The amazing variety of Ecuador
We already were thinking very highly of Ecuador after encountering the lovely roads in the spectacular scenery of the northern province, the warm German welcome in Finca Sommerwind and the authentic Saturday market in Octavio but we continued to be impressed by the capital city Quito.
On our last evening in Quito we met up with my friends Gary and Debbie who continued to have some mechanical woes with their Defender in this instance a steering linkage and a clutch slave cylinder, thankfully they found a good Land Rover garage so they were able to decline my offer of spares to help them so I still have a full set (for now).
Errol and I decided to take a walk on the wild side and planned to head into the Amazon jungle near a place called Tena, this is far down from the mountains of Quito and we would cross the Andes to get there driving up to 4100m over a pass and down to the tributaries of the Amazon at only 400m above sea level. Its a bit surprising that thousands of miles from the sea the Amazon has only 400m to drop, this goes a long way to explain why it is so wide and navigable for such a long distance.
However our plan was to be thwarted by one of the most unusual traffic “accidents” I have ever encountered. The first phase of the accident was pretty standard, a bulldozer was travelling on a smaller lorry when its big blade clipped on of the uprights on the bridge in front of us, the bulldozer slid back and off the lorry breaking into the surface of the bridge and blocking it to all but the smallest of cars
We were just a few cars behind the truck when the accident happened and it was clear that our truck would not squeeze past the bulldozer until it was cleared away. The bulldozer was well and truly embedded in the deck of the bridge Slowly over the next hour the que on both sides of the bridge built up with only small cars taking turns to squeeze past.
Finally the emergency recovery equipment in the form of a big CAT digger, coordinated by the police it mades it way onto the bridge to shift the obstruction. This was not a good move as the combined weight of both actually caused the bridge to collapse on one corner and drop about six feet. When it started to drop, with an incredible bang and squeal of metal, Errol and I were standing on this end of the bridge and lept back as we thought the whole thing, bridge, digger and bulldozer were all going to end up in the river below.
Thankfully the bridge twisted and then came to a halt having dropped about six feet on one corner – at this point we knew that this bridge was not going to be repaired any day soon and the CAT driver gingerly crept back to this side, clearly relieved to be off the bridge and not swimming !
Clearly we had to change our plan, there was no easy way around this bridge as there are not that many roads on the Amazon side of Ecuador, so to get to our original destination would be a six hour drive around a mountain range. So we headed to the base of the volcano at Cotopaxi instead. This volcano is, surprisingly, a few meters taller than Kilimanjaro but the big difference is that you can drive about 70 percent of the way up the side of the volcano, which of course we did the very next day (unfortunately in the fog and cloud so we only saw fleeting glimpses of the volcano the next day)
We had been advised by friends of a great off road trail across the park to the other entrance about 40km away and it did prove to be a great drive
We had got up very early, in part due to the cold, so we had driven up, across the park and down from the volcano by 11am. This left us enough time in the day to attempt another one of the big sights in the area the Quilotoa loop and volcanic lake, we made it down into the valley and back up to 4000m just before sunset and were rewarded with a great drive on little back roads before a “reveal” of the lake at the very end of the day.
The evening clouds crept over the rim of the crater as we watched creating a ghostly atmosphere as the sun went down, apart from the faint cry of the birds there was hardly a sound or a breath of wind despite the fact we were standing on a ridge at 4000m. Getting up the 150m walk to the rim of the crater was not as easy as normal as we were both panting by the time we crested the rim.
Camping on a volcano ridge may sound exotic, but it is really quite a bad plan, sleeping at that altitude is very difficult (at least it was for me) as I woke up gasping for breath a few times and had the typical dull headache of mild altitude sickness. The morning was cold and fresh, rather more normal for a Scottish winter day than a morning within miles of the Equator. As we drove away we were rewarded with clear views of the crater and the canyon which led from the mountain to the valley.
Our plan for the day was to drive all the way from the cold crater rim at about 5oC and 4000m to the edge of the Amazon Jungle at about 30oC and only 500m above sea level, in fact to do this we had to go into one valley and then back up to 3000m before the rapid descent from the Andes into the Amazon. This was mostly a smooth ride with lovely views, we even managed to plan a stop at a super coffee house with excellent latte and chocolate cake and latte plus fast internet to phone home for a chat – the modern world makes travelling and staying in touch at home a lot easier than in the past
So tonight I am writing this blog on a table in an open sided restaurant in the middle of the Amazon Jungle, the cicadias are chirping in the dim light and the mosquitos are held at bay by my repellent (I hope). This is a strange contrasting day having woken up in the freezing cold of a high mountain just 8 hours ago. This day or few days are super examples of the variety of the country of Ecuador, it is quite a revelation to me.
So we are in a friendly campsite ($10) run by a local jungle community near the town of Misahualli, they run boat tours on the Amazon tributary here, the Rio Napo, visits to a local village to learn about village life, and a course in the afternoon on how to make chocolate, so that is our day tomorrow all sorted lets hope there is tasting !
We have just discovered that our next visit to the city of Cuenca is on the occasion of the “day of the dead” celebration….