DAY ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN
Cotopaxi to Quito
Distance: 38 miles
Av speed: 9.6 mph
Moving time: 3 h 44
Trip time: 6 h 58
After a night of prayer and manifestation that we would be able to see Volcan Cotopaxi, it was a great shame to wake up with our visibility still restricted to about 10m and no volcano in site. Freezing cold and a bit glum with yesterday’s climb up to Cotopaxi in vain, we decided to spend the night in Quito so we could clean our smelly clothes and eat some food other than pasta!
It didn’t help when we bumped into a local who mentioned in the dry season you could see 12 other volcanoes, including Chimborazo and Quilotoa. Resigned to the fact we would never see a volcano in Ecuador, we began the pedal out of the park to Quito.
Suddenly, having only pedalled a mile, we turned a corner and the clouds began to lift, meaning we could see the base of the Volcano and even a bit of snow! Immensely excited we waited, praying that more clouds would lift. Slowly but surely they did and half an hour later we were both stood in shock at the magnificent sight before us. Standing at 5,897m high and with no other mountains nearby she towered over us, with her snow-capped summit and red middle hugely impressive and perhaps even more so by the fact we had been so unlucky with the weather for the past three days.
After two hours of constantly stopping to take pictures we eventually were out of the park, peddling downhill for the next 20kms on a dirt track with no cars and with a huge volcano behind us – we couldn’t have been happier!!
Our tranquil country backroad eventually came to an end and we then had a 15km climb on a four-lane motorway into the nation’s capital to look forward to. Not for the first time wishing we had masks to filter out all of the black exhaust fumes we eventually made it to Quito. A hugely impressive sight as it sprawled as far as the eye could see, with the huge Volcan Pichincha standing high above it.
Checked into our nicish hotel and spent the evening exploring Quito’s Old Town and the seemingly endless number of squares and churches all dating from the 16th and 17th Centuries!
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE
Quito to Camping Mitad Del Mundo (the Equator)
Distance: 45 miles
Average speed: 10.2 mph
Moving time: 5 h 10
Door to door: 7 hours
Not wanting to rush out of one of South America’s oldest Spanish cities we decided to wake up early and take the cable car that stretches high above Quito with the summit at 4,000m. After taking a few photos and enjoying the incredible views over the city most people would probably head back down on the cable car but for some reason we had decided to bring our bikes, swapping the relaxing ride down for an adrenaline filled hour bumping down a very steep mountain path. The ride down itself was awesome, filled with incredible views and we felt like we got to see the real Quito cycling back in through the barrios on the outskirts. There was however one slight thing missing, the fact we hadn’t earnt the right to zoom downhill so maybe it tasted a little bit less sweet as normal.
Needing to buy a few bits and bobs, we didn’t leave the city until 4 o’clock, meaning another enjoyable evening riding in the dark with some serious elevation gain from 3,500 down to 1,500 and then back up to 3,000. We had set the target of reaching a popular camp site so were forced to keep going, although it was definitely worth as the man who ran it welcomed us as if we were his long lost sons and offered us a spot in an outhouse, saving us time putting up the tent.
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN
The Equator to Los Andes
Distance: 73 miles
Average speed: 10.5 mph
Moving time: 6 h 43
Door to door: 10 hours
Despite getting to bed fairly late last night by our standards, (anything beyond 9 pm) we were up early ready for a big push towards the border.
We struggled to leave however as our hosts, Valentin and Fernando gave us a full tour of their house, including lots of photo opportunities, and asked us endless questions about our bikes and England. They must be up there as the nicest people we have met all trip, and even loaded us up with fruit before we finally said farewell and headed for the Mitad del Mundo, the centre of the earth!!
Without knowing it we had actually crossed the equator late last night and needed to first return to the Southern Hemisphere to enter the site where a huge sun dial marks the equator. From the ‘fin del Mundo’ to the ‘mitad del Mundo’ it was an awesome moment to think how far we’d come all under our own steam. The site itself was actually really interesting, with the proceeds from visitors going towards a campaign to redraw the world map to make it horizontal. Their argument being that the current world map puts the northern hemisphere above the southern automatically, and is therefore biased toward northern superiority. An interesting thought!
Our last full day in Ecuador was then spent doing what we had done for much of the last month in the Andes. First a huge descent right down to 1,800 metres, stopping at the pretty town of Ibarra for Almuerzo (lunch), before a relentless climb back up to 3000 metres. We didn’t begin the climb until it was getting dark, so it was headphones in and three hours of gritty climbing before we finally got the tent up near the small village of Los Andes, back up to 2,500 metres.
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND FOURTEEN
Los Andes to roadside camp spot 20kms south of Pedregal
Distance: 65 miles
Average speed: 10 mph
Moving time: 6 hours
Door to door: 10 hours
The first battle of our final day in Ecuador came early as torrential rain made getting out of the tent that bit harder. Soaking wet and not in the best spirits we then faced our second challenge, cycling the 70kms to the border with no money and only a few pieces of bread as we had run out of dollars the night before.
Luckily a nice lady took pity on us when we asked if she took card (she didn’t!) and loaded us up with apples and bananas.
Although we have really enjoyed our brief stint into Ecuador, the cycling had been pretty relentless and so too had the weather, as the rain poured on nearly every day of being here. It was fitting then that our last day in Ecuador was spent battling a 2000m climb right up to 3,300 metres in freezing cold torrential rain. It was pretty hard going, especially as no shop on our route took cards.
Our reward though for struggling through five very bleak hours couldn’t have been better, as a huge KFC welcomed us into the city of Tulcán. Safe to say a lot of money was spent and Colonel Sanders’ fried chicken has never tasted so good.
Spirits lifted we then pushed on to the border, both extremely excited to finally have made it to Colombia, a country we have been told is the holy grail for cycle touring. Our good spirits soon came crashing down however as we saw first-hand the awful effect the Venezuelan crisis is having on the country’s people. Since Lima we have seen Venezuelans nearly every day, walking or hitchhiking in the opposite direction to us, with numbers increasing the further we have come. Especially during the last few tough days in the rain, we have constantly been reminded that we have no need to complain as young parents push prams past us in the soaking rain. Sadder than just seeing this mass migration is the fact that many Ecuadorians we spoke to have said the Venezuelans were a problem for the country and from the few conversations we had it seems feelings might have soured toward them somewhat. With 1 million in Ecuador and 4 million in Colombia, it's not hard to imagine the huge burden that this is putting on the two countries. It was no surprise then that the border was complete chaos, with Venezuelans camped around either side of the border. We were constantly told by people to be careful of our things which probably made it a bit more stressful. Luckily the security guard helped us to jump the queue and the whole process took about 2 hours - and we were in Colombia!!!!!!!!!!
Everything thing we’ve heard / read about cycling in Colombia has been positive, and we were not to be disappointed as the clouds soon lifted during our first few kms and we were finally cycling under blue skies again! With the border taking much longer than expected we ended up cycling two hours in the dark, finding somewhere just off the Pan-American Highway, as ever exhausted but extremely happy to have made it to Colombia!
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN
Road side camp spot to (another!) road side camp spot 15kms on from Pasto
Distance: 50 miles
Average speed: 8.8 mph
Moving time: 5 h 19
Door to door: 10 h 15
Our first full day cycling in Colombia started off with a beautiful descent through a traffic free green valley, cycling past huge waterfalls and ancient trees. This came as a bit of a surprise as we had envisaged the Pan-American highway to be busy, with it acting as the main artery between the major cities. As we will be riding it for most of our time in Colombia, we were both feeling positive about our final two weeks!
However, we had stupidly forgotten (again) to get cash out and unsurprisingly no one was taking card in the small town of Tangua, meaning we had to settle for plain quinoa on the side of the road before we started another long bruising climb of 2000 verticle meters. Helped by the awesome mountain views and supportive beeps we pushed until Pasto where we could finally get some cash out.
Reaching Colombia feels amazing but kind of surreal. For so long Colombia has seemed so far off and people have always been in shock when we have said we are biking to Colombia. People now seemed shocked when we now say we are biking to Cartagena, when they ask where we have come from their reactions are amazing, most people can’t believe we have come all this way without taking a plane or a bus. We still have such a long way to go and so many mountains to get over, but we are going to try and enjoy every second of it.
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN
Pasto to El Bordo
Distance: 88 miles
Average speed: 12 mph
Moving time: 7 h 5
Door to door: 11 h 40
The prospect of 30kms downhill meant that getting up was easy and we were on the road early to enjoy all the incredible things Colombia has to offer.
We again cruised down luscious green mountain valleys and couldn’t really get our heads round just how jaw droppingly beautiful the views were from the comfort of our bikes.
As we descended the heat became hotter and hotter and by the time we had dropped down to 500m it was pretty unbearable with the mercury reaching 34 degrees. To make matters worse, our previous hope that we were finally riding on the flat valley floor was soon crushed as the road undulated 200 meters up and 200 meters down for the rest of the day.
Another day where we didn’t really stop peddling it was a real relief when we found a camp spot just south of the town of El Bordo, although the heat and mosquitos as this altitude were not much fun! Looking forward to the big climb back up to a more bearable altitude.
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN
El Bordo to Popayán
Distance: 56 miles
Av speed: 8 mph
Moving time: 6 h 24
Door to door: 10 h 5
With a hostel booked for this evening in one of Colombia’s oldest Spanish cities, we knew the earlier we got there the more time we could have to stuff our faces, relax and explore. This meant we were on the road by 5 am as the sun was just coming up. After contending with hundreds of bloodthirsty mosquitos and a big climb back in sticky heat it was a great relief to be back at altitude where life near the equator is far more pleasurable. After our early morning efforts, we treated ourselves to a long breakfast in El Bordo, our first real taste of Colombian culture. Bright houses, hustle and bustle, Vallenato music, old timers sitting outside colourful cafes drinking coffee, finally some good bakeries and the opportunity to fill our mouths with endless croissants meant our love affair with Colombia was entering the next stage. Our good mood continued throughout the morning as the road continued to snake up the valley. Despite the heat and perhaps a bit more traffic than we would have wanted the scenery continued to blow our minds, whilst we loved how easy it is to refuel, from cold Kumis (not the mare version but the cow version! (is basically yoghurt but very popular here)) to endless bananas and tasty coffee. So many positives meant that the climb back up to 2000m was one of the most enjoyable of the whole trip.
After eventually making it to the top, the road was a further 30km of punishing up and down (we don’t think there can be a flat road in Colombia!!) meaning that we didn’t arrive in Popayan until 4:30. As ever it was the best feeling to have a warm shower and put our feet up in a hostel before eventually going out to explore the city. It was one of the first cities founded by the Spanish in South America, all the way back in 1537! After a fun evening walking down cobbled streets and cashing in on some tasty empanadas, we both passed out absolutely exhausted.