09 May 2014

Lago Agrio to Tumbaco: Back where it all began

There was a marathon just about to start as we left Lago Agrio. Roads had been closed, meaning we were treated to a traffic free exit from the city. We enjoyed a flat morning's ride through small towns interspersed with dense vegetation. Unfortunately much of the rainforest in this area has been destroyed by the oil industry. Our GPS unit calculated that, if we continued at our current pace, we could reach Tumbaco by 10:30pm. Of course, the GPS unit wasn't taking into account the 4100 meter pass we had to climb.

The Trans-Ecuador Oil Pipeline kept us company for our first two days in Ecuador.
We found ourselves in the town of El Reventador in the late afternoon. It was one of the most well-stocked towns we had passed all day, this area of Ecuador being quite poor although there is lots of industry. We asked the police about a place to camp and were pointed to the municipal sports facilities. It was a covered football field, and even had toilets, lights, and an electrical outlet. Camping luxury. As we made dinner we were treated to a quite serious game of volleyball being played with a football (soccer ball). We also realised that, when it wasn't completely closed in by clouds, we were actually very close to the Volcan Reventador, which is on orange alert for its volcanic activity. We reasoned that we were right across from the police station so we should be the first to know if the town had to be evacuated. 

Back on Ecuador's flawless highways...

The volcano Reventador looms over the town of the same name
Next morning we left town to lots of cloud, meaning no more glimpses of the volcano. We were climbing slowly, but with plenty of downhills in between. There was lots of construction traffic for a big dam project currently underway, which we learned was being run by a Chinese company after briefly being mystified as to why there were road signs in Chinese in this part of rural Ecuador. We were still adjusting to being in a new country and had taken for granted that we would pass plenty of roadside restaurants and stores, but this wasn't the case. Luckily, we rolled into the small town of Las Palmas in time for lunch. The woman who owned the restaurant struck us as a bit rude at first, but later she warmed up to us, talking about life in this part of the country and giving us four peeled oranges to fortify us for the afternoon. 

Chinese signage became commonplace as we rode through the area where they are damming the river
It rained heavily in the afternoon, and by the time we got to El Chaco in the late afternoon we were sick of it. We checked into a cheap hospedaje which mercifully had hot showers, and walked around the town which was quite big for Eastern Ecuador standards. We bought bread, stocked up on snack food and pasta, and ate dinner at the restaurant with the most construction workers eating in it – always a sign of good value for money.

The rooftops of El Chaco in the evening mist.
It was still raining the next morning and we found it difficult to wake up because the room lacked natural light. We probably could have used a day off after our race to the Colombian border, but the town didn't really warrant it and we were so looking forward to the comforts of Santiago's Casa de Ciclistas that we wanted to press on. When it became clear in the mid morning that the rain wasn't going to let up, we set off. Sadly, due to the all-day rain we don´t have any pictures of the days ride.

We had rolling hills until Baeza, where we stopped for lunch. This was where the real climbing began and we decided to try to make it to Papallacta, elevation 3200m, although it was an ambitious goal. A light rain kept us from wanting to take too many breaks (lest we get cold) and before we knew it we were rolling in to Papallacta just an hour before sunset.

Papallacta has several hot springs complexes, so we weren't sure if it would be too touristy to camp, but in fact everyone we asked suggested the field next to the municipal hot springs – it seems it is fairly normal for people to camp there. Also spending the night there were a German-Mexican couple who were travelling South America in a car they had bought in Lima. They suggested we duck under the marquee tent that didn't appear to be in use for a drier and warmer night. When it started raining hard again overnight we were very grateful for the extra cover!

Luxury camp spot
It was still raining lightly the next morning as we climbed the last 900m of the pass. The clouds meant that we didn't have much of a view, just the roadside construction as they work to widen the road. The rain and the altitude made for a tough climb, and we were both really ready for it to be over far before we actually reached the three hours into the ride. 

Papallacta from above, as we leave for the high pass
We bundled up as much as we could (it was cold up there at 4100m in the rain) and started the very fast descent to Tumbaco. The road was newly built and very quiet, and as soon as we got below the cloudline we were treated to great views of Quito. A short while later we were ringing the doorbell at the Casa de Ciclistas, just three and a half months after we left. It felt a little bit like coming home, except without it having to mean that the trip was over. The thought of arriving in Tumbaco had kept us going each day as we rode through Ecuador's Oriente, and it felt great to finally be there.

Descending towards Tumbaco, on a brand new two-laned highway

We spent a while in Tumbaco taking care of an ever-growing list of errands, catching up with Santiago and his family, and even had time to fit in a side trip to the beach (by bus)!

Canoa is a working fishing village as well as a tourist destination

Even though it is the wet season, we were treated to one nice sunset

Seafood is cheap and plentiful at the coast. Here, ceviche de camarones.

Route notes:
- Lago Agrio to Papallacta: Great road surface and mostly quiet roads all the way. There are not many amenities between the towns but the towns have what you'll need. We noticed there were two 'peak hours' for trucks - in the morning before 8am, and again after 4pm (getting steadily heavier as you go into evening).
- Papallacta to Tumbaco: They are widening the highway at the Papallacta pass which means some short unpaved sections and sections without shoulders - but this should steadily improve over time. The roads are quiet until Pifo. After Pifo, there is more traffic but in this direction it's not a problem because it's all downhill. 

1 comment:

  1. Amazing that it had been three and a half months! The beach looks beautiful and you two certainly deserved some time off to relax.