Last time we left you in Quito where we successfully satisfied our cravings for vegan cuisine and good coffee. Bikepacking TEMBR part 2. was awaiting…
First we headed just 30 kilometres from the capital, to the permaculture organic farm of Dammer brothers, creators of the TEMBR route. Here we spent only one night as after 9 days in Quito we felt like cycling again. The life here is very inspirational though and we wished we could have stayed longer. Maybe next time ;). Michael mentioned that we’re lucky with the dry season but also that the wind will pick up soon. It picked up. Next day and since then we couldn’t fly our drone in Ecuador.
We left the finca in the afternoon, heading towards Cotopaxi. The first part was on the highway until we crossed route with Dirt version of TEMBR and cycled to Pintag. Here we had hard time finding gasoline for our stove but one of the locals at the end gifted us some from his motorbike. Later in the afternoon, Tom’s tire started playing up and loosing air through the valve. In Quito he put Slime into all of our tubes to help with small punctures but it somehow got into the valve, preventing it to seal. He had to change the tube. We ended up camping by the river, right before big cobble stone climb to Cotopaxi.
Morning wasn’t easy, cobbles were quite sharp and big and we ended up pushing the bikes for a while. The route led us through the fields and then onto open pastures where we navigated only using GPS, as there was no path. But there were so many wild flowers and the light was so beautiful that we didn’t mind stopping often, to look at the map, in the freezing wind. We were finally on the sandy road, leading to the north of Cotopaxi national park. We crossed the river and found a cool spot for camping that was still outside of the park and a bit sheltered from the horrible wind. The volcano was hiding in the clouds all evening and we were left hoping for clear morning. We made small campfire from the wood lying around and even baked a bell pepper on it. Suddenly we spotted two shiny pairs of eyes in the dark. Andean foxes were checking us out, especially the food we were making. They came pretty close to see who these funny intruders are.
In the morning the clouds were moving super fast around Cotopaxi. It made her look like she was playing hide and seek with us. We had breakfast in the sunshine, packed up and headed on TEMBR into the national park. It takes you in by one of the side roads, in between many (wild?) horses. Before it joins the main road through the park, it’s actually exceptionally pretty and interesting ride. In Cotopaxi you will find couple of official campgrounds but we actually preferred spending the night outside the borders to give us more freedom. If you follow TEMBR, it soon takes you away from the main road into the forest on a magical singletrack. When we saw it, we weren’t so sure if the trailer was going to make it. But we had so much fun downhilling through the forest and the trailer survived unscathed too.
The route then leads through tree plantations and by the mining site (it actually wanted to lead us through one of them as probably when TEMBR was created that part of the site wasn’t there). We arrived in the little town Lasso on the Panamericana and spent the night camping at the Cabinas Los Volcanes.
Next morning it was cloudy, bit drizzling and we started our ride to Isinliví over 4000 masl pass. Weather wasn’t on our side that day. We had to fight strong wind that was blowing dust from the road into our eyes. It was blowing us off the bikes so we had to push most of the way, even though it would have been perfectly rideable otherwise. Doggies ended up wearing their protective Rex Specs goggles. Looking at clouds around Cotopaxi, we were so grateful for our luck yesterday. If the ride up was tough, ride down from the pass was worse. The wind was stronger on this side and we had to push the bikes downhill and brake all the time as the wind was blowing from the back.
In Isinliví we camped at the hostel Taita Cristóbal with three llamas. Lolo became friends with the smallest of them in the morning and they happily sniffed each other. We encountered a problem here as they didn’t have any comida para perros – dry dog food. So to the joy and happy faces of our dogs we were making them rice with tuna, oats with tuna or oats with peanut butter and bananas. This lasted all the way to Zumbahua. They didn’t complain.
We knew from reading other blogs that the ride to Quilotoa is supposed to be tough, despite it’s less than 30 kilometres. Even though on the official bikepacking website they recommend the area around Quilotoa for biking families. We had pretty good laugh couple of times about this. There’s couple of smaller hills on the way to the last climb that will take you up just under the rim of Quilotoa crater. The problem with the last one is that it’s all sandy, loose and first 4 kms steep as hell. But as we got used to regular pushing on TEMBR, at least we didn’t get out of the routine.
On the way we were passing fields of beautiful violet lupins. The sight we last saw in Iceland. As we haven’t read much good about Quilotoa village (turning into the tourist trap), we’ve taken the road up to the crater bit earlier, with a plan to camp at Shalala Community Center. We had a pleasure of seeing beautiful colours of Quilotoa in the evening as well as next morning. We spent nice and quiet night at Shalala, being the only guests on site. The next day we only did a short ride to Zumbahua right in time for their Saturday market. Here we took a day off to rest before many more climbs ahead of us at the Hostal Condor Matzi.
The first half day riding out of Zumbahua was relatively easy even though we climbed to 4100 metres. But as most of it happened on the pavement, it didn’t hurt so much. Only llamas were our companions up in the páramo. We ended the day in Angamarca where they let us camp by the municipality office. In the morning we started the climb out of the village that even on TEMBR map is warned about as “steep” and “hilly”. We listened to the Disclosure podcast on the way up the first steep section, so the time passed quite quickly. After the really steep hill, you get to the up and down section that goes on all the way to Simiantug. It was again cold and windy and we spent the night hidden by the school at a small settlement at 3600 metres.
We were a big hit of course and the locals stayed with us most of the evening. They were mostly interested in our flint and one of them even brought us some boiled potatoes.
In the morning surprisingly we had to fight crazy wind again. Before lunch we entered Simiantug and their weekly market was going on. We just got some avocados there and planned to buy the rest in Salinas that was supposed to be a tourist hub of the area. From the town the road climbs very gradually thanks to many many switchbacks. Unfortunately it joins the new highway for part of the way. When we climbed to the highest point, we saw Chimborazo lightened by the evening sun. Our next aim.
Salinas disappointed us to be honest, as it was absolutely impossible to buy there any fruits and veggies there and we encountered a dead little puppy on the street that nobody cared about. Without very friendly owner of the Hostal la Minga, we would have ended up with very unappetizing plain rice or quinoa. But he shared his fridge contents with us.
We were ready to tackle the last bit to Chimborazo volcano. With the head wind, our progress was way too slow. We could also feel the altitude a lot. With our late start thanks to supplies struggle, we weren’t sure if we make it to the entrance of the reserve by dark. But seeing how dry the landscape around Chimborazo is, without any stream, we didn’t have any other option. How was our surprise, when we saw pavement. It sped our journey to our camp spot but also took away part of the magic. Also with so many vicuñas around, it seemed quite inappropriate to bring all the fast traffic on the road through protected area. We arrived to the entrance with the last rays of sunshine for the day. To our surprise, there was nobody. What was worse, we couldn’t find any water. Fortunately, we were saved by a guide coming down from the refugio, who showed us a tap, hiding almost in the ground.
The wind was the strongest we’ve had in Ecuador so far. We were at 4400 masl and with the pets not being permitted in the park, we’d decided not to go any higher. Initially I was thinking about camping with the view of the volcano but then abandoned the idea, thinking how cold it would be with the wind. We put up the tent in the entrance of one of the buildings, covered from the wind from three sides. Such a great place to camp that was! We were even warm at night. Chimborazo at 6263 masl is actually the closest point on Earth to the Sun, thanks to the equatorial bulge.
The next day we rode some 30 kilometres only to Riobamba where our boxes sent from Quito awaited. We have to say, now being in Cuenca, that part 1 and part 2 of TEMBR as we talk about them here on the blog, are the real highlights. After that, you have a feeling you’ve seen everything. So for somebody who actually thinks about riding TEMBR only, we’d recommend cycling from Tulcán to Riobamba to get the best of it.
TEMBR has been the toughest ride overall we’ve done to date. Sending the boxes with extra weight ahead via Servientrega was the smartest thing to do. Arm yourself with patience and perseverance and you will enjoy TEMBR as we did!
Good luck and que les vaya bien!