This last stage from Cuenca to Vilcabamba was a lot of fun to ride. With lower altitudes than the previous TEMBR sections, it passed through pleasant farm valleys and canyons and, of course, had the obligatory fun steep dirt sections to challenge one’s calf muscles. For some parts I deviated from the original TEMBR. One short section I chose for the penultimate day had me in virtual tears due to my slightly overweight ‘bikepacking’ setup and short bout of food poisoning (a familiar feature in Latin America). An interesting finale to an epic ride through Ecuador.
This is how it went down…
Then, after a few pleasant days zig zagging my way south on steep dirt roads out of Cuenca through the Ecuadorian countryside, the route joined a shortish paved stretch.
Cycling up out of Loja seemed innocent enough, aside from the usual baffled looks as to why I was climbing 800m of altitude onto a ridge when there was a perfectly good descent alternative down the valley all the way to Vilcabamba (it even has a dirt road interlude). I could have been there in just a couple of hours. It had me indecisive for a few minutes. I even turned back to go the other way. And then after a hundred metres I stopped again to re-consider. Damn it! Finally I decided to go for it, when could be the next opportunity to ride it again? Sniffing the end of the TEMBR, I excitedly peddled up the winding dirt road at record speed (for me anyway). Halfway, I stopped to eat fruit and a couple of boiled eggs; one of them didn’t taste that great. Cooling the cracked boiled egg with Loja tap water wasn’t the best idea; it must have been bacterial heaven. Half an hour later had me ducking into the bushes, not ideal for the route insanity I had in store for me.
I continued on up to the top of the ridge and thought it had finally topped out and was in for a nice easy descent. Not quite. As is so often the case, tiny blips on my elevation route profile that looked like one or two metres were in fact steep climbs of 100 metre changes in elevation. It was hard with the stomach cramps but I still enjoyed taking on the characteristically steep Ecuadorian dirt. I continued along the roller coaster up and down for several more kilometers along the beautiful ridge (ducking into the bushes once more for good measure). Hundreds of metres below, the Panamerican Highway occasionally popped into view. How much easier it would have been…but so much less fun.
Before I describe the route further, I must make clear that I was somewhat of a guinea pig so sections such that I’m about to describe are unlikely to feature on the final TEMBR. I’m doing these sections so you don’t have to etc. That said, it was all rideable until…
It had been mentioned that the descent I was about to take was ‘quite technical’. And maybe this downhill section would have been partly OK on a super light fat bike setup, it’s hard to say…
Anyway, I thought ok, my bike is quite heavily laden but I can muddle through this beast. And so, I naively headed down the single track (instead of taking the easy dirt road alternative that leads directly to the Panam Highway).
It started off quite innocently and semi-rideable…then it turned ugly. After twenty minutes my path crossed with an ascending man on a horse. “El camino es MUY FEO por mucho tiempo, amigo; es mejor regresar”. In no uncertain terms, “the path is horrific, my friend; turn round!”. I had descended a fair way and pushing my bicycle back up the steep slope wasn’t appealing. How bad could it be? For the next three hours into the dark, I found out. The words ‘quite technical’ were playing through my mind as I wrestled my laden bicycle down the 800 metre change in vertical; occasionally riding but mostly hauling, sliding and virtually having to throw the bike down the steep incline. Although there were some short rideable sections, it was basically a very steep horse track. Some parts had 6 inch wide gutters that ran down the centre of the ‘path’ which were in fact muddy / rocky channels up to head high. Banging pedals into the sides was often unavoidable, as was swearing. The sun started set about halfway down. I was glad to finally get to the dirt road which catapulted me downhill through the dark into Malacatos where I slept very deeply. Vilcabamba would have to wait until the next day.
In summary a very nice few last days on the epic TEMBR with an unexpected challenging finale thrown in for good measure. Happy to finally arrive in Vilcabamba, I had some much needed rest in Hostel Margaritas (one block south from the plaza on Calle Sucre,$15 with breakfast; a nice clean quiet hostel). I then wasted no time in planning my assault on Peru; expected to be one of the highlights of the entire trip.
Route notes / tracks / waypoints to follow once final route finalised; most likely through Cass’s whileoutriding.com site.
NB: In a bid to catch up on my recent incredibly inconsistent blogging, I have decided to not put a video up for this post. I’m not really sure how interesting it is to post semi-similar amateur footage of my travelling down dirt roads so I intend to only do videos when it’s significantly different or something of particular interest. Plus they seem to be immensely time consuming, finding suitable music is half the challenge and it gets muted later for copyright issues which is particularly tedious although perhaps understandable.