And so it ends – Quito to Cuenca and back again.

Quito – Machachi – Cotopaxi- Latacunga – Baños – Riobamba – Alausí- Chunchi – El Tambo/Ingapirca – Cuenca – Quito

We were in Quito for the Christmas and New Year period, looking after 2 lovely dogs in their luxury apartment thanks to TrustedHousesitters (get a 25% Discount here btw #yourewelcome) which was perfect for a bit of festive R&R 😊. We really liked Quito and did many of the touristy bits – including daily volcano spotting, visiting the biggest artisan market in South America and walking up Pichincha – however, tbh, we were mainly enjoying a bit of space, Netflix, time out (from cycling and eachother!) and being able to get things sorted for our immediate futures.

We left Quito with a plan to get to Cuenca in a slightly meandering fashion, taking in any sights that we fancied on the way, shortish days and taking local advice on where to go — basically, we took our own sweet time. However leaving Quito itself was pretty hectic thanks to the crazy bus traffic and everyone going back to work in the new year. Luckily we were only aiming for Machachi, a small place surrounded by no less than 8 volcanoes where we set up camp at the foot of Cotopaxi. The next morning we caught a chilly first light on Cotopaxi, Illinizas and Chimborazo (aka ‘Chumbawamba’). In.Cred.I.Ble.

Chimborazo volcano
Chimborazo getting first light

Before setting up camp that night we’d tried cycling via the North entrance to Cotopaxi but were swiftly put off by the intimidating rocky road that would have accompanied us all the way so instead turned around and headed to Machachi. Both here and in Machachi we chatted to locals who told us that the main entrance was similar terrain and so we hatched a plan to get a ride up to Tambopaxi campsite the next morning – and ride back down. Not necessary. At all. We were slightly gutted because the road was absolutely FINE, better than fine, but it meant that we did have a nice relaxed ride up and loads more time there.

Cotopaxi is the world’s highest active volcano and if you were going to draw a volcano this is probably what you’d be picturing; a perfectly symmetrical snowy peak with some smoke (steam?) coming from the top. So we set up camp in one of the most amazing spots of the trip and promptly stayed two nights instead!

Cotopaxi volcano from the tent
Room with a view anyone?
The perfect volcano – and the perfect camp

MANY photos later… We hopped back on the bikes and rolled all the way down the hill and on flat roads to Latacunga, a city and community that’s been ruined and rebuilt many times by eruptions. We weren’t hanging around in Latacunga and headed off the next day to Baños which had been recommended many times.

Cycling Ecuador

We stayed in Baños for a couple of days again, firstly camping out in the shadow of Tunguahua – *sigh, I know, ‘MORE volcanoes?* but after a rubbish sleep thanks to tent neighbours and dogs we checked into a hostel – with possibly the nicest man in the world showing us around 😊. We relaxed in more thermal pools, nearly lost teeth to melcocha (toffee made by hanging on door knobs, yes, really), hung around with a cool Venezuelan graphic designer and spotted waterfalls. Tough life.

Tungurahua Volcano
Camping in the shadow of Tungurahua

Back on the bikes we had quite a bit of climbing and dirt roads to do first thing, taking a shortcut instead of having to go back on ourselves and adding 20k to the day. We were heading for Hugo in Riobamba, a couchsurf host whose profile looked entertaining. He was entertaining… A university professor who lives with his wife in a 3-bed flat. In slight squalor. We’ve stayed in some interesting places but this was definitely up there! He was a hilarious host, well travelled and opinionated with perfect English and no knowledge of cycling. He invited two colleagues over for a ‘party’ that evening, where he’d be serving traditional Ecuadorian food – turns out it was pretty similar to salmon with cress and those veggie sausage rolls you can buy 😆, I don’t think it was quite what he had in mind either. His obviously thirsty wife was putting away the drinks pretty quickly all night – which weirdly made her Spanish easier to understand and her coffee better. They were proud of their ‘minimalist’ flat which meant that there were 4 chairs for 6 of us – so Matt and I (being polite British…!) stood eating around the coffee table for 3 hours – having just done an undulating long day 😂.

We left Hugo’s before they woke the next morning (there were VERY loud snores coming from the next room…) because a. We had a long day ahead and b. We didn’t fancy hanging around much longer. We headed to Alausí – which, btw, no one understands unless you say ‘AlausEEEE’ – 95 long kilometres away. I really struggled, it wasn’t particularly steep but the hills were just soooooo looooooong and I didn’t have anything in the legs. We bumped into another cyclist (wearing cord trousers… it was getting on for 30 degrees) and perhaps we should have stopped halfway as he was planning to but carried on regardless. Into mist and freezing fog and rain, but also, luckily, straight into the best hostel we’ve stayed in EVER. It wasn’t cheap but it was worth every penny. Sooooooo, we had another day off 😉 – this one was planned though! I spent the morning on the Nariz de Diablo (Devil’s nose) train whilst Edwards headed off on a walk to the same area and when I got back to the hostel (after sampling the local ‘delicacies’ at the market with Ricardo from the train) he was happily snoring away! At this point we’d been getting a bit bored with the same old Almuerzo/Cena (set lunch/dinner) and so went for Chifa instead – Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous in Ecuador, result! Having finished our meal Vincent – the cord-wearing French cyclist – walks in having obviously had the same thoughts about yet another rice, chicken and salad mealand we have a hilarious evening with some locals who are like a comedy double act (think Morecombe and Wise) and return to the Best Hostel Ever wth ‘Ecuadorean Johnny’’s phone number safely saved on my phone.

Trenecuador Nariz del Diablo
Catching the 8am Nariz del Diablo

The next day it was either a 35k ride or a very hilly 95k… so we rewarded our days off with a short ride to Chunchi! And what a beautiful one it was too. The next days ride to El Tambo was beautiful as well, a town close to the Ingapirca ruins. Here we met Risto – the first Estonian anyone’s ever met and ended up cycling with him into Cuenca. Another lovely lovely ride, big long uphill and then a huuuuuge downhill all the way into the city – a nice way to finish this section of the trip!

The ruins at Ingapirca
The ruins at Ingapirca

Cuenca was a great place to spend a couple of days, hanging around with Risto and new friends, exploring the city sights and cafés. It felt like a really nice end to the trip and although I was heading back to Quito this was my cycling finishing point (for now…).

We’d spent a couple of weeks meandering our way down to Cuenca and were now running out of time before my flight back to the UK so we’d decided to get an overnight bus back to Quito. This saves on accomodation costs for a night but also means that you don’t lose a day to travelling – however you’re pretty much guaranteed not to get a decent night sleep! Once back in Quito we spent most of the morning cycling from the south to the north of the city – back to Delaney, Brian and the dogs – which was NOT fun. Admittedly it was a Monday morning rush hour, but we suddenly realised how lucky we’d been over the Christmas period — and how much quieter and easier to cycle around it had been!

After spending the next morning at a hardware shop buying foam, bubble wrap, plastic wrap and tape to pack my bike for the flights home I promptly took to bed… And stayed there for the next 10 hours! I’ve still no idea if it was food or water but something disagreed with me and my stomach. Much D&V and fainting later, picture Matt dismantling and wrapping my bike – and packing all my kit! I HONESTLY couldn’t have got that plane without him – he really wanted rid of me 😉! Rest assured, being wheeled around the airport was nearly as much fun as it looks.

Sick as a dog at the airport
Sick as a dog at the airport

On that note, the goodbye. If you read this blog post, you’ll have seen that we’ve split, we’re going separate ways with me back to the UK (temporarily maybe but at least until I figure out the next adventure/world domination plan) and Matt continuing through South America/until he gets bored. We’re both good and annoyingly grown-up about it all but it’s the end of the road for us as a couple and as a team. Cycle touring is an incredible thing, high highs and low lows and it brings out the best and worst in all of us – it’s tough on your own (I’m sure!) but it’s also tough as a couple and all the intensity that that brings. Although it’s not the triumphant dream ending that we were expecting, we still wouldn’t change a SINGLE SECOND of our year on the bikes.



One thought on “And so it ends – Quito to Cuenca and back again.

  1. Pingback: Trans-Canada: The intro. – Let's go and do fun stuff…

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