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Although we prefer to avoid the Panamericana and other big highways, from Pasto to the border just after Ipiales it actually passes through some impressive countryside and isn't that busy.

Blanca waved a happy greeting as we trundled past her house at 'camp o'clock'. Soon we were happily setting up on her roof, though not until after having to show her our down jackets and sleeping bags to convince her that we wouldn't freeze overnight! That evening, despite our protestations that we had food, she fed us 'sopa' and plied us with 'tinto' (sweet black coffee). The next morning, our last in Colombia, she told us about her husbands failing health and we understood the patina of sadness that overlies her face. After we'd thanked her for her hospitality again, she told us she was just being human. Colombians are truly wonderful people. (photo S.Hedges)

The best days are such as these! We got off the highway within 15km of the border onto a route across the Paramo, or high grasslands.

The Paramo is a wild, windswept landscape to rival our favourites on this trip. Apart from the pampas grass, there are 2 predominant plants that post their flowering stems high. The fluffier ones with leaves are frailejon, the others a yucca-like cactus.

The well insulated flowering stem of the yucca-like plants

and the frailejon

Otovalo is famous for an arts and craft market which overflows its weekday boundaries each saturday to become the biggest in south america. Even on a week day we found it a dizzying display of colour and woolly warmth

After weathering the cobbles and what is becoming the daily rain, we arrive at Laguna Mojanda. Possibly because of the weather we have it to ourselves, and our minds drift to other similar places we love. Scotland and southwest Tasmania

All that is already at the top of a climb must climb again. We cracked out the stove and defrosted before heading up to the pass near Cerro Negro. The craggy ridge-line on the left had us reminiscing about the Western Arthurs range in Tassie as we ground our way up the hill

then at the pass, with the cloud still holding off we are offered a vista worth the effort before a rattling, sliding descent down to 'civilisation'

A few kilometres north of Quito the road crosses the equator and there is a proliferation of monuments. This is a sneak view, as we were too stingy to pay the entry fee!

As we settle into the Casa de Ciclista in Tumbaco amid the cast-off bike parts, there are traces of cycle-tourists away doing other things and due to return.

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