Southern Ecuador

June 14th Cuenca – Ona (106km) (1,850m)

June 15th Ona – Loja (106km) (2,480m)

June 16th Loja – Villacamba (40km) (612m)

June 17th Villacamba – Palanda (80km) (2,101m)

June 18th Palanda – Zumba (50km) (1,719m)

June 19th Zumba – San Ignacio (73km (2,000m)

Cuenca is a belter of a city with charming hole-in-the-wall bars and eateries and a good smattering of churches and squares. The festival of something-or-other is on while I’m there so the sweet sellers are out in force.

In the little town of Villacamba you can relax in the main square with the hippies, the want-to-be hippies and the traveling refugees, kick it back about three gears and soak in the friendly atmosphere. It’s a lovely place to unwind and the locals are very welcoming. They are supposed to live longer than the rest of us, or this has reportedly been the case in the past though a local says that it is no longer really true.

Onto a winding dirt road cum track and some pretty steep gradients towards the southern border with Peru, emerging in the dusty working city of San Ignacio two days later. Due to some construction land slides the ride into San Ignacio was a very late finish so am arriving in the dark, something I loathe, a bit sore in the legs from the experience so thankful of a day to rest before the higher peaks to come. Therefore I cross the border into Peru and into the higher Andean passes of between 3,000 and 4,000 metres; things to relish in fear in equal measure.

Winding road near the Peruvian border south of Villacamba
Cuenca central cathedral with storm clouds
Not really the best way to cook a pig – with predictable results

There is, of course, at this juncture in the travel south, a decision to be made. One can travel southwards along the spine of the Andes, staying high all the way through Peru to Lake Titicaca and the 4,000metre plateau into Bolivia. Alternatively, on crossing the border into Peru one can soft-core it down towards the coast and Trujillo, then skirt along the coastal route, mincing their way along the effortless flat whilst living the beige life amongst the commuting drones. It would be difficult for a cyclist such as myself to countenance such an abrogation of one’s sworn hard-core duties, (and indeed continue to bear the epithet) therefore one must take the high road, so high it is. It’s a lot of climbing but my thinking is that you probably only get one chance in life to bike the Andes (would one really want another?) so it’s worth doing right.

Yet those neat and trimly dressed on the low coastal road might hold their manhoods cheap not to be in these mountains with Buff3y this day. These perfumed popinjays might take pause from their pamperings and peer skywards towards the mountains to the East and see if they can make out a distant figure high in the mist, proud bearer of the standard of all that is good, just and right in touring cycling. If they do they might glimpse we two, we happy two, (the Co-Motion and I), doing glorious battle with yet another peak.

Largest Corn Cob