I guess I must do, as I’ve found myself back at Cotopaxi once more… And I certainly took enough photos of this beautiful, symmetrical cone of a volcano to suggest some form of obsession…
This time round, I took the slightly more conventional backroad/cobbles/dirt route into the park, via Sangolqui and Rumipamba, and was lucky enough to coincide my trip with the most pin-sharp, clear conditions I could have hoped for. In doing this ride, I’m ‘closing the loop’ on my recent bikebacking trip – I can now officially say I’ve cycled all around Cotopaxi. Next up, I just need to climb it…
Leaving on a Sunday morning involved running the gauntlet through villages touting for weekend customers, each displaying lavish spreads of food to entice hungry drivers – skewered guinea pigs and oven-cooked pigs being the local, delectable specialities.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that food plays a pivotal role in my life – as it does with most bike tourers. The profusion of street food is one aspect of travelling in South America that keeps me motivated to explore. As well as supplying cheap sustenance, it’s a place to meet and reclaim the streets, a chance to interact and chat over an outdoor meal.
Occasionally, everything I aspire to in a journey is distilled into one brief moment.
I pedalled across the Cotopaxi plateau on a cold and clear day, my MP3 fully charged and music in my ears. The road was rutted and peppered with sharp stones; lichen-ringed boulders jutted from the earth to either side. In the distance, an old and battered pickup truck – a Ford Ranger – was slowly making its way towards me. When our paths crossed it lurched to a stop, and the driver wound down its grubby window.
Inside, I could see the cab was crammed with weathered passengers garbed in stripey ponchos traditional to these parts – the uniform of the Chagras, the local cowboys. In someone’s lap, baby fingers poked out of a bundle of woollen blankets. The driver asked me where I was headed, where I had been, and what I thought of Ecuador. Then he shook my hand and wished me well for the road ahead. The truck bounced off once more, kicking up dust into the clear morning air, and I was back to being on my own on the windswept plateau.
It’s during these precious moments that I feel clarity in my mind: complete happiness and appreciation in being where I am, doing what I am doing. It can be a powerful, overwhelming feeling. Sometimes I laugh out aloud – and sometimes laughter is overwhelmed by tears, and I cry. It’s real heart-chakra opening stuff…
Need to know bit:
It’s under 60km from Tumbaco to Cotopaxi’s North Gate. It’s paved till San Rafael or so, then there’s 15km of relatively intense cobbles, with severely steep grades thrown in for good measure. Finally, this gives way to 10kms of gorgeous dirt with open views. Plenty of spots of food too, or camping if need be. There’s no entry fee to the park anymore, and you can camp at the gate for free.
Once across the park and on the way down to Lasso, hang a left at the first junction after the Southern Gate. A quiet road will deposit you on the edge of Lasso, avoiding the Panamerican Highway completely. From there, you can cut right across towards Toacazo, to start the Quilatoa Loop.
With your current set-up on the Ogre… Do you have sufficient room for camping gear? Including tent, stove etc.?
Yep, I have everything. If I didn’t have the backpack squished in there, they’d be more room though. Also included is a DSLR and a few lenses, plus computer, backup hard drive, too many cables etc… There’s room for a decent amount of food, but not for weeks on end…
I should add that the main reason I’m using the Arkel 28s is that they’re the panniers I left out in storage here when I returned from Quito last year. Otherwise I might have gone for some lighter Ortlieb rollers – even the 40L ones probably weigh less, with 12L more space. However, I prefer the Arkel attachment system (I always lose the Ortlieb inserts), and I like the elasticated lids for stuffing extra things in.
Seems like your prose is moving ever closer to poetry……
My year 3 class loves doggie and cuy photos
Got some nice cat shots coming up…
Do you ever upload larger versions of your photos? I’d love to use some for my desktop photo at work while I daydream of bike trips.
‘Fraid I don’t. I keep meaning to on Flickr, but it means more time in front of the computer… If there’s anything in particular, send me an email and I’ll see if I can track a few down!
Difficult to tell without higher resolution of the flower…but I’d shoot for a member of the dwarf gentians (Gentianella Cerastioides (Kunth) Fabris .var Chimborazensis). Fairly common at altitudes 3000m – 4500m from Southern Columbia to Peru (with different sub-variants). Grows in clumps…5cm high.
Keep them coming…S
nice bit of observation, mr G. thanks. D day?
Friday the 15th June…Noah is bike obsessed by the way…we watched the full 30 minute highlights of the Dauphine Libere last night….bike,bike,bike…obsessed with Robin as well.
Oh! Cass… I loved the photo of the delicate ‘Tilo’ plant… and the volcano, those mountain crocuses (well, they looked liked them?) and smiled at your reference to your dad’s wonderful cooking (though I have never been privileged enough to taste any… YET!) I know he is a foodie (like myself!) and yes that Pork crackling is VERY tasty… quite addictive… ( poor little roasted pigs heads!) yes, crispy pork skin is sold everywhere here in CM too… and a great ‘sick making’ snack which we regret for hours after munching toooo much`) Those ‘precious moments’ you refer to warmed my heart and remind me where I am, now… doing what I am doing on the beach for the next month running with my dog and interaction locals squid hunters wading knee deep over the dead corals… yes… It is an overwhelming feeling in this stormy monsoon downpour here in the south and sometimes I laugh out aloud as well – and sometimes those uncontrollable tears as well… isn’t life great? Wonderful writing and photos as always… Take care X
Thanks Susie. Hanging with the squid hunters sounds great!
Cass, I was introduced to your work by Gypsy Nick. At 3:45 am everything is a little more crystalline and your post helped me to think my way through to something I have been trying for but couldn’t quite get. It is this: all the beautiful sunrises and soulful moon risings; every magnificent mountain or lovely forest moment pales in comparison to even a brief encounter with a good dog, or the warm acknowledgement in passing of a fellow traveler while on our separate, yet combined journeys.
We seem to be here for each other, for whatever purpose, (perhaps simple acknowledgement). Your stories tell more than the words you are typing and I look forward to reading more.
Thanks TJ. I’m a big fan of your site. Love the wit and pace of your writing.
Simply spectacular (except the chanchitos pauvrecitos!)
Cass, I love the personal nature of “road thoughts” – thanks for sharing a bit with us of how it makes you feel to be there – I miss the intensity and rightness of that more than I can say. Sarah
I was wondering how you get your skies so dark and rich in your photos?