We spent almost 2 hours waiting for an exit stamp out of Colombia, where it is complete understaffed chaos processing the Venezuelan refugees. There is one single person staffed to handle the hundreds (or thousands?) of people waiting to leave Colombia and head south.
Then only 20 minutes getting both entrance stamps and import permit for the car from Ecuador and no queue for the refugees. We thought if the border is any indication, we are going to love Ecuador. And our first stretch of road was definitely adding to this feeling! The roads are great and the drivers aren’t insane. Ahhh, what a great feeling to not be stressed out on the road.
Just past the border, we made a quick stop in Tulcán to visit a cemetery. It is not as morbid as it sounds, really. The hedges in the cemetery are ornately designed and feel like a celebration of life.
About 2 hours of blissfully easy driving from the border, we arrived at our first camp site. Finca Sommerwind is one of those Overlander meet up spots that’s always full of travelers. It was great to meet up and exchange stories with so many travelers, though the camp itself wasn’t our favorite. Lots of bugs and early morning dog barking… so after just 2 nights we decided it was time to move on.
Our first of many free camp sites and beautiful (and also free) hikes in Ecuador was at Laguna Cuicocha. It is named for a Cuy, or Guinea Pig. This is a crater lake with a small island the shape of a Cuy in the middle. The 3 hour hike around the rim was beautiful and we made it to the car just 10 seconds before the rain started!
Another beautiful hike paired with a beautiful campsite. We spent a silent night on the shores of Laguna Mojanda, then hiked to the peak Fuya Fuya the following day. Mitzi joined us on this uphill hike and can now claim she has hiked an over 4000m peak! She was great until the final steep stretch up and kept stopping in the brush to lay down. As a reward, Beni carried her halfway downhill until we found a nice rock to stop for snacks and relaxing.
Cochasqui Archaeological Park and unintended offroading
From Laguna Mojanda, Google told us it would be just 40 minutes to Cochasqui Archaeological Park on back roads. The first 20 minutes of the road were what we expected. Then suddenly we found ourselves on a mountain bike trail. It took us about 90 minutes of serious off-roading for the next 3km. This track would have been a lot of fun with a small 4×4 but with a fully equipped overland truck it was a bit hairy – but we managed to get through without flipping the car and Rachel had her first experience as a spotter. She will admit to not being the best for the job, though 😉 Unfortunately we bent the track rod on this trail but only slightly so we could still drive to our next stop.
The archaeological park was nice, but we wouldn’t take the same path a second time!
From the pyramids, we had to pop back to Ibarra to pick up the new tires we ordered and visit a local mechanic to weld in an attachment to store our new diesel jerry can. Then we had to head all the way to Quito to get a mechanic to fix our broken track rod. This threw us a bit off the route we had in mind, but a working car comes first!
From Quito we needed to back track a bit to visit the spots we missed. We started by heading to Papallacta to enjoy hot springs and hiking. We are still totally excited by all the wonderful FREE camping and hiking we can find. At the ranger station to Cayambe Coco National Park, we could stay in the parking lot with access to the bathrooms and wander the trails through beautiful high alpine lakes. Ecuador is better by the day.
Out of Papallacta we took another backroad – but this time, a real backroad. Google doesn’t have this road so our map below looks like we just backtracked a bunch, but we took this road to enjoy some Paramo and to avoid more backtracking. Unfortunately the clouds were low and thick, so we didn’t see too much of the Paramo we drove through. We ended the long bumpy drive up at the Refuge for Volcan Cayambe. It was cold at 4500m but absolutely beautiful!
Through all these drives, we crossed the Equator around 20 times. Two of these crossings we celebrated by stopping at Equator “landmarks”. One had a silly but fun museum where you can balance an egg on a nail and learn a bit about the indigenous tribes of Ecuador.