I find it difficult, to say good bye to the Cordillera Blanca. So for a last time, I go up into the mountains to Lago Paron. On a steep dead-end road I climb a narrow canyon. To both sides the vertical walls of rock rise for many hundred meters. At the lake I camp. But the weather is not so good yet. The surrounding mountains are hidden by the clouds. Next morning, the weather is perfect. The lake is surrounded by a chain of 6000ers: Piramide, Huandoy, Caraz... Before I start, I sit there for a long time, watching the peaks. Then the long descent starts, which finally brings me all the way down to the coast. On the way, I pass the Cañion de Pato. Here, at the most narrow point of the Rio Santa, the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra almost meet. The road passes under tremendous walls of red rock, through 36 tunnels (some long and dark...) through this spectacular canyon. After that, the valley becomes drier and barren, until I finally reach the costal desert shortly before Trujillo.
In Huanchaco I enjoy the beach (!) and watch the 'peruvian Beach boys' surfing. Here, along the coast, there is still the Garua, but after midday the sun usually takes over. For 2 days, I cycle on the Panamericana. It is terribly boring: the barren desert is even worse in the mist. Of course there is a lot of traffic, which doesn't make cycling more enjoyable. As soon as possible, I go back into the mountains, heading for Cajamarca. The route is instantly more interesting and people along the road are more friendly. I cycle along a interesting valley: on the valley floor there are terraced rice fields, while the slopes are extremely dry - quite a contrast. Springtime has just started, reason enough for the peruvians, to have a couple of days off. Many are travelling. In all the villages there are constantly fiestas. Tonight I stay in a little village, but towards the evening more and more people come from all the surrounding valleys. There are many food stalls, hand-operated carrousels, shooting galleries etc. All night long music bands are playing. But the highlight is the firework. This is a 10m bamboo tower. At midnight they fire it off - quite a spectacle!
In Cajamarca I leave once again the paved roads.I had believed by now, that no pass in Peru could surprise me anymore. But when the road before the Abra Barro Negra (3700m) drops to the Rio Marañon at only 900m, I am quite a bit surprised... On the other side of the pass I cycle through dense cloud forest. In the valley of the Rio Utcubamba there are many pre-inka ruins. The biggest - Kuelap - I visit. On top of a mountain they built from AD900 - 1100 a unique town. Surrounded by a giantic wall there were countless cone-shaped houses. The ruins have been left in their cloud forest setting, making the place even more fascinating.
Following the Rio Utcubamba I leave Chachapoyas. All of a sudden, I feel, as if I was in south east asia: rice fields and palmtrees everywhere. The climate is now tropical too. On the way from Jaen north to the border, I pass a extremely hot valley. The thermometer on my handlebars almost seems to burst at 55°C. A friendly pickup driver offers me a very sweet and cool pineapple. This border crossing is a rather new one and so there is not yet a bridge to the river. This I cross with a raft, made of oil-drums. It is a very relaxed border. The peruvian official even stamps the wrong date in my passport. After 2 1/2 month it is time to say goodbye to Peru. Ecuador welomes me with a incredibly steep climb on the first meters already. I cycle now through rainforest. A fascinating scenery: deep valleys, overgrown with dense forest, many waterfalls and everything constantly in the mist. For cycling, this is not quite the best climate: no matter if it rains or not, I cycle permanently in wet cloth, which won't dry at night anymore. On top of a high pass I reach the continental divide. Within only a few km, the rainforest disappears and I find myself in the warm, dry hippy-village of Vilcabamba. A place that became famose, for its hallucinogenic cacti juice.
The passes here in Ecuador are not quite as high anymore, as those in Peru. But they are often steep and there are many. Here in the southern Sierra I can not cycle for 40km without already climbing 1000m! I cycle in heights of 1800-3500m from Loja to Cuenca. There are many pastures with cows. Over 2800m I often pass dense coniferous forest - almost like at home! Today I stay in Saraguro, a little village in the mountains. It is sunday, market day here. From all the surrounding villages people come to the market. Men & women wear their hair long. All have a hut, which is different from region to region. Very special here are the men in their traditional black shorts! The market is, as always, very colourful and lively. The ecuadorians seem to be more reserved, but very friendly! I don't have the feeling, of being stared at all the time, anymore. Today there are also presidential elections here in Ecuador. No big trouble - everything seems to be as quite as always.
While I cycle from Cuenca to Riobamba, the rain seems to have taken over definitively. I virtually cycle from one rainstorm to the next. I am happy, when I reach Riobamba. This city lies on the foot of the vulcano Chimborazo (6310m). Of course I would like to climb it. But already on the way to the refugio by Jeep, we hit a heavy snow-storm. Next morning at 1:30 I start with my mountain guide. Today the weather is not too bad and we are climbing under a perfect starry sky. Trudging in the 15-20cm of fresh snow, we climb along a ridge. But at 5700mm we have to give up. We can not risk to go into the next slope, because of the danger of avalanches. The snowfall of yesterday was too much. Too bad, today the weather would have been fine...
Over two high passes (4300m) I cycle from Riobamba to Ambato. But I can't get rid of the bad weather. The second day, I cycle for hours in the pouring rain at over 4000m. When I finally reach Ambato I am wet through and frozen to the marrow. A little highlight there is still: today, on the 116st day of this journey, I cycled the 100'000st meter of vertical climbing ! From Ambato I go to Baños. There are many restaurants along the road, attracting customers with a hugh, grilled pig, they put just next to the road. Well it probably doesn't quite generate the desired effect with me... Baños is well known for its thermal springs. The right place to relax for a couple of days, before the final spurt to Quito.
Well, that the relaxing wouldn't last for too long was not difficult to guess... Together with Eloy, the mountain guide, with whom I was on Chimborazo already, we are heading for Cotopaxi. On the way to the mountain it starts raining and snowing again... We camp below the refugio. Next morning a cloudless starry sky greets us! But there is no moonlight today. In the complete dark we start climbing after midnight. Walking in the 20cm of fresh snow is quite exhausting. Perfect timing: Exactly for sunrise at 5.30 we reach the summit at 5897m. The views are not very spectacular, but the walk up the glacier was very nice. On the way down, I notice, that the snow, that had fallen yesterday is already black. Later, we hear, that there has been vulcano eruption not too far away. In Quito, the airport is even closed.
It is about time, to cycle the last kilometers. On this last stretch, the valley is flanked by big vulcanos. But I can hardly see them. They hide most oft the time in the clouds. Only on the very last day, I finally enjoy very nice weather. The closer I get to Quito, the heavier the traffic gets. I wonder, what the city looks like. The pictures on TV after the vulcano eruption showed a true ghost town. I am not sure, what is worse: the exhaust from the traffic, or the vulcano ash. I am happy to quickly find a hotel. The whole town is covered by a layer of vulcano ash. Dust masks are n sale everywhere - almost everyone wears one. People are busy cleaning up everywhere. Soon the historic old town with its beautiful squares, cathedrals and narrow streets looks as before. The airport has been closed for a week and opens up in time, 2 days before my flight. Tomorrow I will fly back home and this journey comes to an end.