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entering ecuador

First impressions of Ecudaor…

Tulcan Fire Station, a mere 6 kilometres into Ecuador, is a welcome refuge after my ten (and a half) day dash to the border. The bomberos give me a bed in the women's dormitory where there is evidence that another cyclist is already in residence.

The bomberos morning bout of training isn't too rigorous.

The chief takes me to a friend's bicycle workshop to see to my wonky ailing rear hub.

More wheel work - there is no end to my bicycle woe at the moment.

I'm glad to see the professionals need to stick their tongue out, too.

It's a tiny workshop - full of a motley collection of bikes - with no outside indication that it exists.

Basic tools...

... and a wall of photos that I took to be some remote cycling hero...

...but turned out to the be the man himself.

The humble small town mechanic turns out to be some kind of cycling Ecuadorean champion.

Back at the fire station I meet Kate, an Irish lass that's travelled all the way from China on her trusty bike, 'the missile'.

The bomberos insist I visit the Tulcan Cemetry and it is there that I am introduced to the Ecuadorean penchant for eccentric topiary.

Tthe Ecuadorean Government has declared the Tulcan Cemetery a national cultural monument...

...and you have to admit it is quite striking.

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This heavily armed dwarf is a bizarre icon to the breed of cyclist that craves dirt - it marks the turn off the Panamericana on the outskirts of Tulcan that leads up across the paramo to the El Angel reserve - and has already appeared in many a cycling blog. The figure introduces me to Ecuador's other penchant - that for melodramatic statues. I ask a crowd of men sitting beneath what or who it is supposed to be and one replied that it represents the original indigenous inhabitants of Ecuador. I wasn't convinced by that explanation.

Ecuador is green and lush...

...and heavily cultivated.

As I climb...

...an army of frailejones commence their march across the hills.

Gratuitous bike photo.

Always something new to admire.

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I spend another night - third in a row - in a comfy warm bunk bed in the El Angel reserve mountain refuge. Outside it's chilly and mountain misty.

The frailejones here are taller and more prolific than in Colombia.

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Next morning I drop down the other side of the range where frailejones give way again to patchwork hills...

...and eventually arrive at the township of El Angel where I am immediately attracted by the bright, shiny and surprisingly empty food market.

Roast pig is the dish on offer. (Vegetarians best avert their eyes from this vision.)

And pretty yummy it is, too.

The town is in a state of charming dilapidation.

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It's a long downhill run out of El Angel down to the Panamericana. Six kilometres of the Pana before diverging onto a quiet paved back road for a warm sunlit afternoon amble...

...leading to a campsite in a bucolic field with a volcano view.

The food in Ecuador is tastier than in Colombia and my favourite roadside treat is chochos...

... a collection of tasty bits and pieces...

...piled in a bowl and doused with lime juice, tomato juice and aji, a spicy chilli sauce.

I emerge back onto the Pana at Otavalo, a town famous for it's markets where you can, if you choose, pick up colourful and warm woollens ... but I resist.

The local people are famous for their hand woven textiles.

A fishy detail.

market

The food market is worth browsing, too, and the animal market - where you can buy a dog, a horse, a goat, a pig, whatever - is also famous but I skip it...

... and head back for the hills. Ecuador is infamous for its cobble stones. I climb...

...17 kilometres on cobbled road before arriving...

... at the Laguna Morjanda just in time to camp for the night. I avoid the designated camp site where a work gang involved in a reafforestation project are billeted in favour of the quieter lake shore. It is not long, however, before the curious boys appear, supposedly searching for rabbits. They hover behind the bushes close to my camp until I invite them to come and ask what questions they will. A lengthy interrogation ensues, conducted while I pitch my tent and cook a meagre meal of pasta seasoned with salt and garlic - activities that are minutely observed. Eventually, the lads, after a private consultation in Quechua, their native tongue, bid me goodnight. I have finished my dinner and done the dishes when they reappear in the darkness bearing a container full of tasty hot soup and another of toasted corn kernels.

Another gratuitous bike photo. Nice road. Nice landscape.

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Ha Ha. Someone with a sense of humour put this sign at the top of the pass.

Looking down over the other side, I wonder what all that stuff is down there.

The question is soon resolved at closer quarters. Roses and other flowers are the local crop.

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Soon I'm back on the Pana and riding over the Equator. Yes, the Equator. It's over four years since I've set foot in the southern hemisphere but I can't say it feels much different.

A series of monuments each claiming that it is on true 0 dots the Pana. Australia appears oddly trucated on this rather unglamourous concrete globe.

I soon diverge yet again and commence another bout of climbing. Before long I am looking acorss the valley back to the mountain range I scaled in the morning.

Did I mention that Ecuador favours the cobblestone?

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Glorious mountains.

Glorious sky.

Glorious light.

Two girls on horse back led me to their village...

... where I find a flat perch to pitch my tent. As darkness falls Quito's lights twinkle in the valley below but at dawn a blanket of clouds covers the city. An hour or two of cobbled descent brings me to El Quinche...

... where an old train line...

...has been converted into a lovely 30 kilometre cycle path leading all the way to Tumbaco.

The locals in El Quinche try to bully me into riding on the Panamericana, claiming that I will certainly be robbed on this cycle path. They were so insistent that I imagined there were probably hordes of homeless crackheads camped out in the prolific tunnels - but there weren't.

In fact, I didn't see a soul.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Liron | April 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Stunning photos and well written. Your journey is truly inspiring.

    Liron

  2. Sarah | April 29, 2013 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Lovely. Some fine memories and a little road longing. And those Hedges!!!

  3. yadyra | May 22, 2013 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    HERMOSA TOMA DEL CUERPO DE BOMBEROS DE TULCAN MUY BIEN ANNA

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  1. […] see some unmissable photos of the El Angel paramos click on these links: Sarah & James, Cass, Anna and Tom & […]

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