Ecuador started out as a rush for us, we hadn’t planned on crossing into our 10th country the day we did but with a lack of options near the Colombia-Ecuador border for desirable places to stay we made a last ditch effort to cross over. It was so much of a rush that entering our 10th country we almost didn’t notice we had hit another mile stone, 10,000 km’s!
We ended up in the northern border town of Tulcán and found ourselves in need of a rest day so we decided to explore the town’s main attraction – the cemetery. Known as the world’s largest topiary garden, a whole 1.2 hectares, started in 1935, the traditional still continues today with the elaborate sculptings set amongst a tranquil cemetery.
Already being in the country’s highest city at 2,950 metres asl, we had heard from other cyclists of a way to get off the PanAm by climbing high into the páramo into the El Angél reserve.
The directions, we were told, was to look for the modern looking church with the gun wielding Hitler midget to find the road that would climb into the reserve. Couldn’t have described it any better myself.
The climb up was gentle and on hard packed dirt road hardly any vehicles passed us and people along the way were very kind. The day’s trip was very calm with the exception of constant harassment by dogs that seem to exponentially increase on very nice backroads.
The views changed significantly as we climbed out of the agriculture fields and reached the high páramo changing trees and shrubs for the high alpine frijales.
The rain started to pour and we needed to find a place to sleep for the night. We were granted permission to pitch our tent in this little shelter at 3,700 m right before the decent back to the PanAmerican.
Mean while in our cozy hut we were visited by this character, Mr. Andean Fox.
The next morning with clear skies and after bumping down the ~8 km cobblestone decent owe reached pavement at the town of Mira, only to be rewarded with amazing views of the surrounding area and another ~27 km of ripping downhill, THE most we have had to date!
Pumping out and incredible 107 km day, in the Andes, we made it around dusk to our friend’s place in Cotacachi. Mike and I had met Bill in Quetzaltenengo, Guatemala as he was one of my housemates during our home stay learning Spanish. We’ve kept in touch over the past year and we’re over joyed to learn we’d be in Ecuador at the same time. Bill and his wife, Chris were kind enough to open their cute rented condo to us and we were happy to explore the Cotacachi area with them during our stay.
The four of us spent a day exploring the beautiful Laguna Cuicocha, hiking around the spectacular crater that has a 200-metre deep lake with the twin volcanic cones at the centre.
After spending a few days with Bill and Chris, we left our bikes with them (thanks guys for looking after our babies) and took off to Mindo with backpacks in tow to meet our friends Kent and Ang (our good friends from home who got married this past summer – check out our blog post ‘Back in Canada‘) who came to visit us for a few days and to get into some serious birding. Ecuador is known as a hot-spot around the world as a birding destination and for our friends it was a perfect excuse to come, visit and find some new species.
The first place we headed to was Mindo, renowned in the birding world as THE destination in Ecuador we spent a few days with some fantastic guides taking in all our feathered friends.
This little guy, the booted racket tail (name aptly describes why he is called this with the ‘boots with the fur’), was one of my favorites and we got to see him up close and personal at a hummingbird garden near Bella Vista Nature Reserve. Interestingly enough BBC was on-site gathering footage for a special on this guy to be out in the fall!
Amongst several other species of humming birds, this beautiful violet green tail also stood out.
And of course it can’t always be about the hummers, here’s a little view of the toucan barbett, one of many other brilliantly colored species we encountered.
After a few days up in the cloud forests around Mindo we headed to the coastal town of Puerto Lopez, where the pace seemed to slow down and life in this fishing village was in tune with sun rise and fall and soccer games on the beach.
One of the reasons we headed this way was to take in the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’ – Isla de la Plata, an island about 37 km’s NW of Puerto Lopez but hosts some of the same famous species that can be viewed on the famous archipelago and can be visited in a day. We were lucky to see a giant pod of spotted dolphins that came to greet us on our way to the island, playing in the wake alongside the boat and showing off with tremendous jumps into the air.
Once reaching the ‘silver’ island, we were told the name came from the color that fisherman saw of the island from the sea, a reflection off the island’s bird colonies poop, we saw several hundred soaring magnificent frigate birds mixed with a collection of boobies and gulls.
Without a doubt our trip would not have been complete without observing the famous blue-footed boobies.
All to be celebrated with sunset mojitos on a beautiful beach.
After only spending a few days on the coast we darted back to the central sierras to take in Pujili’s traditional market. This has become one of my favorite aspects of Latin American culture. Rich with culture, colors, food and smells that can’t even be described in photos, markets are always buzzing with people, bargains and interesting sights.
We had heard about the Quilotoa Loops, a multi-day hike through the backroads of the central sierras that connects several small traditional villages over a span of 200 km’s of trail and roads. The area is secluded and hosts some amazing scenery including the majestic Laguna Quilotoa which also has a circuit around the rim.
We spent the first day in the area hiking the rim trail.
The views were ever changing as the clouds whisper in and out of the crater and light changed throughout the day…
… and we were greeted by a few friendly, curious faces along the way.
The nest day we set out of hike from the village of Quilotoa to Chugchilán, where the trail followed part of the laguna circuit and then descended through fields of corn and potatoes and villages. While we didn’t complete the whole loop we felt we got a good taste of the area and some of the scenery. Once we reached Chugchilán we came across an offer to get us back to Latacunga, the town where we had stored some of our gear to lighten our packs for the hike. Since there isn’t a lot of transportation along the loop and we had already missed the bus out that day and a private ride out would cost somewhere in the region of $60, we took up the offer to ride in the back of a transport driver’s truck along with the rice, lentils and wool back to town …
and then on our way to the Avenue of Volcanoes…