.


I think i was a little distracted and the road conditions might have played a part as well. When i stopped and looked at the back of my bike, i realized that the tent was gone. I had no idea how, as with this setup, the tent never in four years of travelling has come near to falling off. Because there was hardly any opportunity that someone could have stolen it, i quickly retraced my steps to the hostal where i had breakfast, as i was pretty sure that the tent was still with me at that time. I didn’t see anything. What next? No tent is no good!! I hitchhiked to the park’s museum and asked the people there to call the entrance to see if some honest person had dropped it off. Also no positive answer. By that time i wasn’t so sure anymore that i still had it with me during breakfast. So i cycled back to last night’s campspot, passing the northern entrance on my way where there was also no sign of it. Slowly it was getting night and i was sorely missing the possibility to just set up camp on the side of the road and leave all problems for the day to come.


Instead i had to make do with the accommodations that were around. A first stop at a hacienda with a fifty dollar price tag got me going to search further with a recommendation for another more economic guest-house. I was still in a bad mood and surprised how a material loss could still get to me that much. Well, being angry at myself and the loss of the possibility to camp played a big part as well. In this mood sometimes decisions made aren’t the best ones. I took a wrong turn and the road ended up at a driveway from which barking and five pairs of glowing eyes welcomed me. I turned around but found no one to ask for directions. Until i had retraced my steps as far as a small village where i finally could ask and was informed that i had another hour of riding ahead of me. I arrived in the end and found out that it is only slightly cheaper than the first place. But three meals included meant that as soon as i arrived and sat on the tabel, dinner was served. The next morning after breakfast i met the group of germans again, which had climbed Cotopaxi the other day, while making plans to return to Quito. As the staff wasn’t helpful with finding out numbers of the park and inquiring about my tent, i was happy to hear that there was a direct transport to Quito and enough people to share the cost with.

I went back to the ‘el cafecito’ hostel and had a nice welcome back lunch with Tony, the canadian owner, and Frida who worked there for a while and is now on the brink to return to Germany after being accepted to study medicine after seven years of waiting. I once more called the national park the next day from where i received only little assistance. But by then i had already settled with the idea to buy a new tent. I still had the adresses of several outdoor shops in walking distance from the time i was shopping for warmer clothes. The first three shops weren’t helpful to raise my hope to find an adequate replacement, with usually cheap fabrics and glas-fiber poles. But the fourth one, tatoo outdoor, was well stocked and with a fellow cyclists as advisor, i was back at the hostal for lunch with a tent i felt i could rely on to deal with the weather conditions on this trip.

Returning the same way i had come, i didn’t spend another night at the hostal and hopped on the bike as soon as i was done with packing. Having again good weather and views helped to lift my spirits and get over the last bits of sour feelings about the material loss.


And since i couldn’t the last time around, i spent one night at the campground closest to Cotopaxi.


Three days later than expected and a short trip back to quito later, i exited the park and glided down the newly paved stretch back towards the panamerican, which i left shortly afterwards towards Sigchos and the Quilotoa lagoon.




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Quito no. 2

Arriving again in time for the sunday ciclopaseo, i saw some now familiar faces from last week’s ride, like this daughter-father duo. The girl had an incredible voice which was a real surprise when hearing it first from the a distance and seeing the person it belongs to later.


Just next to the el ejido park is the “casa de la cultura”, a big venue with all sorts of cultural events. This day with a group of indigenous from the Cotopaxi province, my next destination.


Last time i only saw a marching band making advertisement for the street “la ronda”, this time i had time to visit it…


On my way to the urban park omandá. Kind of like a park in a building, with exhibitions, playgrounds, swimming pools and a roof terrace.


For some smoother climbing i changed the chainrings and while looking for a bikeshop to service the hubs, i met carlos at “construbici” and he let me use his workshop instead.


He once ran a “casa de ciclistas”, but as he is now the father of two, he only runs the open workshops next to his bikeshop, but with plans to host cyclists again when his kids are older.

Like Tempelhof in berlin, the old airport in the northern part of quite is now open to the public as a park.


I went there with emilio, whom i met on the boat from Panama to Colombia. On that afternoon was an earthquake in the north of Quito which we didn’t feel while riding our bikes and just heard about afterwards.

There are quite a few vegetarian restaurants which offer set lunch specials.


I inquired about the train out of town to the south. But as it nowadays is solely a tourist train and you have to pay both ways, which adds up to 36 dollars, i took the cyclepaths as far as they went and took smaller streets until the end of the city. From there it is only some more kilometers on the panamericana until the turn-off to the Cotopaxi national park.

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Cuyabeno wildlife reserve

The trip started with a bus ride to the Carcelen terminal, from where a night bus would take me to Lago Agrio. I could sleep a little and, while still feeling battered, the start into the morning was alright. I spent some time looking for a small bag, as i am travelling without a bagpack and so it came to pass that i’m now the owner of an ’emelek’ bag, the name of the soccer team from Guayaquil. The group met at a restaurant where other people were also waiting to be picked up. After a two hour bus ride we arrived at the end of the road, from where further progress into the national park is only possible by boat. During the lunchbreak we experienced heavy rain, and while it continued to do so during the first half of the trip, it was nothing compared to earlier when it took us ten minutes to muster the courage to overcome the five meters to get back to the bus. At the beginning we encountered some large ferries loaded with cars and even huge trucks, but the further we went down the Rio Aguarico and then turning off to the Rio Cuyabeno, the less boats we encountered.

When we arrived at the lodge, another group readied themself for some jungle adventure. We weren’t too disappointed not to share in this activity after around twenty hours of travelling. The lodge is simple, yet comfortable and besides the clearing for the huts, the rainforest around it is almost untouched.

The mornings started with watching animals directly from the lodge while, either waiting for all people to get ready for a trip or for breakfast. Some groups of monkeys were passing by, frogs could be found in our bungalows and one person even had a net to catch butterflies for a closer inspection before letting them go their way.


Some of the animals were far away and we used our cameras in combination with the binoculars to get a better shot. Our daily visitors included these turtles, which in this photo look squeezed together like after a traffic accident rather than enjoying a relaxed sunbath.


Or the hoatzin, which is a descendant from one of the earlist birds on this planet, the archaeopteryx.


One afternoon we visited a indigenous family who still upholds the traditions of the region and we learned how they use the plants of the area for construction, their kitchen utensils, as food source and as a dye, which our guide demonstrated.


We saw lots of birds which were too far away to take a good photo without a strong tele. Soon we stopped hunting for photos and were rather taking in the atmosphere and were content with the views through the binoculars. But at the home of the family, we could make up for the missing photos with their pet bird.


I don’t know anything about wing clipping, but i didn’t see that animal fly and have only seen it climb along the stairs while clinging to the wood with its beak.

We spent the day walking around the plantations and then learned about the process of making pan de yuca. We cut down a yuca tree and extracted the roots from the ground, then washed and grated them.


The water had to be squeezed out which the lady of the house did with the help of a net-like contraption made out of the bark of a special tree,


before the yuka flour was put on a hot clay plate, spread and compacted with the help of a wooden spatula and one half of a fruit-shell, not unlike that of a coconut.


and without addition of any other ingredients was baked into a tortilla.


On a small table, chocolate, pineapple jam and a some spicy salad were offered with it as a snack. More food could be found in the water, and on our way back captain Fabian caught a piranha so we could have a look at these teeth up close.


The meals in the lodge were usually local dishes and the cook explained before each meal what we were about to eat. During one dinner, questionaires were handed to the people who were to leave the next day to help improve the trip experience with their comments. Somehow i was handed one as well and filled it out a little to early, as my comment on improvements included the wish for an unmotorized canoe trip and the next day we had two of them. With just paddles we went exploring small sidestreams with overhanging vegetation and sometimes obstacles like fallen trees in the water which we had to overcome with speed or with simply pushing the canoe over it. The reward were some animals we hadn’t seen so far like this snake.


Our local guide introduced us to some medicinal trees, from which the bark is used to cure stomache aches while other plants were used for birth control. There is even a tree whose bark is supposed to help overcome a hangover. And of course the ayahuasca, which helps the shaman to reach a state of mind in which the medicinal use of plants are revealed to him to cure the sick.

The last morning before leaving Cuyabeno was dolphin day. First we saw a single grey one and then a group of three pink dolphins. Their only showing a small part of their body while they surface to breath.


Their name comes from the change of colour they undergo when they swim large distances, not unlike our red cheecks we get while doing sports. The dolphin quickly built up a reputation among our group of being anything but a tame cutie. After our guide told us he eats caymans up to a certain size, as well as battling the paiche, with a size up to three meters the biggest fish in these parts, nobody felt like swimming with dolphins anymore.

Though we had already hunted for caymans while out in the canoe once during the night, we had another chance to see them around the lodge. The cook was throwing rests of chicken in the water and after glowing orange eyes were moving closer almost without a sound, we could see more of the animals while they were swallowed the pieces of meat. During the following nightwalk we saw more animals up close as they didn’t seem to mind our presence or the flashlights much. Very common were large antennas.


Here a scorpion spider.


And some frogs which added their voice to the nightly orchestra.


Before taking the boot to leave Cuyabeno, we had a swim in the river as well as some fun with the swing rope and didn’t mind if any piranhas or pink dolphins were in the murky water around us.


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Arriving in the mariscal district, it could hardly be a more drastic change from the last evening spent around Mojanda. Bars and discos with booming music and people running to and fro. It took a while to find a hostel as many were booked out. I was glad to get an early rest and enjoy the ciclopaseo on sunday the next morning. An axis of main roads from north to south is closed for motorized traffic. Along the way are many places of interest and street artist inviting to make a stop. So it took some time until i reached the old town and its central square, where a band was playing folk music.


A little further, a marching band was making its way towards ‘la ronda’, a street filled with cafés, restaurants and little specialized stores. All the while people were cleaning the street in front of them to advertise a clean city.


Only on my way back did i see the basilica from afar,


and stopped for a closer look.


The afternoon was spent hunting for warmer clothes, as routes over 4000 meters are yet more to come. On my way back, a monument reminded me that during the last day towards Quito i had crossed the equator without any visible sign on the road. At the “parque elijo” with a sculpture of Alexander von Humboldt.


One recommendation i received was not to miss out on the Cuyabeno national park. So i made my way to the bus terminal to catch a night bus to “lago agrio”, from where another bus and a boot would take me into the very heart of the park along the Rio Aguarico which joins the Rio Napo, a tributary to the Amazonas.