Volcanoes are amazing by almost anyones’ standards. These mountains are known for their beauty, explosions and structure and define much of the backbone of the Andes. There are 1500 volcanoes in the world, and this week, I went mountain biking down one of them.
We left Ecuador’s capital city, Quito on Monday and headed to a town called Baños (not ‘bathrooms,’ but ‘pools’). The city of Baños is known for it’s extreme sport attractions such as quadding, rafting, bungee jumping, the “Giant Swing”, and biking. The environment is spectacular. Vast forests covering many mountains in the valley make the place intensely green. Baños is definitely, so far, one of my favorite destinations on the trip.
We stayed there for 2 nights before catching a bus to the city of Riobamba, home to Ecuador’s biggest mountain (volcano). We biked down this very volcano. The volcano is called “Chimborazo”. It is featured in many Aboriginal stories and legends, as well as on the national emblem of Ecuador.
We started our day off by driving up to the highest point one can drive, the first mountain refuge, situated at 4800 meters (approximately 16000 feet). From here we walked up to the top refuge at 5000 meters (16500 feet) above sea level. Going up to this altitude was challenging, but the views were excellent and it is fun to find snow in the tropics!
Once back to the parking area, the guide helped us get pads on, and adjust our bikes. We put our coats on, got on our bikes, and rode. The first kilometer or so, we were mostly riding on a mix of volcanic ash, rocks, and dirt. It was a bumpy and fun ride.
After only five minutes, we saw a Red Fox prowling around in the snow. It was very interesting seeing this animal because we rarely see foxes where I live.
We continued riding on the bumpy road before cutting off onto a trail. Unfortunately for us, it was quite foggy and a bit hard to see.
Despite this, the trail was very pleasant and fun. The trail had rocks, roots, and jumps, but was not too challenging.
It was so cold and wet, we need to stop and warm up for a while before really starting our descent.
For the next 30 minutes we rode at high speeds down windy roads and sped around corners whilst watching vicuñas roam. The route took us on and off the main road and onto some very fun trails. We crossed over creeks, road over boulders and watched the colorful sky change from sunny to cloudy and rainy to clear.
The entire ride took several hours, but only required two challenging climbs. Along the way, we visited an Inca site. These ruins were the place where the merchants use to sleep on their journey to the coast and back. The guide dropped us back at our hotel at about 7:45 pm. It was a long day and I would happily do it again. We used a company called ‘Probici’ based in Riobamba, and I would recommend them enthusiastically.
From Riobamba we travelled across magnificent, green valleys to the beautiful city of Cuenca. I have just returned from a visit to the hot springs located just outside the city. I went in red and blue mud baths, bathed in underground hot and cold pools, went into a steam room and even a steam box. They made us feel like V.I.Ps!
Cuenca is located at 2500 meters (8500 feet) and has a perfect climate. It is home to about 500 000 inhabitants and has a large ex-pat community (although it still feels very Ecuadorian). Cuenca is considered to be Ecuador’s most expensive city, although, we still found it quite affordable.
We were impressed by Cuenca’s infrastructure and level of safety. Locals were notably friendly and we walked over 20 kms every day. Unfortunately bus pollution is a problem due to combustion at that altitude.
We loved the public art, but we were a bit disappointed by the amount of graffiti.
We spent 1 week in Cuenca, and we had a blast. I did three days of Spanish school. My teacher and I worked on grammar, conversation, and even took a few walks in the city. We went to Indigenous markets, wandered the streets of the city center, relaxed in parks and took photos by the river.
My father and I also visited the dentist down here. I got a clean bill of health. My father on the other hand, needed a new crown (half the cost of what we would pay at home).
I think we would return to Cuenca for a longer period of time. We even found a good sushi restaurant that is always a plus for me!
The last two weeks of travel have been excellent; I look forward to going to the Galapagos Islands in a few days! Stay tuned for my blogs about the experience of a lifetime!