Papallacta to Vilcabamba, Ecuador (11,500 miles!!) 7-20-08 thru 8-12-08

July 29, 2008
wild poppies

wild poppies

Mt. Cotopoxi (2nd highest in Ecuador)
Mt. Cotopoxi (2nd highest in Ecuador)Ralph climbed Cotopaxi elevation of 19,200 feet on July 28, made it to the top but was foggy, so no views!llamas along the roadsidePat on road belowLago Quilota! (formed in 1906) volcano!This page loaded 3 pictures on top each other!  So, will try to reload below here!Pat on road below me

After a relaxing day in our own private hot spring (no one else was staying at the hotel!) and two frigid nights in our room with no heat at 11,000′ (5 wool blankets and our zero degree sleeping bags made it manageable), we biked over a 13,500′ pass down to the outskirts of Quito, then up a brutal cobblestone road to Cotopaxi National Park.  We camped at chilly, windy Laguna Limpia Punga at 12,700′ at the base of snowcapped 19,470′ Volcan Cotopaxi, a truly spectacular peak that rises abruptly more than a vertical mile out of the surrounding high plains.  Even though we thought we would at some point in the night be blown off the face of the earth, we were rewarded in the morning by a commanding view of the beautiful peak. 


We biked west out of the park, then around the famous Quilotoa loop, which took us through incredibly steep high country.  It totally blows us away to stop at the edge of the road, look down through our spokes into a steep valley and see the road we will be biking next 3000′ below us, appearing like a long strand of spaghetti tossed haphazardly onto the landscape.  We stayed in Sugchos one night, a peaceful little village set on a mountainside with a killer view of distant Volcan Yanaurcu.  The next day after pedaling through 3” moon dust along a very dirt road, we topped out at Lago Quilotoa, a lake situated at 13,000′ in a dormant volcano crater  a totally incredible view!  We planned to camp at the crater rim, but the high winds, cold temps and total lack of flat ground drove us to a nearby hostel.  The hostel turned out to be a great choice.  We met other travelers here from France,Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Switzerland and Santa Cruz, California.  We sat around the wood stove to stay warm and drank tea, coffee and beer and exchanged travel stories!  ( We were told of a teacher and his family of 7 children that are now biking across the U.S. for their summer vacation!!! )

Lago Quilotoa (crater lake) formed in 1906!

Lago Quilotoa (crater lake) formed in 1906!

Wrong – lake was formed after the 1797 eruption that blew the top off the volcano.  We are at 13,200 feet!
Market day at Zumbahua!

Market day at Zumbahua!

Lots of colorful indigenous people at this market!
Loading the llama with market purchases for the walk home!

Loading the llama with market purchases for the walk home!

We continued around the loop stopping in the village of Zumbahua for the Sunday market, full of indigenous folks in their beautiful local dress, buying and selling everything from bananas to Nike baseball caps to live pigs and sheep!  We then continued over 2 more 13,000′ passes.  Then while dropping more than 5000′ in 10 miles, were passed by our friends Thomas and Sally, whom we had met at the Hostel the night before!  Ralph rode no-handed for an impromptu back-window-of-the-car photo shoot at 30 MPH!  We dropped into Latacunga, and immediately were greeted by our friends, Luli & Gonzalo (also met the night before at the hostel!)  We  had dinner with them and found out all we could from their travels throughour upcoming countries of Peru, Bolivia, Chili and Argentina!


After a day in Latacunga, Ralph decided to climb 19,000′ Cotopaxi which we had camped near a few days earlier!  He rented gear and hired a guide and away we went to the refugio at 15,500′ on the flank of Cotopaxi.  Upon arrival at the refugio, to  our surprise, we were again greeted by our friends, Thomas and Sally!!!  (They promised to send us the pics of Ralph’s no-handed ride the day before!)     Pat stayed in the refugio, while Ralph and the guide climbed the mountain, equipped  with headlamps, ice axes and crampons, leaving at 1:00 AM and topping out at 6:00 AM!  Unfortunately, it was totally foggy on top, so not great photos for all the effort!!!   

smokin´ volcan

smokin´ volcan Volcan TungurahuaFrom Latacunga, we headed south to Ambato, where we stored the bikes for the day, hopped a bus and dropped 3000' to Banos, a village at the base of active Volcan Tungurahua. The volcano is very active – belching huge gray plumes of ash continuously and periodically covering nearby roads with mud and lava flows! It's mind blowing that the locals just carry on with life at, and foolish tourists flock to, the base of a time bomb!!! But, what the heck – the hot springs are great and the international restaurants are a great break from the typical rice/beans/banana/chicken dinners! Of course, we couldn't resist, and had to rent 2 mountain bikes to bike the 15 miles of road downhill along the river from town with numerous waterfalls all along the way!) From Ambato, we biked west up the flanks of Volcan Chimborazo, the highest peak in Ecuador at 20,800'. We camped at a chilly 12,000' with a commanding view of the mountain. The next day we traveled around the far side of the peak, up to 13,500' then dropped like a rock down into Riobamba. We took a side trip to Aluasi and rode the train (actually a converted bus!) down the “Devil's Nose”, a hair-raising ride down numerous switchbacks to the canyon floor, in the middle of nowhere, dropped off and left for dead for several hours by the river, then picked up again and hauled back up to the top. Lunchtime??? Yes!!!(Yes, it`s real!!!)They cut the meat off the pig as you order and fry it right there!!! (good thing I grew up on a farm!!!)view of Pacific ocean from our campsite

We spent the next few days rolling through the high country south of Riobamba, camping at sites with incredible vistas all the way to the Pacific Ocean, eventually ending up in Cuenca, a city with tons of great colonial architecture.  After Cuenca, we climbed into the fog and spent the next several days biking and camping in intermittent drizzle/rain and just plain clouds.  It was the type of weather that is so hard to bike in – you spend half your time either taking off or putting on clothes to regulate your body temperature.  The traffic dropped off dramatically, a pleasant switch, for we had been mostly on the PanAm since Riobamba.


While eating the best burger since Alaska (a huge patty with a pork sausage on top!) in a restaurant in Loja, we met a biker from Quito.  Marlo first eyed up our bikes with great interest, then entered the restaurant and started talking with us.  He spent more than 4 months biking his own country, Ecuador. He has published a book that describes his trip and contains great photos of the Pacific coast, the Amazon region, and the central mountains! (We realized how diverse Ecuador is and how much more there is to see here and that we had only seen the central mountains!  Ecuador is truly the most diverse and scenic country on our trip thus far!)  Marlo now spends his time giving lectures on his trip, promoting his book and selling stickers, photos and postcards of his trip to raise money for his next venture – biking South America and Africa!  (buenas suerta, Marlo!) 


number 13 tilling with oxen

number 13 tilling with oxen

From Loja, we dropped like a rock to Vilcabamba, in a much more tropical area.  We are staying at a hostel here surrounded by tropical plants and orange trees, with a swimming pool, jacuzzi tubs, a sauna, breakfast included and even hot showers, all for $28 per night.   We’ll relax a bit before venturing on to our 11th country, Peru! 


Ecuador has truly been amazing- our favorite foreign country to-date on this trip (they just keep getting better!).  The people of Columbia were the friendliest, (Ecuadorians were second), but the Ecuadorian landscape is unbelievably huge!  We will climb for 2 to 4 hours, topping out at a 13,500′ pass with a basin in front of us 5 times bigger than anything we’ve ever seen in Colorado!  Nearby will be a snowcapped volcano (or an active smoking one!) that juts up from the surrounding countryside a vertical mile! 


The indigenous people of Ecuador are very beautiful – typically a foot or 3 shorter than us, jet black hair in long braids, a black or green wool felt small brimmed hat (both men and women wear them), a solid dark colored wool poncho, the men with dark pants, the women with colorful blouses and dresses, and all with black leather shoes.   Most of them scratch out a meager living on tiny steep-sloped plots of land, raising corn, vegetables and a few sheep, pigs, chickens or cows.  They typically do all the work by hand – even tilling the soil with huge hoes.  The women and children usually do this back breaking work.  The women do a tremendous amount of hand labor, and if they have a baby, the baby is sitting in the field beside them or slung on their back with a sarong while they work!  It was a common scene to pass an elderly man and woman digging a ditch by hand alongside the road.  They would stop, smile and greet us.  (Just think of your grand-mother digging a ditch – then try to imagine her smiling about it!)  Most of them live in concrete or mud huts with thatched roofs at elevations up to 13,000′ – with no heat, there are no trees left here to burn!)


We never felt unsafe in Ecuador, even when we walked through a suburb of Quito at 9 at night.  We did feel a bit in danger on the highways though – it appears the Ecuadorians took some driving lessons from the Mexicans!  There is so much more to see in this country, that it, of course has to go on our list of “must come back to”!


We now have our sites set on Peru!!!

Bikin’ On,

Ralph & Pat




  1. Alright,I have to ask already…Who is the blog writer Ralph or Pat or the both of you. You guys ought to write a book about your adventures. Your choice of adverbs is stupendous!

  2. All I can say is WOW! I agree with Deb, you two should write a book. Safe Travels! Barb

  3. Wow!

    thought I was getting no new updates the shut down and restarted to this wonderful story. got blown off the road by a semi a few weeks ago on my road bike on the way back from the hardware store…didn’t have my glasses mirror on and needed to get off the road..plenty of time..having too much fun cranking along about 25mph in my big chainring..hugging the shoulder..hit the pavement hard before he was even past..he didn’t stop..cheekbone showing through the ripped skin..knuckles ground to the bone..sprained the hell out of my right thumb and broke a few ribs! only the brakehood was damaged on my bicycle..didn’t hurt arms or legs..painted lots of kids the next day with hands bleeding into blue gloves and face weeping pus through all the stitches and abrasion..what a sight. face made rapid recovery but my poor thumb is still sore..broken ribs were very nasty in bed and a challenge to my teaching yoga without demonstration. have had record summer here at gallery..very encouraging.

    the Drapers are visiting and we’re biking tomorrow. paving is finished and the big trucks are gone but we’ll be staying on the dirty roads and trails for now. stay clear of them trucks! Mark

  4. Not only a book but I would travel to where they live if they gave a commmunity talk about their travels! Ralph this has been great to follow along with you and Pat.

    So, what are the two of you going to do for an encore???

    Be Safe!

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