Ecuador: Mystical Paramo and Four Legged Friends

The border between Colombia and Ecuador is at the bottom of a long hill. Our exit from Colombia is fast. A passport stamp, a changing from pesos to greenbacks and we’re through. A month after we arrived, we leave. My eyes have been opened a bit wider. There’s much more to Colombia than cocaine and coffee. Come see for yourself.

In Tulcan we find supplies for a couple days, and then struggle to remember how to pack them all on our bikes. It’s been ages since we have gone over 24 hours without a resupply. Tyndall says he has no room for vegetables. I wonder what he has stashed in his frame bag instead.

It’s not long before we turn off the main road. We’re going up, looking for wide open spaces and paramo. Mother Nature has other plans for us though. Wind lashes at our backs and rain pours down. We take temporary refuge under a porch. The dogs have the best spot though.

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We’re all waiting for the storm to pass.

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When it does, we ride on, waving our thanks to the kind lady who shared her roof for the afternoon.

Pockets of paramo appear above 11,000 feet. Frailejóns majestically dot the mountainsides, standing witness – although to what I haven’t yet decided.

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I hear water running everywhere, but can’t see it. I imagine streams, cut deep through the peat rushing down to quench the insatiable thirst of those below.

At the top of the climb, the alleged ranger station appears. We inquire about camping and are shown a room all our own, complete with a view. This is what we have been craving: quiet wilderness and open spaces.

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We listen to the crickets and watch fireflies in the dark.

In the morning, mist swirls around. It’s mysterious and magical.

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The park rangers switch out. One leaves for his home near the fronterra. He says it is a six hour walk, but now he has a moto. Esmerelda arrives on foot. She tells us she walks three hours from San Gabriel to come to work. She forages in the paramo and comes back with piñueles for us to try.

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She says they help with stomach and intestinal troubles. She tells us about the bears and the wolves and the birds that live in the paramo. One wolf frequents the area. He is called El Muchacho.

We walk up the hill and watch the sunset. We count five volcanos on the horizon.

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Cooking dinner, a shooting star drops through the sky. Later, El Muchacho comes by, watching us with blinking yellow eyes. We consider walking to San Gabriel tomorrow to get food, just so we can spend another day up here.

The morning is clear and crisp. It’s time to move on. We descend through the paramo.

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Dirt road turns to cobbles turns to pavement and it just keeps dropping. It’s fun, until it’s not and my stomach sinks at the thought of all those feet we will need to regain. Green hillsides turn brown. Cactai reappear. The cool breeze turns into a hot blast. Where are we? What is this place? We’re in a rain shadow filled with prickly things and bitey bugs. I wilt.

In Tumbabiro I hear music. It sounds like an ice cream truck. I pedal faster. The truck with the noise comes around the corner. It’s not an ice cream truck at all. It’s a garbage truck. Well. Nothing to do but pedal on.

The heat diminishes and the bugs disappear. Balance is restored.

We take back roads to Cotacachi. Roads we think might be dirt are pavement. Roads that might be pavement are cobbles. I bump along, riding the sandy singletrack on the side.

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The market in Otavalo is a colorful feast for the eyes. Blankets, clothing, ponchos, rugs, wall hangings everywhere.

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Instead of lingering, we head for the hills. 17 kilometers on a cobbled road later, and we arrive at Laguna Mojanda just before the sky opens up.

Along the way, this guy adopts us.

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He doesn’t chase bikes, is afraid of cars and doesn’t bark. His legs are long enough to bound through the snow and he keeps up with the bikes.

He is an Ecuadorian pup, and we have no home to share with him.

Not sure what to do with him, we go to sleep, hoping he will have returned home come morning, or found his place among the dog pack at the lake.

He doesn’t. I ask a couple returning down to Otavalo if they will take him back to where he came from. They won’t. Instead, they feed him and the other strays, like people feeding ducks at a pond in the States.

Tyndall climbs Fuya Fuya. I play with the camera. We’re ready to go. All the dogs are sleeping. Can we sneak away?

I look back and our pack of three has become a pack of five.

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It makes no sense to me. We haven’t shared any food with these pups, but still, they come. After awhile, two return to their lakeside refuge, but our one friend from yesterday hangs on.

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Breaking up is hard to do, but we’re headed for a short stretch on the PanAm and that’s no place for a timid pup. We break ties outside Malchinguí and pedal on with heavy hearts.

Where we rode: Ipiales – Tulcan – Taques – El Angel – Salinas – Urcuqui – Cotacachi – Otavalo – Laguna Mojanda – Malchinguí

The ranger station in the El Angel Ecological Reserve is at the very top of the climb from Taques. It appears to always have a ranger on duty, but even if it’s locked up, there’s a vestibule one could sleep in out of the elements.

At Laguna Mojanda there’s a structure with good protection from the wind and rain for camping.

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