Bikepacking TEMBR Ecuador I. – El Ángel to Quito

posted in: Cycle touring | 2

If you follow our journey on social media, you’ve noticed we keep using TEMBR abbreviation a lot in regards to our route in Ecuador. What does it mean? And why have we decided to take it?

TEMBR means Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route. It was put together by Dammer brothers and Cass Gillbert. It’s a route meandering through whole Ecuador and you can choose from two options. Either you’re hardcore and you pick Dirt version or you’re masochistic freak and you pick Singletrack version. We’ve got a trailer with us so we went for dirt version.

Riding TEMBR in Ecuador. Cyclist with a view of the huge mountiain.

The key point that is highlighted on bikepacking website is to be as light as possible. As our adventure is a multiyear ride, we’re not the lightest normally, plus we’ve got the trailer for dogs. We’ve decided to send some of our stuff ahead (20 kilos to be exact), using Ecuadorian courier Servientrega. And we’d like to recommend this to all of you. The service is cheap and so far very reliable. You will thank us later.

We’re running a bikepacking setup on TEMBR (with a trailer) and 2 inch tires (Tom has got 2.25 in front). We think it’s doable but for more comfort, go wider (I can’t with my bike, there’s not enough clearance).

TEMBR Dirt starts in Tulcán, quite uninteresting border town with Colombia. Here we took a road to El Ángel ecological reserve and you will find more about this highlight of TEMBR in separate article. It’s definitely a sparkling example how to begin a cycling route.

We both got sick so we spent 5 days in El Ángel town trying to cure our flu like something. For this for purpose as for the purpose of relaxation and incredibly hot shower, we can recommend Hostal Paisajes Andinos for 20 USD/room/night.

After that, with a little bit of ongoing cough we rode to Buenos Aires. In 2018 it wasn’t recommended to ride through this area as there were some disputes between the miners and locals. This year though, meany people rode through successfully and after speaking to Michael Dammer, we decided to go. Skipping it would mean to miss out on stunning Piñán páramo.

First we dropped to really dry and desert like landscape reminding us of Baja California. We actually took a paved option instead of TEMBR route here as we wanted to be quicker and have easier ride with the illness. And we can actually recommend this option as the traffic was minimal and the road really pretty, offering beautiful views and huge swing at Mirador del Condor. We rode from El Ángel to Mira and then to La Concepción. This valley is populated mostly by Afro Carribean population. We spent the night in the local guesthouse, after unsuccessful attempt to camp. They wanted to put us in the toilet block , where there was some space right next to the toilets. My lovely husband agreed to that initially. Then I came in and the smell nearly killed me. So we moved to 20$ room for the night. Almost every room costs 20$ in Ecuador so far, not depending on quality. This was incredibly ugly with the electric wires sticking out of the light switches.

Next morning we started our ride to Buenos Aires from San Geronimo in rain. Police at the checkpoint and locals were looking at two crazy cyclists who were slowly moving uphill. In few hours the rain stopped. We cycled past few tiny villages, past fincas, past herds of cows. We saw scared tiny baby cows being forced away with sticks from their mothers while the umbilical cords were still hanging from their bellies. So that the humans can have their milk. This made us really sad, especially knowing this is Ecuadorian countryside where the cows are happy because they’re outside all day, right?

The road wasn’t too bad, basically fully rideable apart from short steep sections. When we arrived to the top, the fog was slowly moving over the hills. With the windproofs on we descended to the next valley and arrived to Buenos Aires. It’s not the most charming place, especially with the ever present fog making it spookier than it is. We stayed at Hotel Buenos Aires, at the end two nights as the forecast promised 50 mm of rainfall. Guess how the weather was the next day.

Riding up to the páramo we kept meeting trucks full of people. It was Sunday and there was a market in Buenos Aires. Therefore when we arrived to La Primavera village for lunch, it was completely deserted apart from chickens and horses. We ate some beans from the can and headed up via some switchbacks. We met two horses who were so unsure what these creatures were, they kept walking ahead of us and didn’t want to let us pass.

After the last house disappeared out of sight (with 5 big dogs, one of them called Lobo = wolf), we were in high páramo. Roads were a mess. Wet, muddy, deep washouts, slippery and steep and with roaring thunders in the not so distant distance. Suddenly a convoy of pick ups appeared from the back, each carrying big bags of building material. One of them got stuck because of a breakage and we actually met it next day, still waiting for rescue few kilometers up the road.

We were at about 3700 metres and the golden hour was performing its magic. The light, the colours. Solitude, just wind and few cows. We left the road and headed through the tall grass to find camping spot. We haven’t seen any more cars that evening, only three men on horses returning to their homes in the valley.

Really strong wind picked up overnight. We had to fight it a lot in the morning and especially one bit when we were climbing steep hill to 3900 meters left me out of breath, lying on the ground. I could feel my heart pounding in my temples and my fingers were tingling. We were fighting the elements for good few hours. Doggies didn’t seem to be bothered, they were having fun chasing each other and the bunnies in the páramo. We finally reached the top of the páramo and started the descent. This part is even worse, dear friends, huge rocks, deep holes, loads of mud. We were really glad our direction is north to south and not the opposite.

In the evening we reached the water channels. Yellow bridges over deep canyon, where the water flows. After crossing the first one, we camped right between them, undisturbed. Next morning we crossed the other one and headed following the other water channels to Otavalo. With some annoying cobblestones of course. Otavalo is famous for their textile market but as we are on the bike and don’t want to carry unnecessary stuff we just roamed through and headed to the little food and veggie market ;). In Otavalo we stayed for a night in Hostal Chasqui and had coffee and vegan ciabatta in La Cosecha – both of which we can recommend.

Heading from Otavalo to Lagunas Mojanda is a little bit of an ordeal on 2 inch tires. It’s 17 kilometres of cobble stones, at times steep cobble stones. It probably took us about 4 hours to get up there so you can imagine the speed. We camped above big lake, well hidden between the trees. We were super careful and locked everything and hid part of the bikes under the fly, attaching them into the tent with a fishing line. Why? Some time ago two of Dammer brothers and their friend had their bikes stolen in the area while they were camping.

In the morning, with the bikes still present, we packed up and headed around the small lake down into the valley. The descent was again quite horrible and we had to walk the bikes at times. We arrived to Malchingui and from there took the paved road to Guayllabamba. On the way there we actually crossed the equator and were officially in the Southern hemisphere!

In Guayllabamba we spent the night with the bomberos (after some persuading as they had directions from above not to let cyclists sleep there, but the commander was just a really kind person) and in the morning took the Panamericana some 900 vertical metres uphill to Quito. We deviated from TEMBR at this point as it heads to Tumbaco instead of Quito. Riding into the city was a bit stressful as with any big city but a really nice motorcyclists made himself a safety car when he saw some buses dangerously overtaking us and rode behind us for good few kilometers.

At the end we spent 9 days in Quito as we really enjoyed its parks, our airbnb and host Anita, meeting other dogs and their owners, the best vegan restaurant in the world Tandana (seriously), coffee culture, chocolate culture, sourdough bread and having full kitchen with an oven :). From here we headed to Dammers’ finca to start second part of TEMBR but that’s for the next time!

We still owe you the answer to the second question. Why are we deliberately suffering on this route? It’s the beauty, remote feeling and close proximity to nature that makes riders to fight the elements, surface and gradients every day. We’re no exception!

Follow Luba Lapsanska:

Older woman, 33 years old, experienced. She stopped being a doctor and started being a traveller. She likes animals more than people because they don't lie. She also likes looking at the the world through the viewfinder of her camera.

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