Ecuador, Part 2: Volcanoes

June 10 – 12, 2010

I spent a few days in Ambato, staying with motorcycle friends from HorizonsUnlimited and visited Banos, the active Tungurahua Volcano and the glacier-covered Chimborazo Volcano.



Commercial, non-touristy Ambato, near Banos, staying with Xavier Leon from HorizonsUnlimited. In trying to stay with local people as much as I can, I’m not only saving on lodging costs but am also getting insights into local culture and how people are living today.


Ambato was leveled by an earthquake and thus no colonial buildings exist, but they’ve reconstructed with that architecture in mind.


Having a steak dinner at La Hueka with Xavier (stripped shirt), his riding friend, Carlos (L) and Carlos’ daughter, Karen and her boyfriend. Xavier and another riding friend, Enrique rode KLRs up to Alaska two years ago. He currently manages the family furniture factory. Carlos recently got into motorcycling and wants to tour South America.


A tasty dinner of grilled chicken with herbs, a few ribs and a salad.


Carlos and Karen on his brand new BMW R1200GS with less than 1,000 km on the clock on a day ride to Banos.


But first, upon hearing that I’m a mechanical engineer, Carlos wanted to show me his machine shop in the adjacent town of Pelileo.


He’s a tool and mold maker, making things like plastic bottles for Gatorade, shampoo, etc along with other plastic injection pieces such as parts for car interiors.


All the various drill bits used in the CNC milling machines.


With Carlos and a few of his machinists.


Nice to see him employing women machine operators, as well.


A surface grinder that’s…


…made in the USSR and still running strong.


Karen in her go-kart that she races in Quito.


Being treated to a local lunch of…


…broiled pork with corn, potatoes and friend plantains. Tasty, tender meat on big chunks of bone, where you have to work with your teeth to get all the meat. Just the way I like it. Not much of a boneless meat kind-of-person.


Heading down to Banos.


Those aren’t just regular gray clouds. It’s a puff from smoking Volcan Tungurahua (meaning throat of fire in the local language of Quichua).


Impressive to see an active volcano for the first time. There was no immediate danger as the volcano is simply venting pressure. A few weeks ago at the end of May, it was spewing bits of hot lava and was a sight to see at night. There was a glacier on the peak that has melted away now since it went active again.


However, it is a danger for the farmers living and grazing their herds on the flanks of the volcano and the army evacuated residents from the area.


A mud slide from the recent eruption and a strange sculpture of a giant bird??


In the hot springs town of Banos, a tourist destination for locals and foreigners. However, the recent eruption has suppressed the local economy as scared tourists are staying away, but the local vendors say everything is tranquilo.


Situated under Volcan Tungurahua (source of the hot springs) and graced by waterfalls and green peaks, it’s a pleasing location.


Having some sugarcane juice and guayaba fruit paste.


Riding up the backside of Banos with el volcan looming in the distance.


Volcan Tungurahua huffing and puffing over Banos. To get a sense of scale, note the house in the lower right of the picture. I’m always intrigued by people’s motivation to continue living under active volcanoes, thinking the big one won’t come in their lifetime. I guess it’s a two-fold problem of population stress (where else can they move to in this already crowded planet?) and the stress of migrating a family until being forced to is too much to bear.


Riding back to Banos in this lush valley with waterfalls in the distance.


The next morning, being led out of town by another of Xavier’s friends, Julio who toured all over South America on his KTM 525 and who now wants to make a big loop of North America.


Ecuadorian police using new Kawasaki KLR 650’s.


Riding the beautiful via Flores route from Ambato towards Guaranda.


The route slowly climbed from 2,800 m (9,200 ft) in Ambato up past 4,000 m (13,100 ft). The air was moist with fog.


The lush, high altitude valleys made for a pleasing ride.
Click here to see the high resolution version.


The road followed the river and curved tightly around the rocky cliffs.


sanDRina blending in with her natural environment. She likes green spaces.


Something about a road following a river in a canyon makes for excellent motorcycling (like Lolo Pass Road in Idaho and many more).


A wooden bridge across the rushing river.


Climbing out of the canyon the road twisted ever higher, until suddenly, around a corner, I was greeted by this view of…


Volcan Chimborazo surrounded by clouds and dry, windswept páramo. I took a break admiring the view and trying to get a glimpse of the glaciated peak of this extinct volcano.


I followed the road around the base of the volcano towards Riobamba and was engulfed in thick clouds for a few kilometers. The road elevation peaked at 4,300 m (14,100 ft).


A small herd of vicuña, a wild relative of the llama.


Vicuña’s are renown for their extremely fine wool, which was prized by the Inca elite and today’s elite as well. They produce only about a pound of wool each year and aren’t easily domesticated, making it difficult to gather enough wool to produce garments. A yard of vicuña fibre can cost up to $3,000 resulting in the $20,000 cost to have a suit made. I was bundled up in all my cold weather gear, but sure could use some of their wool in my sleeping bag.


Another view of Chimborazo, still covered in clouds.


Finally the clouds parted to reveal the majestic Volcan Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador at 6,268 m (20,565 ft). Its peak is also the furthest point on the Earth’s surface from its center due to the bulge at the Equator from the planet’s spin (think of a spinning ballerina). The radius of the Earth at sea level at Chimborazo is 6,378 km (3,964 mi), which is 4,748 m (15,573 ft) more than at Everest (29 degrees north, elevation of 8,848 m (29,029 ft)). This puts Chimbarazo’s peak 2,168 m (7,113 ft) further into space than Mt. Everest’s. On a clear day, the peak can be seen about 140 kms (88 mi) away on the coast in Guayaquil. It last erupted around 500 AD.

Next: Ecuador, Part 3: Cuenca

Previous: Ecuador, Part 1: Quito and Quilotoa

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