Tulcan – Reserva El Angel – El Rosal – San Geronimo – Buenos Aires – Pucalpa – Cotacachi
Having ridden with Cass in Colombia over the tough (and prohibited!) pass of Volcano Ruiz, I was familiar with his kind of riding. So it was a delight to have the opportunity to test ride an early version of the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route (TEMBR) which he has been developing with the Ecuadorian Dammer brothers. The route weaves together a series of backcountry, low traffic dirt roads through Ecuador’s volcanic corridor by which to cross the entire country.
Update: the main official report of the TEMBR at bikepacking.com has now arrived. Here you will find the GPX and a rather more elegant description of the route compiled by Cass.
On a natural high with my burnt peeling nose, I am sitting in my hotel room in Cotacachi reflecting on the last few days. Even though I knew it wasn’t going to be easy it was a lot tougher than I expected! It does however rightly earn a place near the top of my epic mountain bike routes ‘hall of fame’ and has given me extremely high expectations for the rest of South America.
The variety of this first section is undeniable: hot sweaty roller coaster riding in deep winding canyons surrounded by vast prominent mountains at 1000 metres to stunning barren chilly paramos and striking panoramas at nearly 4000 metres. The change of environment brings with it a mix of inhabitants from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds that offer an unexpected and interesting perspective. It is at times both humbling and mind blowing to be in such an unfamiliar, diverse and impressive environment; a real smorgasbord of different new experiences for the mind to feast on emotionally and physically.
Choosing a five or six day high mountain route that could simply be made in two days by following the main road could seem a little illogical to some but to me it made perfect sense (most of the time).
After cresting the top of the pass and plummeting back down 1000 metres, Otavalo felt tantalisingly close. It wasn’t however and the steep ‘foothills’ continued to roll. I took a wrong turn and managed to lose 100 metres of altitude before realising my error; an undoubtedly tough moment. Not long after I made a second wrong turn. I was done, the decision was made to stop. Exhausted and low on supplies, I backtracked up the steep cobbled road to find a place to rest and the first (small) shop since Buenos Aires…
After some (most likely misguided) advice to avoid Marlon I took an alternate route into Imantag that involved a long cobbled descent and a short hot paved climb plagued by small biting flies. With no money or food, things started looking a little bleak until, out of the blue, a Jehova’s witness saved me with $5. Was this karma for leaving money with my previous night’s hosts? I (very) briefly considered the existence of God before heading on to Cotacachi.
Check out the main official report of the TEMBR at bikepacking.com for GPXs and a rather more elegant description of the route compiled by Cass.