Planet Frailejón.

In the Reserva Ecológica El Ángel, on Ecuador’s border with Colombia, a legion of velvet-leafed frailejón appear and disappear in the páramo mist, as it rises and falls across the tundra like an ocean tide.

I ride alone, stopping to rattle off photographs whenever the whim takes me, which is often. But as many as I take, I struggle to capture the sense of their sheer numbers. It’s a particular feeling, being in the middle of their congregation; thousands upon thousands human-height plants, standing tall and watching me, like benign invaders from a distant planet.

Specific to just a few humid yet high altitude regions of Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, frailejón are intrinsic to the area’s water cycle. They grow amongst tussock grasses, at elevations above 3000m, their hairy leaves catching moisture in the air and feeding it into the earth.

If you would like to keep up with where I am between tardy blog entries, I keep my While Out Riding Facebook page more regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings. You can find it here. Occasionally, I post pictures on my Instagram feed. And if you haven’t overdosed by then, I’ve also started a While Out Riding Tumblr edition, focusing on images. 






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10 thoughts on “Planet Frailejón.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      One of my favourite spots in Ecuador for sure. There’s a bunch of cool frailejon in Colombia and Venezuela too. But that’s about it.

        1. Cass Gilbert Post author

          I don’t, but if you let me know which one you’d like, I’ll try and track down the original and email it to you. They are indeed the most beautiful plants and habitat!


    Beautiful place! We didn’t realize there was a tourist centre at the top, but we’re very happy for a great camping spot and super friendly staff! Nice photos!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      It’s just an hour’s walk up to the lake and looping back. But it’s nice because it gives you a sense of being right amongst the frailejon. I slept up in the refugio too – they said you’d passed through.

      What an awesome ride!

  2. Jimmy

    Hi Cas! Love your stuff mate. I’ve done one big tour from Germany to Japan on a LHT, but 28″ and it led me to realize that offroad is where its at. My girlfriend and I are having Rotor Komet’s built 26″ and are going to cycle from Argentina to Columbia over 2016. I would like to know more about this route, like where it begins and ends.. You don’t use GPS by any chance do you? I would love to pass through these alien plants 🙂 If you could even tell us in which village or town you left the main road that would be awesome. P.s I make short films from my bike. (not just home videos 😉 if you find the time I would love if you would watch one! Respect. Hope to hear from you. Jimmy (

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Hey Jimmy,
      I don’t have a gpx track to hand but it’s easy to find. Just look for Tulcan on the Ecuadorian/Colombian border. The El Angel reserve is between Tulcan and El Angel – and there’s an obvious dirt road that runs through it. Be sure to do the short hike from the ranger station, as it offers some great views.

      Will check out your links when I have a good connection!

      All the best,

  3. Liz Boisvert

    These are absolutely gorgeous. I spent a week in that area in my younger years and have never been able to get it out of my mind. There was something about the thunderous silence. Amazing.

    I would love to blow one of these up to hang on my wall if you’re willing to share it. I’ll happily compensate.


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