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Spinning South: Cotopaxi to La Maná

Ever wondered about the force of nature creating our earth? Massive volcanoes, tip peeking out of the earth as a dimple that just erupted, covered in dusty snow. Volcanoes created this landscape, they are still changing the surface of the earth, but with lower impact than humans do on day-to-day basis.

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What a power erupting from the middle of the earth, you don’t know when the next activity will be. Cotopaxi sleeps when we leave Tambopaxi campground. Leaving Barbara, Janneke and Konstantine to climb one of these giants. We are happy to have Cotopaxi peeking out of his cloudy cover, watching over us when we bike through this vast arid landscape. After a slow, gentle climb, as we are at 3,800 meter, we reach the saddle and start speeding downhill over a gravel road towards the south exit.

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Halfway to the gate it changes to asphalt and we even can go faster. One of the turn-off points to follow the TEMBR is gated due to work in the forest, we respect the closed gate and find an other point to further follow the route, taking us through broccoli fields. Starting this morning with almost all our layers of clothing changes to only one layer in less than an hour. Especially Frank does not mind to be in a warmer area again. The night was chilly for the first time in a very long time. We now have two different sleeping bags, mine is warmer than Frank’s. I think we should leave Franks at home, he should take mine and I should buy a thicker one for the continuation of our trip. I definitively want to be warm enough in Peru, even if it means a bit more weight.

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Once low enough we have again WhatsApp connectivity and are able to call home. We can’t appreciate enough the current communication possibilities, so good to really see faces and hear voices, hearing and seeing my parents feel better again.

In Lasso we call it a day, so we can keep the climbing for tomorrow. Perfect to find a hostel where they let us cook our own dinner. One of the differences between Colombia and Ecuador: not every small village has a place to sleep and if you find something, it is often way more expensive for what you get and is not as clean as in Colombia. When you find a hidden gem you are really happy!

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Next day our body can get used to the climbing on a graduate asphalt road, then the road changes to cobble stones which makes us wonder if we made the right choice. Luckily this changes quickly to dirt, Frank even prefers to push his bike through sand to bumping on cobble stones.

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MapOut saved us several times today. Especially when the map just shows 4 roads but you see 5, you just walk one of the roads with your phone, look where the blue dot is moving and you know if you have chosen the right direction. Think about how many paper maps we would have to carry if we wanted to find these small roads we are on.

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It is a great ride up the hill and due to the slightly lower altitude, the blue sky and the sun I almost don’t have to push. Maybe it also helped to see this beautiful lady carrying up heavy bags of greens for her guinea pigs. As we feel we have plenty of time we chat quite long with her and her daughters of 15 and 3 years old. We meet them again when we pass her house.

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She is living with her dad and 4 children and 30 hamsters on the slopes of Cerro Jatun Munca. Youngest is 3 years old, oldest 18 years (working in the fields during the week and in the weekend going to school). Such a warm person, working every day in the fields, only 35 years old. Even if everything is brown and dry they do have supply of water from one of the community tanks higher on the mountain. She has seen the environment changing from lush green to a very dusty, brown region where water has become a treasure.

After some more climbing we reach 3,950 meter and a great decent on a good gravel road starts. It is always amazing how a landscape changes in one day, how the north or south side of a mountain changes. Now everything is greener again.

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Goal for today is Isinlivi, a tiny settlement at 2,900 m with a hostel. Looking at the logo of the hostel we see that some nice marketing has been done here. Entering the building blows us away. So many white faces. Huh, here in the middle of nowhere? And we are lucky to get the last room, expensive but there is one more bungalow free but for double the price, and $80 is really over budget, even if it is including breakfast and dinner.

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Llu Llu Llama mountain lodge is offering a great concept: one price for lodging including breakfast and dinner, 2 free yoga classes a day, Jacuzzi and sauna in an amazing setting. And the whole day free coffee and tea. Situated on the 4-5 day hiking trail around Quilotoa in a beautiful setting, plenty of great food shared on long tables, choice for vegetarian or vegan food topped of with clean quiet luxury ensure super reviews and a full house every day. For the first time in our whole trip (17 months!) we see so many tourists in one place, where you do not expect it. And there is even no WIFI available, would that be the reason people are talking more with each other? This place is owned by a Dutch/Ecuadorian couple, you see it in a lot of the details!

Average age of people here is 30 and they are all hiking, until we meet Jehanne after dinner. Biked today behind us. From Belgium, Wallonie and just started a week ago from Quito. Also following the TEMBR and going South! The 3 of us have a rest day and enjoy yoga, sauna, chatting and listening to other people.

What amazes me is the number of 20 to 30 year old people who are travelling the whole world, who worked a few years and already have saved enough to take a 6-12 month break or sabbatical. Who are convinced there will be new work, as well paid, waiting for them on their return. They still are looking for a steady job with healthcare insurance and all the other benefits included. Who just take the leap and go explore the world for a longer period of time. Who consciously choose not to use the raw basic places to stay, nor the top-level, but the medium, better hostels. Also here you see that similar people do start to talk with each other, looking for kindred spirits, as we bikers do.

Next day the 3 of us only start at 9:00 as we first take a yoga lesson, followed by breakfast.

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Only a few miles down Frank discovers that not only I but also Jehanne sometimes has to push! Even after 6 months of rock climbing and several long, tough biking holidays also she has to get used to the gravel and the steep Ecuadorian hills.

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What a power woman as she can push her bike all the time alone, even with a very heavy load. I luckily get help from Frank.

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Break time is fun with Helena, 60 and full of joy. She finds Frank guapo (handsome) even if he is 4 years older and agrees that he would be a great swap for her 80-year-old husband. Fun to be able to make little jokes. For the first time we are asked if we have some spare clothes we could leave behind and we do.

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Climbing higher it is getting colder and the view is obscured by clouds rolling in. At 15:00 we start to wonder if we will ever make the next 20 km uphill as during the next 15 km we also have to gain an elevation of 400 m. On this road we know we will only get an average of 3-4 km/hr with the pushing involved. We pass through a very small mountain settlement and I see a truck. After some contemplating we decide to see if he could take us to our destination. Ride to the place Jehanne found to camp close to the Quilotoa lake. He is willing to take us for a reasonable fee and we leave space on the truck for if we pass Jehanne and she would like to join.

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But seconds later a blue faced Jehanne turns up. She waited a bit further as she knew that also she would never be able to reach Quilotoa before dark, so she came back looking for us to see if we would camp in this village or find another solution. Very happy to join the ride! Bumping through the chilly mist, crawling up dusty roads we were all happy to take this ride to the entrance of Quilotoa. We decide to camp next to the restaurant together.

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Camping was free if we would have dinner and breakfast in the hotel. Camp set-up just before sundown and shelter and have dinner at the restaurant. Fun to discover that the only other group of tourists staying in this hotel is a mix of Dutch and Flemish Djoser travelers. Long tables with all sharing the same simple food, the 3 of us wolf it down while we see that most people don’t finish their plate.

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Early morning to walk to the crater lake and while we are at the rim we decide to hike down to the lake. Sun is creeping over the rim and crawling down the mountain side at a slightly faster pace than our walking.

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How peaceful to be able to do this without any other tourists, only the company of two local dogs. At around 8:00 we are back at the rim overlooking the green lake, seems that it is only blue in December and even turns brown in August. Depending on the minerals in the water and sun reflection. Unbelievable the lake is 270 m deep!

Healthy breakfast with warm chocolate. After a very relaxed morning with contemplating on routes, gear and people we wave Jehanne off, who is now going to follow a different route.

As we are morning people and don’t like leaving late we decide to stay an extra night but move to the hotel. This morning the tent was so damp inside and out that it took till 11:00 before everything was dry and as we want to leave early tomorrow it is better to sleep indoors. Reasonable WIFI ensures we can work on the blog and investigate Galapagos possibilities. Sometimes it is challenging to live in the now and not always look at the future (or at the past when working on the blog😊). Very quiet, chilly day especially when you also wash with freezing cold water at 3,800 m. What a work they have: all linen of the hotel needs to be washed by hand! Do you see how little water is available? Seems to come from miles away.

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We start early in the morning after a dreadful night for Frank where he was struggling to get enough air. Impact of altitude is unpredictable. First a really nice, long downhill ride to Zumbahua and then over a 4,000 m pass passed the Cerros de Alasi. Frank helps an older man carrying his wood up the slope, also he is asking for clothes. Only thing we can offer are some cookies.

Today is 600 m up and 3,800 meter down over a good, quiet asphalt road. In and out of the clouds. Strange to leave the TEMBR, but we have had it with all the pushing and a looming thunderstorm was the last drop we needed to choose for the downhill.

What a joy! Changing from the dry arid land above the treeline environment to rain forest and rolling agriculture fields, sneaking in and out of clouds. Around 16:00 the search for a sleeping place starts. On iOverlander and Google maps almost nothing is indicated and the 2 that are don’t fit. One with the waterfalls only has a wooden platform where you need a free-standing tent and the other location is closed, bummer as it would have been a place to stay more than one night. Further down we find a place still in development but with new beds, so we don’t complain. Great short hiking trail through a bamboo forest and a decent dinner, the only minus are bamboo walls between us an a couple with a small child. Lets say there was no noise isolation.

Goal today is to bike to the secluded 7 waterfalls. But first we pass La Maná and can’t resist a real coffee and cake. Towns become more shabby and crowed, people ignore you, even when you greet they sometimes act as if you don’t exist.

We are happy to find the gravel road, bumpy us up and down through endless fields of banana trees. Did you know Ecuador is 7th of on the list of banana growing countries? The plastic contains insecticides, reducing but not completely eliminating the need of spraying. Airplanes still spray and local contractors are hired to spray the insecticides that are not very healthy for people and environment.

Getting closer to the waterfalls we start to hear music of the kind Frank does not appreciate (which is an understatement). When we arrive at the entrance they just turn up the beat a few decibel more as it is Saturday afternoon and we turn around even before checking accommodations or camping possibilities. A shame not seeing the waterfalls but people who know Frank, know that he can’t stand this kind of music and if there is a way out he will take it.

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We find a slightly less bumpy road back to la Maná. As it is all banana plantations and no water available (and we did not stock up on food) we need to return to civilization and stay close to the city in a clean motel where we get a very good price. Topped up with a place where we can cook we close a beautiful week. But what do we hear in the distance, getting louder during the night?

Stay tuned to find out and get to know more about cacao.


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