Ecuador: Riobamba to Loja – via Macas, Zamora and the orient

From Riobamba we decided that we couldn’t cope with any more Panamericana, even after only a half-day or day at a time in between side-trips. So, we took what turned out to be a mostly paved route through the Ecuadorian Orient before climbing back up to Loja, the last big town before Peru.

What looks like a walking bush, isn’t… The agricultural lands south of Riobamba are largely hand-tilled with truckloads of indigenous workers and their tools descending on the fields in the morning as we pass.
And as we meander our way past Cebadas, the hillsides morph slowly away from the settled and regimented fields to paramo and something wilder
Hands-up who, if not otherwise informed, would place this in Scotland. We did, obviously, and with every turn in the road we were transported in different ways round the globe
At the highest point of the road heading east, the Lagunas de Atillo are ringed by snow-capped mountains that are constantly revealed and hidden by cloud.
From there, the only way is down – from 3500m to 850m at Macas/Sucua. The road borders the Sangay NP with pristine forest and plunging drops to foaming rivers. There’s also a 750m tunnel, so bring lights. We were very tempted to camp at the top of a 2 storey viewing platform about 20km from Gral Proaño, but it was early afternoon, so we rolled on.
Sarah heading for the light! 750m of blackness, dripping water and careful underlit riding
Some of the bridges didn’t stand up to the river flow… This one was being replaced as we rode past
Rio Upano, that runs through the Ecuadorian Orient is scene of tourist white-water adventures. We ride on by
“Let’s care for the trees, they are the lungs of the earth” The whole of highway E45 is lined by signs like this. Ecuador has laws that give rights to the environment, meaning that habitats cannot be destroyed without significant effort.
As growing darkness threatened us with benightment near Limón, we spotted a brightly painted, but empty wooden shack discarded by the road-builders. It turned out to be nicely tent sized and even had a porch for watching the clouds rise as the sun rose
San Juan Bosco nestles beneath the imposing Pio Monte amid much lushness. This “middle” section of our oriental diversion was slower riding than we might have liked, but stayed high enough to give cool nights to aid our sleep. In contrast to our central american rainy season insomnolence
Our spirits lifted with the myriad mariposas that coloured the road and air as we worked our way up the climb before free-wheeling down to Gualaquiza.
Central and South American fire stations (Bomberos) have a reputation for cycle tourist hospitality. We’d previously dabbled with this a couple of times in Costa Rica (Batán) and Panamá (Arraiján), but we seriously indulged as we worked out way along the E45. Many thanks to the Bomberos of Sucúa, Gualaquiza and Yantzaza :-) (Photo S.Hedges)
From Yantzaza onwards the heavens treated us to almost continuous rain. The Rio Zamora was pretty wild, and waterfalls abounded from all sides as we chugged our way upwards having willed ourselves to leave Zamora in the afternoon rain
Did we mention that it rained a lot? Sarah riding, briefly unwaterproofed, past one of many road-side torrents on the way up to Loja
A brief experiment in GPS recording – the elevation profile of the Oriente route from Riobamba to Loja

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