We had not explored any of the Eastern slopes of the Andes, so after getting back from the Galapagos, we headed east from the Quito Airport parking lot where we had stored our camper and drove over the 13,313′ (4,058m) pass through the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve to Baeza and then north on the Troncal Amazónica Highway on Monday, July 24th.
We didn’t want to go too far down into the Amazon basin because of the heat, humidity and bugs there. But the area north of Santa Rosa de Quijos was perfect. Elevation was about 1,200 meters (approx. 4,000′) and the area was dotted with waterfalls flowing down from the eastern slope of the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve.
And Dave loves waterfalls.
So we spent two days traipsing through the rain up to various waterfalls. The biggest and most impressive was the Cascada San Rafael; although the Cascada Rio Malo Magicá was pretty powerful as well. Plus there were numerous waterfalls all along the highway. (In some ways it reminded us of Iceland except with palm and banana trees.)
We discovered the ‘best trout ever’ restaurant by the Rio Malo and actually boondocked in their lot for two of the three nights. The last night, not necessarily by choice, but because the Highway had a major mudslide and blocked the roadway for 24 hours.
On Thursday we were able to drive through the mudslide area and head south on the eastern Andes slope using the Troncal Amazónica Highway through Baeza, Jondachi and Tena to Puyo. The first 20 km out of Baeza gave us pause because it became a dirt road under construction and we didn’t want to drive the 150 miles to our next destination on dirt roads.
But the road became paved again (with standard pothole patrol) (and one more mudslide on the cliff edge that had half of a lane open but if the bus could make it, so could we); so we continued.
In Puyo we turned west and back up over the Andes ridgeline, although at a much lower elevation (probably because we had to go through a dozen tunnels dripping with water and uneven roadways, but the tunnels eliminated the need to go up and over.) We arrived in Baños where we boondocked on the outskirts of town.
Baños turned out to be an interesting town when we wandered through it the next morning. It is set in a beautiful narrow valley that runs east-west along the Rio Pastaza. It is a tourist town because of the numerous thermal baths and spas. It is also a pilgrimage town because of the numerous ‘miracles’ Señora de Rosario has performed. All of which are documented in 10’x10′ paintings that cover the Basilica de la Reina del Rosario de Agua Santa walls.
After leaving Baños, we drove straight through to Riobamba and checked into the Hotel La Colina. To get to Riobamba, we had to drive the PanAmerica alongside the Chimborazo Volcán, which per Ecuadorians calculations, is the closest mountain in the world to the sun because of the equatorial bulge at 6,268 meters (20,564′). The volcano’s pass was over 13,000′ and was completely covered in fog.
In Riobamba on Friday, we simply wandered around the historic Centro. Then on Saturday, we hit the major huge market and two smaller ones as well.
On Sunday, we got up early to go to the train station to take the “Tren del Hielo I” which goes up the slopes of Chimborazo. But found out when we arrived at the train station, they only had one ticket left. We were bummed. This was the second Ecuadorian train ride we didn’t get to take – the first in Ibarra because that track had been damaged in mudslides. Riobamba is an industrial working city and not very photogenic. Weather was good though.
On Monday July 31st, we left Riobamba and headed south again on the PanAmerican Highway. We drove through beautiful valleys where the slopes are intensely farmed forming a patchwork quilt effect.
We arrived at San Pedro de Alausí around one pm and went right to the train station. It was closed on Mondays. So we wandered around the town after parking the truck on the Main Street close to the train station where we boondocked the next couple nights.
We were at the train station bright and early on Tuesday August 1, to buy tickets for the train ride known as the “Nariz de Diablo” – The Devil’s Nose. So called because of the engineering feat to build this line as well as a rock formation that looks like a nose if you peer at it the right way. (Two switchbacks where the train pulled into an offshoot, then backed down to the next level and repeated the process.)
This time we were successful in getting tickets. The train left a little after eight and stopped twice. Once at the Nose and the second, an hour stop at an indigenous community where they entertained us with dancing and llama and pony rides. And sold us woven goods and sandwiches.
After arriving back in Alausí around 11, we decided to stick around one more night. Alausí is set in a beautiful valley and the town was busy with indigenous people with the women wearing native colorful skirts, blouses and shawls.
We left Alausí on Wed. August 2nd and drove south again on Highway 35 through more beautiful valleys where the wheat harvest is in full swing. We took our time because there was so much to photograph.
We arrived in Cuenca around 2 and pulled into the Cabañas Yanuncay where we plan on camping for several nights exploring Cuenca.
But then we had trouble; blew a fuse taking the roof up. After Dave figured out what had happened and which fuse it was, a fellow camper went to a local hardware store and bought us replacements. So now roof is up but partially because it appears one of the four motors activating the roof lift system seems to have failed.
Will keep you posted.