When last you heard from us, the Troll Boys were in Baños enjoying the marvelous hot springs. The next stage of the journey aimed to bring us into Quito, the capital and second-largest city in Ecuador. Baños, while still high in the mountains, is a thousand meters lower in altitude than Quito, but for some reason, we decided the several day climb was not enough and that we needed to bike up Cotopaxi, an active volcano, as well. Our first day out of Baños took us along a beautiful hedge-lined road with very little traffic.
This route was every biker’s dream, and we ended up in a lovely, flat camping spot on a soccer field next to a private swimming pool. We had so much energy and excitement from the day that we ended up playing catch with a frisbee for nearly an hour before starting to cook dinner.
Bike touring tip #6: Always remember to have fun when you have the energy to do so!
However, our easier day of biking simply meant that there was more elevation to climb all at once in the coming days. Despite the constant uphill at a slow pace, we still found plenty of things to enjoy on the way to Quito. On the second day, we went through a town where the children ran alongside our bikes in an attempt to race us to the top of the hill since they could sprint nearly as fast as we were going.
We had a less pleasant second half of the day when we hit a very dusty road through a quarry in a valley, where dogs constantly came out onto the road to chase us. Although we had to take a break to calm our tempers and steady our nerves, we were soon able to enjoy the beautiful path ahead of us on our way into Latacunga, a city where we stayed the night in a hostel while Cody taught Jon and I how to strategize while playing Black-Jack.
Our next day brought us to Cotopaxi, one of Ecuador’s tallest peaks, and a currently active volcano. We had done some research about entering the Cotopaxi national park ahead of time, and read that it was impossible to stay overnight in the park itself due to the volcano. However, we found out that there was a free camping spot within the park with bathrooms and cooking facilities, and we biked hard up the road to reach the campsite before dark. We enjoyed occasional glimpses of the Cotopaxi peak through the clouds while Jon cooked up a pizza.
We were finally a short distance from Quito, and we planned to bike all the way from Cotopaxi into the capital. However, we had not foreseen that the road would be so difficult to bike down on our way towards Quito. We learned that it is not gravel or dirt roads that are the hardest to bike on, but cobblestones that win the title of most difficult road. Cobblestones rattle your body and your bike and prevent you from going at even a halfway decent pace. True, the path was beautiful with nice views and endless pastures along the way, yet our bodies were being jolted so badly that it was hard to even think.
After spending several hours on the cobblestones, we reached a nicer pavement road, which we enjoyed even though it quickly became steep enough that we had to walk our bikes up. We hit a much quicker pace through a soft rain for the last few kilometers to Quito, hoping to arrive with plenty of time in the evening to enjoy the city.
We reached the outskirts of Quito, and it was at that moment that we realized we had a large problem. Nightfall was fast approaching, and biking to downtown Quito included large amounts of climbing uphill through stressful traffic.
Biking touring tip #7: Do everything within your power to avoid biking at night.
We ended up biking nearly two hours longer than we had anticipated, each of us with flashing bike lights pointed ahead and behind to warn cars that we were in the street. We stopped at the first hostel that we could find, which had neither hot water nor wifi, and smelled slightly of bathroom.
The next morning, we explored Quito, which was one of the first two declared UNESCO World Heritage sites for the beautiful, well-preserved colonial center. There was also some sort of bike race going on throughout the downtown section.
We were most excited to visit the Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow), which commanded a fantastic view over the whole city from its lofty hill. We were dismayed to find out that although we were now feeling strong on the bikes, walking up steep hills was quite a struggle.
The Basilica was beautiful, and we spent a lot of time climbing up and down the stairs of the towers and enjoying vistas of the city.
We relocated to a new hostel, Hump Day Hostel, where we socialized with other travelers for the remainder of our time in Quito. Instead of heading out of town by bike, the Troll Boys decided to tackle a gigantic challenge, climbing Cayambe, another large peak and active volcano in Ecuador.