Once we left great hospitality of El Angel’s firemen, a long descent awaited us, going from 3600m to 1000m. On the way down, we met Patricio Castillo and his unstopping energy. Teacher from Ibarra in Ecuador, Patricio was on his way to Lita, 90km down in the valley. He then decided to cycle with us, on his small mountain bike.
After a few hours and a few dying lungs, we finally arrived at the end of our descent, and indeed, the beginning of our climb. A massive climb of more than 4000m was ahead of us, so we decided to take a bus to the small town of Buenos Aires, in the middle of the climb. Patricio really wanted to help us and was looking for pick up to bring us to our destination. The prices were definitely to high, Patricio was not happy, we decided to wait for the 2$ bus.
About 20 minutes later the bus arrived ! We ran to get our bikes and went straight to the bus to start loading them in the luggage compartment. Suddenly, two cops arrived on the side of the bus and told us it was impossible to go in, as the village is closed for strangers. Without many negotiations, we took our bikes out of the bus and sadly walked away.
To give you a bit of context, let’s jump back in time. Since 6 months, Buenos Aires is under the control of the Ecuadorian army. Gold mines have appeared in the region since 2017 and transformed the quiet village of about a hundred inhabitants in a real no go zone with more than 10 thousands of people working in the mine in less than 2 years. The mines were controlled by the mafia that were making their own laws. The dismantling and evacuation of the miners in June 2019, sometimes coming from far away like Venezuela or Peru, uncovered an opaque operating network with mixed murders and prostitution, and where the exploited miners worked in inhuman conditions. Since then the area is completely closed people that don’t live there.
Seeing the situation, Patricio came to the rescue. We talked to the policemen, insisted saying that we where our french friends, and that he was a teacher, and the police finally called their commandant to get some orders. After a long and stressful wait, a passeport control and a few pictures of us, they finally let us go with one condition, we had to live the village early next morning. Perfect ! That was our plan anyway. Thank you Patricio ! We quickly put our bikes in the bus, jumped in, and off we go to Buenos Aires!
At our arriving in the village, we had to pass another police control. A few minutes of talk, another call to the commandant, and we were allowed to go in. It was Sunday, every people where out, watching the volleyball match on the main square. Everybody was staring at us, I guess they haven’t seen any gringos for a while. The atmosphere in the village was really weird, there were almost more men from the army and the police than proper inhabitants. We got diner and wait straight to bed, getting some rest for the huge climb the next day.
And finally, in the afternoon, we arrived to the paramo ! What an award after such a long climb. We where instantly amazed by the change of landscape with just a few hundreds of meters of difference ! Passing 4000m and seeing no one except cows was a blast. And it hadn’t happened for a long time.
We finished the day suffering with a final small climb and another pass, and it was time to find a camp spot. A flat and soft grassy ground, a little protected from the wind, next to a river, and we pitched the tent.
The next day a long and really rocky descent was waiting for us. The first kilometers where really enjoyable, with a view above the clouds, but it quickly became hard and tiering. My back rack broke in the descent but I luckily managed to fix it with a strap.
Further down in the valley, the route we were following ( Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route from bikpacking.com ) took us to two water channels to cross. The water level was relatively low and with a bit of care we managed to cross them. Special experience !