The road from Riobamba climbs up to a region of relatively flat paramo, passing the Laguna Colta, and for a while follows the route of a single track railway. There are a number of un-gated level crossings; the railway is apparently functional, though I didn’t see any trains.
I stopped overnight in the town of Guamote, and (not yet being brave enough yet to try my luck with los bomberos) found a bed at IntiSisa.

From there the road climbs steadily again, before the town of Alausi reveals itself beneath a steep drop, perched implausibly itself of a steep hillside. The thrill of descending rapidly towards the town tempered slightly by the onward road visible on the other side of the valley, climbing steeply in a series of hairpins. It was too early to stop there, and pushed on- eventually pitching my tent opposite the village of Gasuntos. I was very close to the village, but separated from it by a river and a deep valley carved by a fast flowing river.
My chosen home for the night was next to a little used road just off the PanAm, and right on the edge.. A moment of inattention allowed one of my panniers to roll down the slope- I recovered everything in the end, though my sleeping bag rolled a long way downhill. I had to go back down a second time with my powerful bike headlight before i managed to find it.
It was a dark few minutes (both literally and figuratively) searching on a slope of loose, dry earth and prickly vegetation that was on the brink of unclimbable.

The road climbs and winds unforgivingly through narrow steep valleys- with each high point, an excellent view of the last climb and the next, and apparently endless mountains- lower lying land to the west was blanketed in cloud.

I passed through Chunchi and El Tambo, with a night under the stars in between. I’m still surprised by the suddenness with which one is besieged by the darkness. The sun sets and the temperature drops rapidly with it. The all but full moon was almost bright enough to read by, and by 9 o’clock or so, the only electric lights visible are of the few street lights that adorn small towns. Full of porridge and safe in my tent, there is great peace to be found, just as soon as those wretched dogs stop barking.
A few trucks rumble up and down the highway through the night, though there is markedly less traffic than even a little further north.

The last 75km to Cuenca began with a steep climb back up to 3500m, but with a correspondingly long end enjoyable roll down the other side, and much gentler topography passing Azogues.

Simon and I had discussed earlier that the people in the Ecuadoran Andes were more introverted, more reserved than we had encountered elsewhere. While that’s true to some degree, it seems less so as I move south; I am often greeted with waves and smiles from the side of the road and the people riding in open trucks. Just south of Guamote, two little girls ran after me (I wasn’t moving very fast)- my spanish is just about up to exchanging pleasantries with nine year olds.. they were curious about where I was going, and where I was from. ‘Scotland!’ I tried- they hadn’t heard of it. ‘Europe? ‘ ..no. ‘Near Russia’ I ventured.. ‘Ohhh! That’s really far away!’.

The old part of the city of Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca form a neat grid of relatively narrow streets ..and a necessary but maddening one-way system. As ever, the market is filled with amazing fruit and vegetables, and meat of every description. I indulged in a day off, spending the day wandering the streets sin bicicleta and eating. There is an interesting mix of the tacky and touristy rubbing shoulders with the more traditional. Meat here is often served in a gently spiced brown stew which I haven’t encounteted elsewhere, which is .. excellent.

Loja is only 200km from here, but lots of climbing to do on the way.

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