Monday, 31 July 2017

Cycling across the border between Colombia and Ecuador

After leaving Pasto, we headed to Ipiales which was the border town at the Colombia-Ecuador border in Colombia. Took the opportunity to visit the Las Lajas Sanctuary, a church built between a valley. Despite the rain, which has plagued the past 7 riding days, and the resulting overcast skies, the view was still amazing. Being close to 3,000m elevation, I could definitely feel my lungs struggling to extract oxygen from the thin air. Walking to get a better view definitely had me gasping for breath and I guess it was a combination of the 700m of ascent, thin air and my general lack of cycling fitness which had me struggling to walk around!

Plaques giving thanks for favors received lined the walkway to the Cathedral.
After the second night, we woke up at 7, had breakfast and headed straight to Rumichaca to cross the border. Getting there was easy as it was generally downslope and it took less than 20mins from Ipiales. Getting through immigration on the Colombian side was easy too though we had to use the pedestrian line (kinda hoped that we could use the car lane as it would have been faster). It was the Ecuador immigration that really took some time. We were queuing up for almost 3 hours before we had a chance to even get within visual range of the counters. There were also a large number of Venezuelan asylum seekers camped outside of the immigration office. I guess it is a good thing I decided not to visit Venezuela after all. The solidarity and camaraderie of the Venezuelans were amazing though and they sang songs to keep their spirits up. Cycling in the Andes has been tough, but I'd imagine waiting outside for days/months without and idea of what will happen and being in limbo ain't easy either! I guess not that many Singaporeans use this particular border as well as the lady took my passport to the back room twice and also consulted 2 other colleagues before returning to the counter and proceeding with the necessary work.

Right after clearing customs, it was off to Tulcan. Needless to say, after the brilliant downhill from Ipiales, there was a climb right from the get go before we could get to Tulcan. It was also odd to have to start thinking in USD which is the currency used in Ecuador.
First meal in Ecuador. 
Based on the recommendation of Oscar from Colombia, we also visited the cemetery in Tulcan before proceeding on the Pan American Highway. It had a topiary garden which made it a really unique experience!

As it was pretty late already we decided to stay at the next town in Julio Andrade as it was only a short 20km away. Asked at the fire station in Julio Andrade, however the station chief directed us to San Pedro de Huaca, a fifteen minute ride away, as it was an actual station and more likely to have space to put us up. Fortunately for us, after one of the firemen consulted the station chief, they let us stay in an empty bunk which had 2 beds. Definitely a lifesaver as it was already dark and none of us wanted to be cycling at night especially with the area being in the clouds it's like perpetually raining!


Up bright and early to head Ibarra, which almost a hundred kilometers away, and the first 70km was magnificent. Downhill most of the way and we covered it in 3 hours with speeds close to 70km/h on some stretches. Barely had to peddle at all and before knowing what was up, we were through Valle de Chota and looking for a place to grab lunch! Happiness for me was short-lived though as the last 30km was where it was really painful. Right from leaving the lunch venue, it was ascending all the way. When I reached a crest, I would realise that it wasn't even flat, it was just that the incline was not as steep as before. With some tailwind, I was happy just to be able to keep above 6km/h when i wasn't stationary! The views at the last climb before Ibarra was amazing though and i used the opportunity to take more photos while resting at the same time!

Took a while but finally I made it to Ibarra, a medium sized town, and met my fellow travellers at Hotel Imbabura. The proprietor is a friendy old man who lives with his family and has a massive collection of airline sized liquor from all over the world. Sadly there isn't any liquor manufactured in Singapore so he had to satisfy himself with showing me one from Japan. He recommended Laguna Cuicocha and the town of Cotacachi which was well known for it's leather goods which we visited the following day and also San Antonio de Ibarra which we intend to stop by on our way to the Equator! From the bus ride out to Cotacachi, it looks like getting out of Ibarra to the Equator promises to be a challenge with something like a 400m ascent over the course of 10km. Fingers crossed for my legs!

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