Cyclists tend not to make particularly good tourists, at least not in the conventional sense. The big-ticket destinations provide useful milestones and help steer our wanderings, but it’s the places in between that generally steal our time and hearts.
The colonial gem of Cuenca, certified big-ticket hotspot, was a classic case in point. Exhausted from our adventures in the Central Sierra we track down a cheap hostel and settle into the well-practiced ‘rest’ routine; abuse Wi-Fi, do laundry, replenish calories and generally sleep a lot. Occasionally we’ll coax ourselves outside to have a wander round, but the underlying motive usually boils down to that of searching for a bakery or suchlike. To all the enthusiastic backpackers racking up countless sights and excursions we must seem like complete wasters, but this mincing is an entirely necessary part of any bike trip…
This isn’t to say Cuenca is an uninteresting place though, far from it:
There are more hats than you can shake a stick at…
And cracking colonial architecture at every turn.
So after a couple of days recovering we bade farewell to Cuenca, blatantly having not done the old girl justice, and pushed on southwards towards the Peruvian border. We’d targeted the little used border crossing at ‘La Balsa’, a mere five and half days ride away, involving a series of roads of progressively reducing stature; starting with ‘continental artery’ and culminating with ‘small muddy track’. Being Ecuador though, there was, of course, one sure-fire continuum; the whole lot was bloody hilly. Here’s how it went down:
The first three days were spent on the Pan-Am, a pretty good stretch as it goes.
With nights characterized by squeezing into ever smaller spare rooms of friendly family’s houses.
And a feat of puncture repair work…
After the town of Loja things got a lot quieter (and lumpier…)
Rolling into the tiny village of Yangana, with its disproportionately large church, we took up an offer of squatting in the central square and started firing up dinner.
A vagabond experience in every sense, complete with stray dog that became frustratingly attached to the warmth of my Thermarest. Sleep was limited at best, hindered somewhat by a gale force wind ripping through the place, the restless dog at my feet and the fact we’d inadvertently located ourselves in the only place in the village with mobile phone reception.
Awaking groggy the following day we were met with increasingly worsening road conditions, reminiscent of those muddy stretches of the Dalton up in Alaska.
Before long things had degenerated into a full on mud-fest…
Making the skinny slick on the back a rather regrettable choice.
The final leg to the border from the town of Zumba was fortunately dry and dropped us down into more tropical climes. Still, it was hard to believe this quiet track led to an international border…
Things only looked marginally more official when we actually arrived, where the strip of bamboo denoting the border gate was in the process of being used for a children’s volleyball game. Brilliant.
The friendly chap in the equally unassuming immigration office/police station was happy to stamp us out though.
And all that was left was to cash in some dollars for Peruvian Soles
And spend our last bits of change on some ‘love’ (the chocolate wafer variety).
Currently it’s pretty much all paved up until Palanda, then it’s dirt/mud until the border.