Volcano Tungurahua

16 08 2007

Well, now I have been on two active Volcanoes. This time I didn´t get inside the crater, but it was far more scarey. The main road from Baños to Riobamba is suppose to be open. The bus driver told me they drive along it. The locals had other ideas, and told me it was definately shut. So who to believe?

I thought I´d go check it out. It turned out the road was indead cut, by a thumping great canyon. Seriously, this was huge. But I´d ridden about an hour uphill, and I could see a foot path crossing the canyon, and whats more a single set of tyre tracks going the right way. I though, well, if someone else can do it, why can´t I? So I unloaded the bike, a pnnier in each hand, two backpacks on, and headed down the canyon. At about that time, I heard the volcano erupt, and I thought “bugger me if this isn’t clearly a lava path”, so I high-tailed it out of there. The mountain calmed a bit, and I scratched my head. Eventually I plucked up the courage to try again, rationalising that the mountain hadn’t erupted in almost 12 months, and it was unlikely to get me today. It turns out I was right, and managed to haul the bags and bike across in two trips. (Kevin and Catherine may remember the canyons on the Volcano in Africa, those really deep holes made be water run-off in the mud – thats the sort of thing I´m talking about). In the photo above you can just see the white bike for scale. After putting it all together, I rode down the track, and around the corner to find…. a second canyon. Well, I wasn´t going back now, so off came the bags, and again I carried everything across. This time the track was far less scarey, but a slip at the wrong point would have been (avert your eyes mother) at least several broken bones (the drop was well over 50m at one point – but it was safe enough).

Ok, I though, patting myself on the back, that was something not everone will do. And no doubt they have more brains than me, and will listen to the locals.

>So, on I go. Some of the locals look at me a little strangely, and tell me the path onward is blocked. ho ho ho, little do they know that I am a hardy adventurer that can… holy crap, another canyon. Ok, so now I know the drill. Bags off, carry, carry, bags on, away we go. That one was more annoying and slow than dangerous. Some donkeys coming the other way, that looks like a better way to go. Quick chat, go right then left. Thanks. Down to the level of the river cutting the valley. Ahhh. There can be now more trouble now. What? What is this? Oh, just a mud flow, which doesn´t cause too many problems, except the bike tyres sink and the going is really tough. Follow the motorbike tracks, and bike tyre tracks – surely there can be no more trouble. If motorbikes can get here…. Well, they could get here – before the bridge was washed away.

Oh dear, this canyon is a major hassle. The route down isn´t a huge problem – I just tied a rope to the bike and lowered it down. Getting down there was a bit more of a challenge, but my (limited) climbing skills were adequate. Three trips down to ferry the panniers and bags, etc, then to think about up. Oh crikey. The closest I can describe it would be the worst parts of the Western Arthurs, but with a bike slung across your shoulder. And rather large drops if the mud decided to give way. By the end of this canyon, my nerves were shot, the day was coming to a close, I was miles and miles short of my destination, and it was impossible to turn around. So I kept going.

To find… (you´ll never guess – go on, you´ll never get it).

Another canyon where the road should be. Well, the fun never ends. This one should be easy to cross… Oh, a land slip has taken the path away. Which means. Oh, I´ll have to make a new one by climbing to side of the canyon and… Oh never mind, just believe me when I say it was tough, I´m a hero, and I´m glad it is over.

I finally met some locals just before dark, and I asked them how far it was to Riobamba. The nice guy told me about 10mins in a car, or an hour on the bike. That sounded reasonable to me, I had been going all day on a reasonably short section of road. They offered to walk  me down the road for some rreason, and showed me the best way to cross – yes, you guessed it – another canyon. The last, they assured me (wrongly).

Well, I was done, physically, and emotionally, so I asked if I could camp somewhere and beg some water. They agreed, and insisted that I stay inside their house. Great people – they didn´t have much, but we chatted while my rice cooked. Well, they chatted, I pretented to understand (and got some of it).

I forgot to mention the noise the volcano makes. All day, the top of the mountain / volcano was covered in cloud but I could here a noise like an airport, every few minutes a 747 would rumble away up there. It is a rather unique experience. Apparently you can see the lava spouting when the clouds are gone. Pity the clouds stayed all day and night (and the next day).

So I left my host (his wife had left on some errand at 5:30am – I´m not thet keen). I takled the last (supposedly) canyon, and headed off down the muddy road on my 1 hour (I thought 2) gentle ride into Riobamba. Eventually the road turned to tar and I started hooting along. Until a river, and a bridge which was (wait for it…) broken. Well, not exactly broken, but the river had wased away the road at one end of the bridge – the bridge itself was standing, but the road didn´t get to the end of the bridge. Fortunately this only required filling in the hole with rocks, a task some trucks were performing as I arrived.

This incident highlighted two things. 1 – never ride at night. There was a whopping hole in the road, fully 5m across which would have swollowed any bike, motorbike or car – and no indication that it was there. No tape across the road, no cones, no flashing lights. A little dangerous. There was a few trees layed across the hole to allow foot traffic (and bikes to be carried across).
And 2. The Ecuadorians have different standards. The council dump trucks that were filling in this hole were rather old, but functional. Except for the truck that had its tray collapse onto its right wheel and jam the whole thing up (and hold up the other trucks trying to do their thing). So the front end loader was called, and simply dragged the thing away, still full of rubble. I´ve no idea how they fixed it, but I can almost guarantee that the dump truck would have been back in service in a few hours.

Well, now the road had cars and trucks on it, so I knew (for sure) that there were no more holes in the road. Thank goodness. So after an hour I would be having breakfast, right? Ok, so maybe after 3, and 34kms of uphill slog, Riobamba came into view. I was so underwhelmed by that point I pointed the bike toward the Panamericana and kept riding. Uphill. The sun finally came out – and I got burnt. The temperature climbed to 36°C, and was down as low as 11°C with the clouds covering the sky. And it rained again. At least it didn´t rain when I was trying to cross the volcano.

Once I´d climbed out of Riobamba, the road leveled, then decended to Guamote, a place special only because it was at the end of a long day for me. I couldn´t be bothered looking for accomodation, so I asked the Bomberos (firemen) if they knew where I could stay. With them of course! So I stayed in the fire station, ate like a horse, showered and slept. A lodging I may use again 😉

Ahhh! There is so much to write!

I guess the upshot is, when I start to whinge about how sore my butt is, or the weather is crap and why did I choose to ride this damn thing, it´s days like that that make this an adventure.

There is more, but it will have to wait, the internet kiosk is being noisily closed. And my butt really hurts from sitting on this plastic stool.

26-8-07 Added some photos:


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4 responses

17 08 2007
Kev & Catherine

I remember thinking the little volcanoes inside the crater were like little science experiments bubbling away, waiting to overflow. Can’t even imagine what it would be like to hear that on a much bigger scale. Scary is one word that jumps to mind. I hope you took some pictures of these canyons – you know we’ll need proof! You really should consider having 2 sites – one that is parent-proof so poor Cheryl can survive all of your adventures.

17 08 2007
Richard

Good to hear you’re still punishing yourself. But you should be in Bolivia, LaPaz. Beautiful stable weather in winter, rain and mist in summer. All the cheap mountaineers go to LaPaz (5000m) in July/Aug. And on rest days a short hop over the border to the Inca trail. Cusco Manch Picchu all that. anyway enjoy the volcano. Try for the crater.
richard

17 08 2007
Steve

I´ll get to Bolivia, eventually.
I´m not going near that crater- I´ve legged it out of there.
Care to join me in La Paz?

20 08 2007
Richard

Not this year. Too late, rains start soon. And I havn’t got a real passport. Mine expired and all I have is this Australian one. Maybe the southern part of Chile in the summer.

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