South of Quito there are two parallel chains of mountains that run north to south in Ecuador. When the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt visited this part of the world in 1802 he called this area the “Avenue of the Volcanoes”, largely because 8 of the country’s ten highest peaks are found in this corridor.
This part of the country is our next destination. We pass Cotopaxi (19,347 feet) on our way south toward Quilotoa and we see several others on clear days while we are in the area.
Brian met a fellow rider while riding the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska a few years ago. And after all this time they will finally get to see each other again. Julio lives in Ambato and Brian has reached out to him in hopes of getting to see him. Julio graciously invites us to stay with him and his family for a few days. Julio helps us sort out a short loop ride (110 miles or so) for a day trip out of Ambato to see the country’s highest peak, Chimborazo (20,702 feet). At its peak this volcano is actually the furthest point from the center of the earth (further even than the top of Mount Everest, because of the equatorial ridge).
Thankfully the morning dawns with clear bright blue skies. We ride south and west of Ambato and head toward the national park at this volcano. We see it in the distance for most of the morning but the uppermost part is obscured by a light cloud cover.
Julio has said we should be able to see llamas on the first half of the ride, and sure enough we do. We have climbed high enough to be above tree lines and the land is dry and almost desert like as we near Chimborazo. And the wind picks up as we get more exposed. We ride to 14,436 feet (4400 meters) at the entrance to the park but unfortunately aren’t allowed to ride in to the 4800 meter base camp level. Oh well, it’s a stunning view from almost anywhere.
There are alpacas….or are they llamas? grazing alongside the road. They don’t look very impressed with my stopping to take a picture. I can see why some farmers at home have them with their livestock. They seem very protective of their own, even almost aggressive.
As we carry on I see Vicunas grazing on the dry land, and after avoiding on as I top a hill, later see a sign warning drivers to be careful of them.
On our ride toward Riobamba and then back to Ambato I get clear looks at the snow-covered peaks of Tungurahua and Cotopaxi also, two more peaks in the “corridor”. Tungurahua has been huffing and puffing with small eruptions for nearly 15 years now and while it’s quiet the day of our ride, the day after it sends up two big plumes of ash and debris that we can see from Ambato.
I know I say this a lot, but I can’t help it. Wow….