While in Ecuador on the Galapagos we met a nice man named Niels whom we traveled with for the week. When we got back to Quito we invited him to go on the biking trip with us, and called the Biking Dutchman the night before, and they added him in. They made it so easy! Since we were all staying at the same hotel, they came to pick us up at 7 am. (A cab would have cost less than $2, but this gave us an extra 20 minutes to sleep.)
Beto, our Biking Guide showed up at the hotel at 7 am to pick us up. Equipped with a 4 wheel drive with 4 bikes on the top (three for us, and 1 spare in case we had an accident with one) and a Biking Dutchman sign on the side, there was no question that this was our ride. We drove out of the city and into farmland. After an hour we made a quick stop so we could pick up snacks and use the facilities. A 2 liter bottle of water is only 50 cents whereas in the city, the little bottles are 50 cents.
Entering the Park
A little while later, we were entering the park. At the entry gate ($10 to get in), a woman was selling hats and mittens. This is your last chance.
The unpaved road wound up and around, eventually entering the clouds, then breaking though towards the top. We never got to see the entire top without clouds, but the view was still beautiful. Our car ride ended shy of the snow and glaciers at around 4600 meters, which we think is about 15,000 ft. above sea level.
Let the Biking Begin!
The wind was brisk and cold and cut though our fleece. The gloves Beto supplied were thankfully donned, and we were off. Testing the steep bumps with speed, I immediately found myself in the all too familiar launch over the handlebars while protecting the camera rather than my spine routine, the scrambling to pull the bike and my pride to the side of the road before anyone saw. But the landscape is wide open. Farmers in the valley and people on the summit probably saw. Thankfully I had my first aid kit and was able to hide the blood before Beto came around the corner in the SUV heading towards our first 'checkopoint' which was where the three of us would meet up with Beto before we biked the next leg.
Slowing it down, I decided to focus on photography. Our friend Niels had the same thought, though he had a digital movie camera which could sweep the landscape to capture the grandeur of the volcano, and catch a passing Bill and Cori. Only a few - 'Wait, Cori, can you go back up there and come back down?', which is not very easy at 14,000 ft, but for a good shot to show our Moms? You bet.
Following our first checkpoint, we came across the wild horses. They used to belong to farmers before the park bought the farms from the people. When the people left, the left the horses behind. The horses have no natural predators, and live off the abundant grasses that grow well in the clouded, damp region.
The Incan Ruins
Heading down for a while because too luxurious and we had to begin a short climb towards the Incan ruins for lunch. The ruins are of a resting area along the Incan trail. People heading to Machu Picchu passed though here and continued south into Peru. The remains were not massive, but their part in history was impressive.
Lunch was wonderful. Homemade tuna sandwiches with cream cheese and mayonnaise, with shredded carrots from the cooler along with cool-aide. Quiche was the salad of the day, also home baked, and chocolate brownies for desert. South America is expert in chocolate, might I add! Mrs. Biking Dutchman is like a South American Martha Stewart. We all enjoyed the lunch, which was nice, because the altitude and the bumpy ride was a little unsettling up to that point.
The Biking Continues
We then headed back towards the tree farm in the distance for our final checkpoint. Along the way we stopped to watch a hawk, and wove around a few calves. At the tree farm, where a deep brook was surrounded by pink flowering heather, we took a final rest while Beto shared the remaining sandwiches and a few jugs of water with the farmers.
From that point we exited the park and headed through beautiful farmland, reminiscent of Vermont, complete with the Vermont State Flower (purple clover) and dandelions. Only the volcano gave hint to the exotic location.
A few homes were nestled into the hills, all very beautiful with flower gardens and green hills, views of the valley below and the glaciers above, redefining what 'rich' is.
Our biking ended at a basketball court just in time to get us out of the heavy rain. The drive home wandered through the farms and suburbs, curbing around a stray llama, and back into the modern city of Quito. Exhausted but happy, we thanked Beto for an unimaginably beautiful day and hoped that some day we could come back and bike some more.