La Balsa to Cuenca

Peru has been arguably tough to leave.  At some point, I’ll have to look back across the blog and see what I’ve previously listed as favorites.  But, for sure, Peru has been my favorite country thus far.  Occasional gringo hang-ups aside, the riding was simply fantastic with day after day along the Peru Divide and the Tres Cordilleras serving up a near continuous stream of epic mountain vistas and splendid valleys. And both Nevado Ausangate and the Huayhuash Trek were incredible highlights.

With a fast descent down to the river in La Balsa, I pick up an early morning stamp and immediately head up one of Ecuador’s famed winchers.  They’re not long, but they are steep.  On the Yungas route, I joked with Cass about measuring the climb by my shirt saturation.  Ecuador instantly takes it to a new level as I roll into Zumba saturated front to back, top to bottom.  

In Zumba, a weird culture shock confronts me while peering into stores packed with fruits and vegetables, and I stare in awe at the bread choices before me in the local panaderia. While the border is an invisible political line, the contrast between the two countries is felt immediately.

 

Not long after a morning climb out of Zumba, I veer off to the west on a grassy-medianed squiggle of silence for the rest of the day before emerging in Palanda.

The slow life of Sunday afternoon Bingo.

A mix of road and dirt swings me through the sleepy little town of Quinara and into the gringo mecca of Vilcabamba.  Affectionately known as 'Gringobamba,' the cafes edging the plaza flow with Kombucha and iced coffee, while retirees from the States and Canada trade seeds in their handcrafted hippie pants.

Ecuadorian colors abound.

After one last vilca verde smoothie, I nod goodbye to Mo the local anarchist community ‘not leader leader’ and head up to Malacatos, where I pick up my all time favorite type of grinder - the ditch grinder.  With the upper body strength of a twelve year-old, I grunt my way upwards until eventually topping out along a wonderful ridge high above Loja.

A rare flat stretch along the river towards Vinoyacu the following day brings me through tiny communities.  The local crew from one village gives El Gordo some extra squeezes to ensure my tire patching skills are up to snuff before sending me on my way.

Back on the road, I make fast time north to San Felipe de Ona.  As I crest the last climb before turning back onto the dirt, Dave's smiley mug of @longhaultrekkers appears out the window of a collectivo. Having not seen them since way down south, hugs are briefly shared and Sora gets a quick head scratch knowing we'll reunite for longer in Cuenca.

Out of Nabon, I pick up Fatcycling's patchwork of sublime dirt tracks leading into Cuenca. 

Bone dry for me, tiny dirt roads snake amongst the hills, at times vaguely reminding me of New Mexico 

and New England.

On a quiet Sunday morning, I drop down into Cuenca. Riding through the center of the city, it is one of a few times where my mind registers that I have covered an awful lot of miles and memories. It feels good to be back where it all began nearly a year ago.

ROUTE:

La Balsa – Zumba – Back Road to Palanda – Yangana, Loja – Back Road to Vilcabamba - Loja - Saraguro - San Felipe de Ona - Nabon - Gima - Cuenca