Middle section of Ecuador: fantastic, feels like the start of the true dirt Andean riding. Leaving the Casa de Ciclistas, point the bikes in direction of Volcano Cotopaxi, just look for the snow-topped come sticking out of the ground in the distance. And hope it’s not enclosed by clouds, though those too are white so you’re still looking for the same color. Leave Cotopaxi and start the Quilotoa Loop, a circle meandering through small villages high up on mountain slopes. There are paved roads connecting this loop; avoid them! The dirt roads sweep you up to 4000m and then drop you back off at 3000m, daily, except for that one day when you go down to 2100m and still have to make your way back to 4000m. By that time though you’re off the Quilotoa Loop and heading southbound, to riding right along the edge of the mountains. Look west and see the sea of clouds blown off the ocean abutting right up against the mountainsides, below you. Look east onto the patchwork fields comprised of all different shades of green. Colors start to fade when you climb high enough in the mountains, barren desolate fields owned by grazing alpacas and sheep. Ecuadorian summer is the dry season, so the only moisture appears when you’re riding through the cloud layers, but the wind is a fierce force howling down on you. Sunburnt noses and chapped lips are the marks of victory.
Paul showed up at the Casa while I was there, and with similar dirt goals we’re riding together for a bit, his trip account and photos are on his blog. He started out in the Alaskan north August 2013 and is also making his way down to Argentina.