Monday, 17 October 2011
From the Southern Highland city of Cuenca I cycled East down to the Upper Amazon basin of Ecuador (known as El Oriente locally). I'd arrived in Cuenca together with fellow cyclists Hannes and Annelies, and on leaving Quenca we were joined by Swiss cyclists Phillip and Isa. To say that we cycled "down" to the Oriente is not completely correct - it was rather a case of "ups and downs". The scenery along the way was spectacular, although often the hills were very steep and the road was unpaved in sections. The first mountainous part was through luscious cloud-forest, with it's accompanying mist and rain. Once down in the Amazon Basin the climate was quite different to that of the highlands, and I hadn't experienced that type of heat and humidity since Eastern Bolivia some months ago. However, it was a nice change, cycling through the tropical forest with all sorts of exotic flowering plants. We camped once in the rain, but stayed over mostly in village hostals. Once we were fortunate to camp inside a disused restaurant, as it really stormed during the night. While on the subject, I'll reply to Peter Z's curiosity as to why one would want to camp inside a building. In this case we were in the tropics, so the tent keeps out all the bugs such as mosquito's, sand flies, and spiders. Camping inside a school literally puts you in the eyes as the kids stare through the windows, so the tent allows for some privacy when changing clothes, etc. At high altitude the tent lends additional insulation agains the cold, and if it rains then at least a person is not confined to the tent - you can sit outside to cook and socialise. If I camp in the same spot for a few days (such as on the old fishing platform in Penang) then the roof protects the tent from baking in the sun, and when I walked off to the shops I could secure my belongings inside the tent. So, generally, camping inside is what I call "easy camping". My cycling companions are early risers so they usually leave before me in the mornings and I catch up with them later. As a result I was on my own for a day or two after somehow losing the others along the way. From the town of Puyo we climbed up again towards Baños and the Central Highlands of Ecuador. Baños is a very touristy town, and there are hordes of Gringo's as well as local tourists. The town derives it's name from the local hot springs, and there is also a huge smoking vulcano looming overhead. All manner of amusement equipment is for hire, and as I cycled up from Puyo I was passed in the opposite direction by swarms of Gringo's wearing river-rafting helmets and barreling downhill on rented mountainbikes. Next I'll be heading North through the vulcano-studded Central Highlands.