Ecuador 1b: Avenue of the Volcanos – Cotopaxi and capital Quito

Cotopaxi -maybe the most beautiful of the lot. Evacuation signs remind the visitor that it is still an active volcano. Entlang der Strasse der Vulkane ist der Cotopaxi relativ leicht zu erreichen. Die Umgebung und der Park um den Vulkan sind besonders und wir haben deshalb einen zweiten Tag dort verbracht, bevor wir nach Quito weiter fuhren. Eine Übernachtung bei Gerd im Hostal Zentrum ist interessant, wenn auch laut, wenn man im Dachzelt schläft und nicht in einem seiner Zimmer. Our next overnight stop was the campsite at Cuello de Luna, Swiss owned and attended by Adrian with 3 large St.Bernhard dogs. Volcano Cotopaxi was not yet visible on our arrival and we hoped for clear weather. While cleaning our vehicle next morning, we discovered that a mouse had joined us in our vehicle - and despite our best efforts, we could not catch it (a nuisance for the next three weeks until only poison proved to be a solution). The weather cleared and our afternoon drive took us to the parking below the refuge at the foot of Cotopaxi -one of the most beautiful volcanos. Cotopaxi errupted last in 2015 and grey ash still covers the glacier while smoke is still emitted. On the next day the weather was even more perfect and visibility very clear while we again decided to visit the park and we took time to drive a circular scenic route in the park observing Cotopaxi from different angles and enjoying the flora. Again we were delighted that there were no entrance fees into this park. Camping inside this nature area is also permitted at designated spots -well worth it if there is little or no wind, however we did not make use of the opportunity and remained at Cuella de Luna. Our route then took us via Rumipamba and Sangolqui to the capital Quito, where we camped in the city at Hostal Zentrum run by the German Gerd -85yrs and full of interesting stories -offering the best breakfast imaginable. Gerd emigrated to Ecuador at the age of 72yrs and started the hostal then. Hostal Zentrum is conveniently close to the city - however, sleeping in our rooftop tent proved to be noisy due to the busy street. Be aware of your vehicle's height -ours just fitted in. Excursions took us to the old city, grande plaza, saw the golden La Compania church and took the teleferico cableway up to the high viewpoint over Quito, quite spectacular. Pity we did not have a view of the surrounding volcanos due to cloud cover, but we had clear views of the city and the old town section. A visit to the president’s palace in Quito on the Plaza de Armas is possible and was interesting: it is where the cabinet operates from and where the official residence is. All official gifts from different countries are on display and form part of the nations heritage. Our trip concluded with visits to the cathedral and Virgen del Panecillo. Leaving Quito we headed for Otavalo with its interesting craft markets.
This post covers the period 23rd to 28th August 2016

Ecuador 1a: The Avenue of Volcanos – Chimborazo the highest volcano

Along the avenue de volcanos the Ecuadorian volcanos are visible all around you -provided the clouds stay high.

Entlang der Strasse der Vulkane konnten wir die schönsten und höchsten Vulkane bestaunen -einer gewaltiger als der andere. Cotopaxi ist wohl der bekannteste, denn er war noch 2015 ausgebrochen. Asche und Lavastrom sind noch sehr sichtbar sowie die ständige Rauchwolke.

Once we left Peru, the desert-like landscape changed very quickly into lush banana plantations (who knows Chiquita bananas, the big sweet and yellow ones?) and agricultural fields right up to the high slopes.

Reaching Cuenca, we camped at the farm-like campsite Cabañas Yanucay with Umberto and Maria, conveniently situated to walk into the old town centre. Here a number of the original workshops can be seen where the famous Panama hats are made. We visited the Basilica as well as the old wooden church, today being a museum with exquisite wood carvings exhibited.

Next day we drove via Gamete to Laguna Atilla which was unfortunately misty and rainy and had to turn around due to landslide activity.

We decided to camp along a stream below a forest tree fellers' road where during the night suddenly 2 trucks camped next to us awaiting the rain to settle.

It was a cold and wet night, but our Alucab Shadow Awn and sidewalls turned the evening into a cosy affair with rum generously added to our tea. From here we continued to Riobamba where we camped in the yard of Hotel El Troje (Peacock) which Bernd and Marion had used on a previous trip. We found visiting the local market worthwhile where one hall is designated to the traditional speciality of grilled pigs -a sight to get used to at first - and had a delicious lunch of tender and spicy pork and crackling.

From Riobamba we accessed the volcano Chimborazo on a spectacular beautiful day. Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador (6310m) but is also the highest mountain on earth as measured from the centre of the earth (2000m higher than Everest). We drove right up to the mountain station giving us spectacular views. Our friends were chaffed as on their previous visit 3 years ago all the volcanoes were under clouds. While at the top viewpoint we also were lucky to observe an Andean wolf, the Lobo de Parano. Entry to the park was free and the top little restaurant served delicious cake and sandwiches. Returning to Riobamba Bernd’s cruiser needed an oilchange and both vehicles got an intensive cleaning in a family-run cambio de aceite y lavandero. In the interim our two ladies took a taxi to find the most delicious grilled chicken in town -it probably was the most expensive adding the taxi city tour into the cost of the grilled pollo. Next day we attempted to see the active Tungurahua volcano but a landslide and clouds prevented us getting there. On the way we saw sidewalk restaurants offering grilled guinea pigs -we did not try them as well as pigs where the crackling is done with a blow-torch. En route we passed San Miguel de Salcedo, know for its artesana ice creams -delicious and different, looking more like a lollipop than a conventional ice-cream. For the night we stopped at the crater lake Quilotoa on a cold and very dusty and windy afternoon- put up our awning and outside tent to shelter from the cold winds -but during the night it almost blew away while we watched one off the roofs of a nearby cottage disintegrating. As counter measure we tied it down and gathered heavy rocks to keep the tent and awning in one piece. Next morning we walked up to the viewpoint of this beautiful lake, the wind kept on pounding us but the view was fantastic. On our return we stopped at the Cañon del Rio Toachi. We continued towards Lasso, where we visited Hazienda La Cienaga, the hotel where Alexander v.Humboldt had stayed . On the way we visited an indigenous art gallery. Next on our trip we aimed to see the recently erupted (2015) volcano Cotopaxi - see our next post.
This post covers the period 16th to 22nd August 2016

Peru 9: Through the Cañon del Pato and along the coast to Zorritos

  The Cañon del Pato road runs through the tunnels originally dug for a train track. Driving it today is an experience of a different kind. Diese Strasse bietet genügend Aufregung: schmal und durch etwa 20 Tunnels direkt in den Stein gehauen. Nichts für schwache Nerven-es fällt steil ab und Gegenverkehr in den Tunnels veranlasst plötzliche Bremsmanöver. Trotzdem sollte diese Strecke gefahren warden, den sie ist landschaftlich spektakulär. We left Caraz and took the road known as Cañon del Pato. It leads through many short tunnel sections, which were originally dug for a railway line. The dropoff into the Rio Santa is at times deep and steep but scenic. A private toll road of the Projecto Chavimoche shortens the distance to the coast considerably and is in good condition.It helps to skip Chimbote on the coast and ends on the Panamericana Norte. We passed Trujillo and camped next in Huanchaco at the Huanchaco Gardens RV Campsite where overlanders meet. It has a pool and clean ablutions inside a room made available to the campers. Along the beach and pier there are many restaurants and the traditional fishing boats made of reed can still be seen (Caballitos de Tortora). The pier reminded us of back home in Namibia, Swakopmund. In one of the many seaside restaurants we had a good meal of prawns and calamari. Next day we were back on the Panamericana Norte. Originally we intended camping in Bayovar, decided against it on gutfeel and ended in the Estuario de Virrilá where we wild camped and which has an enormous amount of seabirds, the town's light visible across the estuary. At these beaches sea turtles lay off their eggs.

The route then took us to Piura with a shopping stop at PlazaVea and on via Mancora to Zorritos on the coast where Bernd and Marion Frauendorfer were patiently awaiting us to continue joint travels into Ecuador.

At Zorritos we camped at Swiss Wassi, where Jaques and Melba run a very nice overlanding stop and Melba makes a mean Pisco Sour on request. We also booked her for a lobster meal one evening in their house-delicious!

Also meet Colossus, the naked Peruvian dog.

This blog covers period 11th - 15th August 2016

Peru 8c: Parque Huascaran LLanganuco Sector

  Sector Llanganuco The dirt road starts near Yungay –a town which was heavily hit by an avalanche from Huascaran after an earthquake in 1970 and the scars run deep as 18000 people were buried alive - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huascaran Only one church tower remained standing-the massive cemetary visible behind it today reminds visitors of this tragedy. The winding dirt road took us past two lagoons. Our Landcruiser diligently climbed high up the pass to 4730m with spectacular views of the highest peaks in the Peruvian Andes. The views are difficult to describe-we let the pictures tell the story. We returned to Jaime for another pleasant night’s stay on the farm, getting ready to tackle the Cañon del Pato.

Peru 8b: Parque Huascaran – Ulta Sector

Sub Sector Ulta Next day we entered the second section of the National Park. We entered the Parque Nacional Huascaran at the turnoff at Carhuaz into the sub sector Ulta. We then took the winding pass into Peru’s highest mountain region, from where we could see both the Huascaran Sur 6768m as well as Huascaran Norte 6652m and other peaks like Ulta 5484m etc. The road is tarred and well accessible and reaches a tunnel at the top through which the park could be exited/entered from the other side of the mountain range. The views from the top were stunning. The day ended by us camping just before Caraz on the farm of Jaime and his excellent camping site called Guadelupe Jaime Veliz. It is on their farm, it had good Wifi and excellent baños which were in the process of being extended to cater for larger groups. Jaime was so kind to even have our kettle brazed in town the next day while we re-entered the park.

Peru 8a: Cordillera Blanca and the Puya Raimondii im Parque Huascaran

Both the Cordillera Blanca mountain range as well as the rare Puya Raimondii are worth a visit to the Parque Huascaran in Peru. Viele Reisende hatten uns empfohlen, die schneebedeckte Cordilliera Blanca sowie die seltenen Pflanzen des Parkes zu besuchen. So machten wir uns dorthin auf den Weg und sind nicht enttäuscht worden. Auch ist der Park beliebt für Trekking. Die wilde Landschaft wird wohl einer der Höhepunkte unserer Reise bleiben. Parque Huascaran can be entered at 3 different gates, necessary in order to see the various attractions. We started at the Carpa Section. Carpa Section Driving towards Huaraz we first entered the Carpa section close to Pachocoto and were permitted to sleep in the parking lot for the night and use the baños at the gate in order to enter the park early in the morning. Close to the parking lot is a little lagoon with some birds which made for entertaining bird watching, especially the quarrel between an Andean Gull and a female Giant Coot. The sunset was also spectacular from our location, the evening icy cold. Driving into the park we soon came across the rare Puya Raimondii in clusters and up the hill slopes. This unique plant reaches an age of around 40 years and only flowers once in its lifetime, then dies.( Puya raimondii, also known as queen of the Andes, Titanka or Puya Raimondii, is the largest species of bromeliad. It is native to Bolivia and Peru and is restricted to the high Andes at an elevation of 3000 – 4800 m- also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puya_raimondii ) A bonus was to spot the giant hummingbird that is assumed to pollinate this plant on one of the flowers. We continued towards the parking of the Pastoruri glacier which we reached finally by horse. The Nevado Pastoruri is 5240m high.Unfortunately this glacier is receeding due to global warming. On driving back we briefly stopped at the clear blue Ojo’s (eyes), water holes with bubbling gases coming up from deep below and at some rock paintings on the way. We journeyed to Huaraz and stayed at the Real Hotel Huascaran for the night where we slept in our vehicle on a large grassy area behind the hotel and paid for the use of the bathroom(S09° 30.7751 W077°31.8703).