Cuenca to Riobamba

Written by Neon

In my ten plus years of long distance walking, I had never had a foot injury other than blisters. Okay, I wore boots at the beginning of the AT and they pinched a nerve in my ankle, that might count. Either way, I was at a loss of what to do with my foot injury. < Thankfully we have a competent medical adviser, and Fidgit has had enough foot issues for the both of us and then some. While we were in Cuenca, I rested, ‘iced’ (my feet are plenty icy most of the time), compressed, and elevated (which helped with the iciness: no blood = no warmth) as much as I could. A couple days of rest and I felt better, so we walked a short day out of the city with light packs. Another day or so of rest and we were once again headed north with full packs.

Leaving the valley Cuenca sits in, we wound our way up along the edge of the mountains along dirt roads to the small town of Deleg. We were able to find dinner and a place to stay. I curled up under the many blankets and fell asleep to the sound of rain against the window. The next morning was surprisingly cold and dreary, though the sun made an appearance later in the day right before another rainstorm blew through. Because of the dreary weather and my (still) bum foot, we decided to take a shorter day. We made a plan and then made our way to Ingapirca.

Ingapirca is home to Ecuador’s largest Inca ruin. It’s a small pueblo with a deep and interesting history. Google it or watch the video below and you’ll see. It sits at an elevation around 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) which was cold and damp. We stayed right near the ruins, and slack-packed back to near Biblian, where we had left off the day before. My foot felt better going downhill, so it was helpful that we were descending most of the day. After a long day of walking on a still healing foot, it was nice to come back to a warm and welcoming place.

The weather continued to be COLD and mostly cloudy with intermittent rain showers, so we walked another day with light packs along the Inca trail between Lago Culebrillas and Ingapirca. It dumped rain on us for half the day, so it was wonderful to have a place to dry out. We were also able to tour the ruins right at sunset – so amazing to have the place to ourselves!

After staying warm and dry for as long as we could, we set off from Lago Culebrillas to continue north. The lago sits higher than Ingapirca, and the wind blew through the valley so we kept our layers on. Fidgit and I went separate ways along the next stretch. I ascended along the Inca trail while she took a different route up the same valley – a different Inca trail, I believe. We both went up over 4,000 meters before descending into the next valley. The terrain was a mix of turba/peat bog and rock, so it was hard to know if the next step would be soaking you or not. Unless you were walking through a boggy area, then you knew. Wet feet and being in a damp cloud kept me moving that day. I came over the pass and descended again, down to meet Fidgit at an agreed upon spot. She was waiting and, after talking it over, we decided(based on weather, terrain, and my foot feeling better) to push into town. At 4 pm, we began our ‘speed-walk’ into town. We went down and down along the Inca trail/marsh/meadow, below the clouds, chasing the sun, which getting higher on the valley side. Walking past cows, horses, barking dogs, energetic children standing outside their houses, we made it to the dirt road into Achupallas as the sun disappeared for the day. We walked the rest of the way into town as the light faded, and found a small hotel with kind owners who told us about the town and made us hot tea. After dinner, I fell asleep under the fleece sheets.

In the morning the friendly owners, Emiterio and Inez, talked with us over breakfast, telling Fidgit and I about the history of Achupallas as well as sharing local gossip and opinions. Emiterio showed us around town, helped us get some supplies, and even walked with us for a bit out of town before saying his farewells. We followed along a winding mountain road up and out of town before leveling out and continuing to wind along the side of the mountain range. We stopped for lunch in the shade of a building, and Fidgit ended up talking with some locals and sharing photos of the Ingapirca ruins because they’d never been there.

After lunch, we walked on and as evening set in, the weather slowly changed to not great. Rain began pelting us right before we got to Totoras. Walking up to a small shop, we asked if they knew of a place we could get dinner. A man kindly walked us to the restaurant in town. It was closed. Dejected, we walked back through the rain to the shop, hoping to get something for dinner. The man’s wife, hearing that the restaurant was closed, offered us soup and horchata. We sat in the shop, hungrily eating warm soup. When we had finished and were getting ready to head out in the rain to find a place to set up our tents, they offered us a spare room. I fell asleep to the sound of rain and wind pelting the window, grateful for the kindness of strangers.

Waking up and looking outside, the clouds were hanging low among the mountains. Fidgit and I packed up and walked on, knowing we had a couple of passes to cross that day. The wind whipped around us as we crossed a high point and rain spattered us as we stopped for a warm beverage in the small community at the base of our big climb. We savored the warmth before forcing ourselves to head out. As we left the dirt track and headed up through the tall grasses, the weather cleared up a bit and we got some views between clouds being blown through the valley. Up and up we went, mostly following an animal path that dissipated through the bog-like terrain close to the pass. Crossing the first pass, we could see the other pass about a kilometer away and 60 meters higher. Pushing through the bog between the passes and sinking into at least our ankles every step, we made it up and over the second pass. Fidgit and I then followed the spine of the mountain down through blowing rain as the clouds descended upon us into the valley. We were following something on the GPS title ‘alley’ though in reality we were still following faded animal paths down through some trees until we found a dirt (actually, mud) two-track. The road led us to a more traveled two-track, which then led us to a road and a small building. We were standing inside the building, which was a shop/restaurant, debating our options when I noticed that the sign outside said the place was a hospedaje as well. We stayed in a damp, mildewy room that night. It felt like hours before I was dried out a bit and warm once again.

The next day, we began walking along a more main thoroughfare. Over the next few days, we walked along, (mostly) descending into the city of Riobamba, where we promptly ate as much as possible before heading north into volcano territory.

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3 thoughts on “Cuenca to Riobamba

  1. Isabel Wood Ayub says:

    So sorry you seem to have been plagued by bad weather, when this should be the dry season. Namballe is now very hot, and people have started their nonsensical annual burning of everything in sight. But I’m pleased you have found so many caminos antiguos and little tracks, as the main road is pretty boring.

    • Her Odyssey says:

      As the weather has dried up we’ve notice an inordinate amount of burning going on as well. Piles of trash in the front yard by the wood pile… fields, fence lines. Talked to a laborer standing casually next to the property burning and I asked him about it and he said that it started by accident while they were using an electric saw… he was so nonchalant!

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