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Armenia, Colombia ACROSS THE EQUATOR to Papallacta, Ecuador

July 22, 2008

 

 

 

After a brief trip back to the U.S. for Ralph’s dad’s memorial, we are back on the road in South America.  (We may have to return soon tho for some more unfinished business!)   We stayed in Armenia a day with our great hosts Pilar and Ganzalo, where we installed new drivetrains on our bikes and got a tour of Gonzalo’s finca (farm).  The next day Gonzalo rode with us through beautiful rolling hills of plantain and coffee farms, then bid us farewell as we dropped to the cane field lowlands to the south.  Gonzalo and Pilar, you were great hosts and we hope you visit us in Colorado someday!

 

We pedaled through the flatlands, by-passing Cali, then climbed skyward to Popayan, known as  “The White City”, where all the buildings of the old town are white-washed!  There we met up with Christian, a Swiss biker who we met last December by Copper Canyon who is also riding from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego.  We are riding with Christian from here to the equator.

 

 

 

From Popayan we traveled south through rolling mountains and low-lands, the combination gave us 4000′ to 7500′ vertical climbs every day.  Before the town of Pasto we climbed relentlessly toward the sky as the mountains got  larger and the road became a narrow shelf chiseled into the side of the steep grass covered slopes.  We had to battle the smoke-belching cargo trucks for the ever decreasing oxygen supply as we climbed to a 7500′ day, our biggest vertical yet on this trip!  We continued through Pasto, then did a scarrreeeaaming 5000′ descent in just 15 miles to the town of El Pedrigal, where we met Tyson, a biker heading north from Patagonia.  We had a great evening with him sharing stories and valuable trip information.  Good luck Tyson, was great to cross paths with you!  The next day brought another big climb through more beautiful patchwork-quilt-like mountains with waterfalls  cascadiing down the canyon walls and on to the town of Ipiales at the Ecuadorian border.  We visited the famous Santuario De Las Lajas, a church built hanging on a canyon wall.  An image of the Virgin Mary was believed to appear here in the 1800’s, which inspired the building of the church. 

 

At that point we bid farewell to Colombia, a country full of the friendliest people we have met to date on this trip, a country with incredibly lush beautiful green mountain terrain, a country that is not at all like the media portrays it, a country we thoroughly enjoyed and a country we highly recommend you visit.

 

We then crossed the border into Ecuador.  The border crossing was a breeze.  There were no fees, just a small amount of paperwork.  After entering Ecuador, we opted to avoid the PanAm highway and took the old PanAm, which is now a dirt road, through a gorgeous national reserve called El Angel Ecological Reserve!  The reserve was high desert-like country with cactus and plants/trees that look like a yucca plant on top of a tall cactus trunk  (they only grow ¼ inch per year, so they are very, very old!).  The high country here reminded us of the high country around Gunnison, Colorado, absolutely spectacular! 

 

After the reserve we dropped about 6000′ (in 15 miles!) back down to the river bottom, only to climb back up again through cane fields, past makeshift sugar cane factories and into the high mountains to the city of Ibarra, perched at 9000′.

 

 

 

From Ibarra we climbed past the snowcapped Volcan Cayambe, the third highest peak in Ecuador (19,100′), into the town of Cayambe and finally to the MIDDLE OF THE EARTH, 0 DEGREES LATITUDE, THE EQUATOR on July 18th!!  We were fortunate to have a beautiful clear day.  It was warm at  9000′ in elevation!  Here we took many photos, called family to announce our arrival of half way around the world and said good-bye to Christian, as he heads off on a different path than us from here!  We hope we will meet up again for more miles down the road.

 

 

From here we headed south, again on the “road-less-traveled”, into yet another totally amazing section of high country, “Reserva Ecologica Cayambe-Coca”, with jaw-dropping views all around us.  We passed through the biggest high mountain basins we have ever seen!!  We seemed to find ourselves slamming on the breaks at every corner to take another picture!!!!  We were able to camp one night high up in the mountains, where the only neighbor was a lost bull in the middle of the night that sounded like he was going to run right over our tent. From here, yes we got to climb some more,  to above 13,000 ‘ in elevation, then plummet down a steep sided valley, past gorgeous high-mountain lakes and into the small village of Papallacta where we immediately checked into a hotel with hot thermal pools out back.  There is unlimited hot mineral water and many hot springs lodges in this small town.  We are staying here for a day or two to soak our tired biking muscles.  Just what the doctor ordered!!  If you are trying to find Papallacta on a map, it is about 50 miles due east of Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

 

As an aside:  A typical day here starts with a breakfast of granola and fruit in our room while we pack the bikes, then biking up and down through mountains (they make ’em big here!) and valleys, stopping for lunch of popcorn, chicken soup (chicken feet included), chicken, rice, salad, and a fruit milk shake for about $2.00 per person (they use U.S. dollars in Ecuador – easy!), then more climbing and dropping, typically racking up 4000′ to 6000′ of vertical per day, then dinner for $2 or $3 and crashing into bed early only to get up and do it all over again!   Care to join us?!?

Also, the food in Colombia was really good, but Ecuador’s food is even better – less fried food and better pastries!  One day we biked past a small house high up in the mountains with wonderful fresh baked bread smells in the air, and look over to see Mamma sending 2 small boys off on the next bus with a large wicker basket of bread to sell in the next town!  (Colombia still has the best coffee though!) 

 

In both Colombia and Ecuador we noticed a thriving middle class, and with  many modern conveniences that we didn’t see in other Latin American countries so far on this trip.  We expected to be roughing it in these countries, but to our surprise we’ve had more conveniences than in Central America.  Both countries seem to have a strong culture unique to their country and strong national pride.  The two countries each seem to be able to stand alone as a country, unique to themselves.

 

From here we plan to head west over a 13,400′ pass (try that with a 100 lb bike – a truly breathtaking experience!!) then south on more dirt back roads in search of more killer high country adventures!!! 

 

Ralph topping out above 13,000`!!!!
Ralph topping out above 13,000`!!!!

 

 

 

 

Bikin’ on (mostly out of breath though!!!),

Pat and Ralph  

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3 comments

  1. Congratulations and God bless! You guys are chugging along! I certainly envy you guys, it looks like a great adventure. I had heard great things about Colombia, and you have backed that up with your impressions, so I guess I’ll have to head down there soon. First, however, we’re heading down to the Dominican Republic in about 3 weeks. Take care!


  2. Looks like Colorado plus 5000 feet! Your blog is getting better than National Geographic. Isn’t it all downhill on the other side of the equator to the tip of Chile? The Sherwin-Williams logo shows the paint dripping off the bottom of the earth. Teaching yoga 2x a week and core stength is improving but time in the saddle is still not enough for those hills! Will stay in touch.

    Mark.


  3. Ralph and Pat,
    Sorry not to be in touch for soo long. The Zeigel’s are all fine here in sleepy Carbondale. I have talked with people in Africa and travelers to Europe and all of them say, “It’s a good time to be an American”. I think only Putin is pissed Obama won – he was so looking for a fight. Hope your finding the locals are in good humor trying to figure out what the hell you two are doing. I must say some of the natives here are wondering and we know you two pretty well. Seriously, I’m so stoked about your trip, travels, sights, experiences, effort, effort, effort, effort…. you both are amazing. I did the town to town ski a few weekends ago but after I was done and tired and was eating food I recognized, I thought of you two and well I proceeded to realize I continue to be a wimp.

    Love you guys and keep it up and we think about you frequently.

    Brad Zeigel



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