The Dirty Side of Ecuador

Riding from Quito to Balao on 80% dirt roads with Dave, a guy on a Yamaha WR250R I met in Quito.


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Quito to Sigchos

Almost immediately west of Quito starts a dirt road to San Juan.
This fun, pretty beat up in places, dirt road winded all the way around and down over a main road toward Sigchos. About halfway into the ride I noticed my valves starting to make a lot of noise. My valve train is always load but it quickly got much louder than "normal". So I stopped in the middle of nowhere, pulled the valve cover to have a look.
Turns out that at my last service work I did with a mechanic in Quito the auto timing chain tensioner wasn't reset properly. This didn't come as too much of a surprise to me because the mechanic and I argued about it for a solid 10 minutes before I gave in and did it his way (which differed from the manual). Here on the side of the road I did the way the manual specifies and it's been good ever since. 

The riding went from fast and flowy to rocky and technical to foggy and wet and muddy and everything in-between.
It was 114 miles to Sigchos, the little mountain town we stayed at, mostly dirt.

Sigchos to Quito

Only one picture of Sigchos at sunrise for this section after issue number 2 of the day found me. When we got to Sigchos I noticed my front axle nut had disappeared. Probably wasn't torqued fully after the pinch bolts were tightened at my last service in Quito. We woke up early, blasted highway back to the KTM dealer in Quito, purchased a new axel nut ($11) and headed back towards Sigchos and Quilatoa where we left off. 

Quito to Quilatoa

After a rather fun morning of highway riding, surprisingly, we ended up back off the main road heading back to Quilatoa. On the way we spotted a sign that said Condormazi 7km and we decided to check it out. After only 1.5 km it quickly turned into a wet, steep, grassy, muddy, washed out hiking path. After giving it a good couple of tries we decided it was too late in the day and our bikes were too loaded to fight up 5+km of that. So we head back down the mountain towards Quilatoa.

Not too far up the road was a pretty cool canyon. 
There were no fences or anything and a narrow path across the rocks with gaps where you had to jump from one to the other and a cliff on either side. However, at the end was a rock you could stand on in the middle of the canyon for a pretty cool photo.

We continue on to Quilatoa Lake.
Here's Dave on his trusty WR250R. First, bike I've seen packed at light as mine...this will come in handy later!

Quilatoa is beautiful but at 2800m and it being cold season and windy it was very cold. 
We stayed in a lodge at the lake and it lacked heat. There were wood stoves in the rooms but the wood was too green and the choice was either to fight with the fire for hours or just stay in I never got mine going.

The morning wasn't any warmer but after taking in as much heat as we could by the wood stove in the main room we saddled up and headed further south and higher in altitude for another full day of dirt.

Quilatoa to Guaranda

After a short blast back south past the canyon we headed off road and up a climb to over 4000m. The views here were absolutely staggering and the weather, besides being cold, was perfect.
There was a whole lot of nothing for a good part of the morning until we hit our first mountain town. A nice little village called Angamarca.
More spectacular landscapes.
Here's a house to give you an idea how these natives live. 
At around lunch time we started dropping in elevation. After stopping for a bite to eat we took the unrecommended road towards Guaranda. This road was rocky, narrow, muddy, steep and quite slow for a while but neither of us stopped to take any pictures of the real nasty bits as we were too focused on getting through them without any problems.
Even more landscapes and beautiful views as we climbed back up from below 1000m again.
We made it to Guaranda pretty late in the afternoon. It was a pretty nice and clean mountain town. We found some good street burgers from a Colombian guy and stayed in a nicer but still cheap hotel. 

Guaranda to Alausí

The next morning we set out south on more dirt roads and more mountain passes. We were treated with more perfect weather and more beautiful views.
The obligatory selfie.

After hitting a little town called Pallatanga we knew we wanted to go east over the mountains but none of our maps showed a way through. We stopped in the town to ask the locals if they knew. They directed us a bit further south, over a one way bridge, to a left turn that would lead us to a dirt road over the mountains.

With little to go on we headed out. Turns out their directions were easy to follow and the dirt road that went over the mountain was fairly uneventful and well maintained. We blasted over to Alausí in no time.

As soon as we got into town I pulled up at the first hostel I saw. Before we could even get off the bikes an obviously intoxicated but seemingly nice man approached us and asked the usual questions. After which he told us to follow him and have a beer with him. This being Sunday we had to go to a couple places until he found one to sell him beer. We then followed him a few miles out of town to a little corn mill house/barn. There we got a tour of their shop, had beers, laughs, food and so on.
After dark we headed back into town to the very same hostel we met those guys at. Finally, got out of our gear and settled into a room. We took the next day off to work on the bikes and do some laundry before setting off again for more dirt riding.

Alausí to Macas via Parque National Sangay

We knew this would be an interesting day of riding. Most people told us there wasn't a way through the park to the other side. Only that we could ride along via Ozagoche back north. Even the guys at Freedom Moto Rental in Quito weren't sure.

So we set out early to make sure we had enough time to try and figure it out. The morning started with a beautiful short section of the Panamerican before heading into the dirt.
Beautiful, fun, fast dirt roads all the way to Via Ozagoche which eventually led into the clouds and the rain to the lakes.
The lakes were beautiful but the weather didn't allow us to see them in their full glory. Being a little too ambitious I decided to go through some posts marking the end of the road and try to get closer to the lake.
It turns out to be a very deep, wet, muddy, slippery mistake. I was lucky to get the bike out without getting it stuck and with only one tip over.

We headed down another road looking to get closer to the lakes but it turned out to be a dead end. We did meet a curious local man that, when not beating his donkey, was very nice to us.
At the end of the road we took a break and a local boy came up to talk with us.
Next we needed to find the way through the park. The first bit was pretty slick, muddy and rainy so not many pictures. Quickly, however, it turned into a washed out road.
We pushed on as far as we could but with another 15-20 km we thought it was too slow to make it through. We doubled back through the mud to talk with the locals and see if maybe it got better or there was another way. They told us that when it was rainy it is impossible to get through but there is another road.

We set off to find the other road and sure enough we found it. Aside from some fairly easy water crossings it was a much better road.
Towards the end of the road we hit a village and these native kids were walking home from school. It amazes me how young these kids are that are just sent walking home from school by themselves...different world.
They really got a kick out of seeing themselves on the camera.

Now just a couple hundred meters from the road and the bridge across the river is completely gone.
Luckily there was a long detour back to the original road we were on, past the impassible section, which led back over the rivers to the main road.
An hour or so ride on pavement to Macas through beautiful mountain roads around alpine lakes and we made it to Macas.

Macas to Cuenca to Balao

An uneventful highway ride from Macas to Cuenca. 
Then after Dave's food poisoning past another dirt ride from Cuenca through the National Park Cajas we hit the coast and the port town of Balao where we'd find the boat to Isla Puna.
The ride through Cajas was beautiful and fun. A stark contrast to the coast which was painfully hot, humid, dusty and flat.


The Dirty Side of Ecuador
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