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Saturday, January 12, 2013

MEGA MOUNTAINS


We are now getting to the tail end of our trip and so are trying to get some miles covered. Shipping delays are notorious, so we don’t want to leave ourselves too short of time to ship to Panama. So with everything closed in Bogota we head south on some of Colombia’s notorious roads. There are no trucks today. We pass lots of swimming pool resorts & lush cropping areas. Past Neiva we head to the lake to camp. When we can find no access to the water front we ask the police. They say to follow them. We end up camping in front of the police station in the town square. Not so quiet, but secure. Not exactly the waterfront spot we wanted. They assured us that the road returned to the main road, so off we set. We end up so far off the main road we decide to visit Colombia’s second most important “Old” site- Tierradentra. (We had planned to miss it as it was so far off the main road) The signs to get here have been very minimal to say the least, but at least we make it. It involves a huge climb up to the tombs. There are 28 in total, & quite a few open to climb down into. I must say the first one freaked me out completely, with rock steps spirally down, & not a handrail in sight. In the end I did climb into a few, although not as many as John. The painting inside was still fresh & bright. The carpark had a barrier over the top & there was really nowhere else to pull over for the night, so we headed back to a riverside spot we had seen that morning.  Gorgeous spot where we had a small fire, but I must say the lady in the house beside us put the wind up me by miming guerillas coming to handcuff us & take us away at gunpoint!

Amazingly, after a good night’s sleep, we headed back to the main road and on through even more gorgeous mountain scenery to our next stop at Colombia premier “Old” site – San Augustin. Only here there are 100’s of local tourists & the carpark is chookers (and we had planned to stay here overnight!) We had a good look around – more uphill walking involved - & laughed at all the carved statues. They are 100’s of years old, but look like the ones we get from Bali. Then we wait for the carpark to empty so we can get a nice spot on the grass.

The next day is spent driving ALL day to do only 278km. We are heading south, and then west to get to the border with Ecuador. As we arrive in a town the road shrinks into a little narrow strip surrounded by people, stalls, cars….. And there is not a road sign in site. We are continually stopping to ask for directions. At this point our GPS doesn’t have a clue. Finally we reach the mountains (Again) and the dirt road. We have 40km on dirt that takes us 3 hrs. Most of the time we are driving through cloud shrouded forest. It is lush & wet. The road is narrow with plenty of oncoming traffic. Some stretches are so narrow I’m sure we will slide right down the precipice below. Occasionally there are guard rails, more often guard tape!! Finally we see tarseal & towns. It is getting late and we plan to camp by the lake. There is another peak of 3257 to get over before we arrive and find the festival “Carnaval de Blancos y Negros” is on. The place is packed. Too bad. We camp on a stretch of land beside the canal & restaurants and have a great night’s sleep. The next morning there are heaps of cars pouring in despite the cold overcast weather, so after a trip with the local tourists out to the island, we head off to Pasto. We have 2 passengers onboard. A couple from our boat ride sits in the back taking pictures of each other.

At Pasto we head out to explore the city. The Carnaval is in full swing and we get sprayed with foam & our faces painted. The central square is packed & beer stalls are being set up. We think maybe it is time to hightail it out of here. A pity as there is a parade on tomorrow, but we really would need somewhere safe to put GR2. We decide to head to the Sanctuary Las Lajas driving through some majestic scenery. Unfortunately 100’s of locals have decided to do the same thing. There isn’t much parking & the streets are choked with cars, so we revise our plans. I hop out to stop the traffic, while John does a U turn. We head on to the border, somehow managing to go right through the middle of the town of Ipiales (stupid GPS) and get caught up in a parade. In Oz they would close the road!

 It is getting late & there are queues of cars as we near the border. So we stop overnight in a hotel carpark. We will cross tomorrow morning bright & early.

A 6am crossing only takes an hour & we are free in Ecuador. We decide to head straight to Quito as it is Sunday & this will make it easier to drive in & find a parking spot. We find a 24 hr parking area & set off to explore. Quito is a magnificent old city with some gorgeous churches. The interiors are stupendous. Sadly I cannot take photos as there are services happening.

The next morning we arrange a last minute Galapagos cruise. Oh so much cheaper this way (next blog I will let you know how it goes). This takes all morning of course, and then we head off on a Hop on/Hop off bus trip around town.

Another night in our carpark before we head off bright & early, hoping to miss the traffic. It is not to be. Quito is set in a bowel surrounded by mountains & traffic is snarled everywhere.

Just out of Quito we find a great workshop. GR2 is due for a grease & oil change, change of filters etc. We also get some new leafs in the front springs.

Our next port of call is Cotopaxi Nacional Parque. There is a fantastic new road into the park & the mountain is spectacular. We can drive up to base camp at 4600m & then overnight beside a lake at 3850m with 2 other motorhomes: one German & one French! What a surprise to finally meet some more overlanders.  

Then on to the next “must do” in Ecuador – the Quilotoa Loop. It is a magic drive through mountains & villages to a crater lake. The road is deceptively good to start with. It then deteriorates into a goat track, before we come into massive road works. Looks like overkill to us the way they are blasting through the hills. We reach the Crater Lake late – it is every bit as spectacular as the book promised, but it is bitterly cold & over 4000m, so we decide not to camp there. Probably a mistake as camp spots are not so easy to find in land that has every metre possible cropped. The road is closed for blasting so we wait for an hour. Not boring at all as the local police take rather too much interest in us, wanting who knows what. Sometimes it is better to be able to say “ No habler Espanol”!! By the time we get through the road block it is dusk. Darkness descends quickly & with it thick fog. On a road, with good concrete edges, camp spots are impossible to find. We end up back in town on a vacant block.

The next morning we head to the “famous” local markets in Sasquili. They are not hard to locate as that is where all the traffic is heading. We spend a few happy hours exploring. We gap at the guinea pigs being examined, chooks with their legs tied together, all manner of foods being cooked. We sample a few. What a fun morning.

We continue south through yet more mega mountains. Our next detour is to Volcan Chimborazo set in Reserva de Fauna Chimborazo. After finally finding our way out of the city of Ambato (where we somehow managed to drive through the main narrow streets yet again) we are pointed in the right direction by Fabian, who stops us in the traffic. Another magic gorge drive before we pop out onto paramo (high plateau) with the snow capped volcano in sight. Spectacular. We see llamas & vicunas on our drive in. This time we camp overnight in the park even though it is at 4380m. John even manages to get me to plod up to 5000m! Quite a feat.

Finally more mountain drives to the city of Cuenca. Here we have a lovely grassy spot to camp in a compound. (Another recommendation.) We head into the city to buy Panama hats (yes they come from Ecuador!) & find a hop on/hop off bus trip for $5 each. It is dark when it finishes, so we round off another great day with dinner in the city. Pisco sours top it off.

From now on it is all downhill literally as we head to the coast.

Chow Amigos.

 

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