The first stop was Otavalo, which I'd marked on my map... for some reason that I couldn't remember. But I wanted to make it there from the border, so I stuck to the main highways and headed straight there. I probably could have made it to Quito if I really wanted to, but with Las Lajas in the morning and a border crossing, I decided to play it safe.
The rain fortunately let off as I was finishing my border paperwork, and by the time I got a little south on the road, the clouds started to open up and let a little sunshine through. This led to some absolutely gorgeous views outside the city of Ibarra that were my introduction to Ecuador.
|Started out with some dry mountains.|
|But very quickly got very green.|
|And the Lord said, may the holy valley (or perhaps the holy strip mine) be bathed in light.|
|The map on the wall of the hostel with sights listed. Many of these roads didn't seem to correspond to the roads on Google Maps, so I mostly navigated by this picture when I was riding around.|
I'd made plans to get up and ride out to a lagoon in the morning, but when I woke up it was raining and generally a crappy day, so after spending some time on the computer in the morning I walked around to the market a little bit - Wednesdays are one of the bigger days for it, but I think the rain kept it a bit smaller than it otherwise would have been. By the afternoon, however, the rain started to clear up, so I put on the motorcycle gear and headed out for a day ride.
First stop was Lago Cuicocha. After a few wrong turns (but down some nice riding roads, so I can't complain too much), I arrived at the lake to some views that were pretty good despite the clouds. I nixed the hike I'd originally planned since I'd started so late in the day, but headed down the path a little bit to a slightly higher viewpoint for some pictures.
|There's also a boat you can take to the island in the middle that I cut out of my plans.|
|Gorgeous color to the water.|
|The volcano in the distance as I descended.|
|Cool architecture, if a little cluttered due to the power lines.|
|The church behind the main square.|
|You could camp near here too, which I imagine would be nice with the sound of the stream nearby.|
|A few people exploring the caves.|
When I'd talked to the owner of the hostel about things to do the day before, he'd asked if I was going to Quito next. When I said yes, he said there was a really cool way to get there on some back roads. "Come on over and lets pull up Google Maps," he says. Then he puts the webpage in satellite mode and starts pointing out little lines between the trees in the pictures. Those little lines are apparently the roads I'm supposed to be taking - they're not shown on the "road map" version. I marked a few stars at the major turns, and hoped I could manage to not miss them. I asked how the roads were, and he said he'd taken them in a car before so they're not too bad.
So in the morning I headed up into the mountains. At first, I had an interesting cobblestone road, but it turned to dirt right about when I arrived at one of the three lagunas that are tucked up within the peaks of the mountains there.
|Bumpy, but not too difficult of a ride.|
|The big laguna. I saw a couple groups of people hiking around here.|
|The area was primarily grassy highlands, with rocky peaks sticking up out of the landscape.|
|Everything to the left is a few inches of super soft mud, and quite a bit steeper than it looks in this picture. I gunned it and made it up okay, but I can't imagine a sedan making it up this road.|
|The main laguna, with the clouds sweeping over.|
|The other direction.|
|I was parked next to these peaks which kept disappearing and reappearing as the clouds moved over.|
|These guys fortunately weren't too much of a problem - the guy behind them was herding them from his motorcycle.|
|This, however, is a bit of a problem.|
Fortunately I found one (with a little help from a car driving by as I sat confused at one intersection) and after cutting through a small town I found the highway - and what a gorgeous highway it was. Freshly paved, twisty, and stuck to the side of a mountain, I cruised my way down into Quito where I rewarded myself for the hard riding day with a Big Mac at McDonald's.
Ecuador was already turning out to be more than I had expected - more beautiful, more awesome roads, more interesting - but there was still more to come in Quito.