Down into the Amazon basin and back up to Cuenca

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Skirts of Tungurahua volcano showing mudflows
Skirts of Tungurahua volcano showing mudflows (View on flickr)

We have surfaced again and now are in Cuenca, Ecuador. After riding the Pan-American highway south from Quito for a hundred kilometers or so we decided to go to Baños to soak in the hot springs. Well, we liked that route much better than the Pan-Am, we continued down to the eastern Amazon region of Ecuador on the edge of the jungle and followed the roads south. Most of the time the roads were brand new and magnificent and other times dirt and pretty bad but the jungle lowlands were enchanting with wild bird sounds all around, exotic flowers, low traffic. The rain would would come and go most of the day and most times we found somewhere to sleep in a town. Actually the fanciest hotel we have slept in on our whole trip was in the delightful little town of Sucúa. It was our 3rd wedding anniversary and we felt we had found the honeymoon suite for $16 and just in time because we were like drowned rats arriving there in a big rainstorm.

A good part of the first part of the trip was around huge volcanos. We stopped in Baños for some hilly walks, soaking in hot springs and a visit to the local zoo. We then dropped down to the jungle on the way to Pugo. The road from Baños to Puyo was a mountain biker's dream come true. Though there were 7 tunnels along this road, the cyclists were diverted around on dirt roads and through wonderful forest.

Looking down on beautiful Baños
Looking down on beautiful Baños (View on flickr)

At one spot the road is washed out so we had to carry our bikes through a running creek that had fallen trees and brush. All part of the adventure. After about 6 hours of riding we dropped down to the Amazon lowlands where we would ride for the next 3 days. The forest is being deforested at an alarming rate. We saw so much wood being cut for lumber and stacked along the road side, I believe it was the only business in this region. It was sad to hear the chain saws and see the results of the swift destruction of the lowlands of eastern Ecuador. The jungle was being raped and no reconstruction was seen anywhere. This has been going on for some time throughout the Amazon region, of course, but it's not pretty to see it firsthand.

A bit of portage on the back road down from Baños
A bit of portage on the back road down from Baños (View on flickr)

As we rode we would hear strange and wonderful bird calls, see exotic fluna and rode in awe of this remote place. The new aspalt finally ended on the first day and aspalt did not appear again for another day. We bumped along the dirt and stonelined road through areas that have not seen the likes of us. The people where quite and reserved and most just watched us in silence as we made our way past. The people live in simple homes, some with thatched roof huts and other with concrete blocks. Some how they carve a living in this area by living off the land.

We finally got a clear view of a volcano (Volcan Sangay)
We finally got a clear view of a volcano (Volcan Sangay) (View on flickr)

In contrast to the flat roads of the lowland of the Amazon which got down as low as 500 meters of elevation (about 1800 feet), the trip up to Cuenca (elevation 2500 meters or about 8000 feet) was difficult and stunning. We rode through a part of the Sangay National Park which is protected and has amazing beauty of towering mountains and cascades after cascades that seem to fall thousands of meters straight out of the sky.

One morning of camping at the humble home of Manuel and Maria and their six kids, we awoke to the most stunning vista of the blue-ish green massive mountain of the Sangay Park, valleys with running rivers and distance clouds resting in the far valleys.

Our hosts on top of the ridge above Mendez (Maria and Manuel and kids)
Our hosts on top of the ridge above Mendez (Maria and Manuel and kids) (View on flickr)

During our early morning ride, we descended into those clouds and then continued below them in just 5 minutes. We lost 500 meters which we knew we would have to earn those meters back because we we need to climb up to Ecuador's finest city.

It seemed we would climb for two hours only to descend back down to the elevation we started at. This happened over and over for two days. After going down to the Paute river one more time, I finally said enough and we hitched a ride for 15 kilometers and up 700 meter higher to San Pedro, where we had a great lunch and a long talk with the owner about our trip.

And humans developing the new dam...
And humans developing the new dam... (View on flickr)

Fully fed, we continued on, passing by the huge new hydro-electric project that is being built on the Paute river. The current dam lasted 33 years and is now obsolete because of the amount of deforestation and erosion in this area has silted up the reservoir and the project can't produce efficiently any more.
As we climbed slowly up the the highlands, we seemed to ride slower and slower as it got colder and colder and the dogs got meaner and meaner. We would only ride 25 miles a day on this section because of the rain and cold.

The road ahead and into Sangay National Park above Mendez
The road ahead and into Sangay National Park above Mendez (View on flickr)

2630255970After riding 18,000 kilometers, we finally encountered a real big bad dog. Climbing slowly up a hill, a two large dogs came after me and one got me. It bit me in the upper thigh. How the dog could get his mouth open that wide, I do not know but I do know it hurt. After getting a safe distance from that beast, we examined the area discovering the bite broke the skin just a tiny bit. We went back to the house and had a talk with the owner to find out if the dog had his shots and it turned out that he did and it was current. He had two dogs and he knew which one was the bad one. Continuing on with our ride this stretch of the road had many, many dogs that would run out and chase us. It was scary trying to control the bike with mad dogs chasing us and traffic going by. I added a stick to the back of my bike and now make sure my water bottle is full so I can spray attacking dogs. Randy would ride with me and chase the dog with his bike if the dog would not back down. One dog got kicked in the face and I hope he thinks twice about chasing a bike again.

Maria from Pungalá
Maria from Pungalá (View on flickr)

We finally arrived in Cuenca a week after we left the Pan-America Highway a week ago which was my fault because I looked at a map and wondered where that red road would take us. It took us to the lowlands and back to the highlands through very rural country and through areas populated by the amazon indigenous homelands and through an amazing Ecuadorian National Park and back up to the agricultural highlands. We meet a lot of nice people who shared a part of the lives with us and extended complete strangers hospitality and friendship. Thank-you new amigos!