This is the final installment of Sam and I’s 10-day off-road mission deep in Ecuador’s central Andes. Part 1 saw us reach the Crater Lake at Quilotoa after some epic riding and dubious navigational work, leaving Part 2 with a hard act to follow. The Central Sierra didn’t fail to deliver though, providing an equally action packed sequel based around the familiar theme of rollercoaster dirt tracks and remote indigenous villages:
After a short paved road stint we were soon back on dirt en-route to the village of Angamarca, our destination for Day 6.
A truly stunning route taking us up to the bleak, windswept paramos, before plunging us back down into rural Ecuador; land of patchwork hillsides and free roaming piglets (about the biggest traffic hazard a cyclist is likely to encounter).
Certainly beats the PanAm…
I may even go as far as to say ‘favourite road yet’.
Complete with obligatory flock of sheep and friendly shepherd(ess?)
And cracking 900m descent to Angamara which I may have got a little carried away on, resulting in the unfortunate demise of my camera screen.
Angamarca, a relative metropolis compared to the tiny specks of civilization we often pass through.
After a night randomly spent in the village priests house we awoke on Day 7 to the bustle of the weekly market, quite an occasion it would appear, with people busing in from all corners of the hills. And when I say bus, I mean converted flat bed truck stuffed to the gunnels with people, livestock and goods to sell, complete with rear sheep section and feature curtain rail. Love it.
$7 for a giant bag of potatoes, bargain!
After a lot of browsing and eventual purchase of a sole avocado and pair of wooly thermal bottoms (for the princely sum of $3) we hit the road and almost immediately I managed to snap my rear gear cable. The thing had basically corroded through and, without a spare, some good old zip tie bodging was brought into play so that I could have two easy gears for climbing. As disastrous as this sounds Ecuador’s dirt roads are such that in reality a gear to grind up the hills with is about all you actually need; descents are freewheeled and there’s no such thing as a flat section in the Central Sierra.
Onwards we rode, stopping for lunch at Pinallopata and scouring the tiny village shops for lunch ingredients. Each a little cave of random dusty items, there’s always something interesting to unearth, such as these revolutionary toothbrushes…
Above the clouds and to a setting sun we rolled into the village Mindina and spent a night in the community centre.
Day 8 was more of the same, struggling up never-ending climbs with my two functioning gears until we reached the town of Salinas, famed for it’s chocolate and cheese. Reason enough for two famished cyclists to visit the place, but it also transpired that they were holding a mountain bike race the following day.
Given how wrecked we were from our recent endeavors watching the event sounded infinitely more preferable than participating, but one thing led to another and before long I’d been thrust a race number and new gear cable. Day 9 thus became an impromptu 63km race stuffed with mega climbs reaching altitudes of 4400m, during which we became minor celebrities and gained an interesting insight into the ‘rip-roaring’ Andean racing scene. (Read the full account of how it all went down in this post).
Day 10, the final leg of this odyssey, didn’t get going until late morning and with legs screaming for a break we treated them instead to a repeat of the initial 18km climb of the previous days race. Ironically this led us exactly where we needed to go and most likely we would never have discovered it otherwise.
At any rate it’s a corking off-road route…
After topping out around 4400m the landscape took on a bleaker appearance as we continued towards Chimborazo volcano.
The wind-chill was as intense as the scenery….
Resulting in Sam donning his bank robber outfit.
Chimborazo is a bit of a beast, not only is it Ecuador’s highest mountain but by the quirk of a buldge in the Earth’s surface it’s summit actually trumps that of Everest as being furthest from the centre of the planet. How’s that for a fact? Unfortunately for us though it was about as cooperative as Cotopaxi in terms of revealing itself and this was about the best view we got, shortly before setting up camp in an unused building of the visitor centre.
These fellows were slightly less shy though.
So mission complete, an altogether incredible few days due in no small part to great company, and a good blueprint for further off-road Andean adventures….
This is covered in some detail in Cass’s accounts here and here, but I’ll add a few extra potentially useful details along with the cracking off-road route out from Salinas:
- Quilotoa to Angamarca = 60km
- Angamarca to Pinallopata is 32km along the main dirt road to El Corazon. A further 5km along this road brings you to the left fork (with initial stoney descent) to Simiatug after passing through another village (El Quichpe?). 23km down this dirt track brings you to Mindina, where just past the village itself is a community hall where you can spend the night in a dorm room for $3. The couple living in the house across the road seem to look after it and can open it up for you. Total Distance Angamarca to Mindina is 60km.
- Mindina to Simiatug = 15km
- Simiatug to Salinas = 22km
- Direct route, off-road route from Salinas to Chimborazo: You’re after the direct route to the village of Pachancho. From the main square facing the church, take the road leading off from the right of the square, bearing left onto a dirt track. Follow the main track as it makes it’s way alongside the river and up the valley (don’t take the steep track that forks off to the left uphill). After 8km this epic little track reaches Pachancho and intercepts a main dirt road. Take a right on this and after another 11km, involving a climbing to 4400m or so, you’ll reach the main Ambato highway and junction with the paved road leading to Chimborazo and Riobamba.