Monday, July 10, 2017

A Drive Up the Andes


"I can speak to my soul only when the two of us are off exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads."

-- Paulo Coelho

Driving through dense fog is a stressful challenge. Breaking through that fog and getting above it can make for a relaxing drive, especially in the Andes mountains. These mountains are gorgeous.
Driving above the fog in the Andes

Taking the road less traveled

The route Scott and I take from the coastal city of Guayaquil to the Andes mountain city of Cuenca is generally less foggy with fewer cars than the shorter and more popular route through El Cajas National Park.

Our drive goes from sea level to 3400 meters before we descend into Cuenca, which is at about 2500 meters. Fog has occasionally made our five hour drive take seven or more hours.

Neither of us is a big risk taker when it comes to roads. We only drive during the daytime. We leave Guayaquil by Noon so we are likely to finish the drive before 6:30 sunset. If our business takes us past Noon, we stay an additional night.

On a recent drive, the fog played with us. We began as usual, in the sunshine of Guayaquil. As we approached the mountains, a low cloud cover settled in above the banana, sugar cane and mango fields.
Banana field under the low cloud cover
The thick fog started earlier than usual - just as we began to climb the mountains, shortly after La Troncal. It portended a long day in the car. We have done this drive many times. If there is fog, it typically hangs around until the road curves to the east side of the mountains at Biblián.

Ecuador road hazards

It is not uncommon in Ecuador for cars to pass slow moving vehicles on blind curves. Not all of them use their headlights. We always watch for cars in our lane going the wrong way.

There is a risk a fresh landslide might be around the next bend. Most people who live along the road do not have cars so they walk on the shoulder of the road. Dogs, chickens, cows, sheep, horses and pigs all live along the the road. Some are tied up, some are not. It is stressful driving despite being lightly traveled by autos.

Rising above the fog

Not that far into our climb, we entered bright sunshine. What a shock! We were above the fog! We were not even to Suscal yet, where the fog sometimes begins. The blue sky was such a refreshing sight to see.
Above the thick fog

Picture perfect Andes

The rest of our drive was in perfect conditions. No landslides were in the way, people and animals stayed on the shoulder of the road and no one came close to hitting us while passing on a blind curve.

The mountains are beautiful with fluffy clouds floating above them.
Homes are sprinkled here and there along the way, as are reminders of recent landslides.
Farming is popular along this route. Planting and harvesting of crops is done by hand, often on steep slopes. Click on the photo below to increase the size and you can see the fields in the center. Fences are often made with freshly cut branches that grow roots and become trees, which make the field dividing lines living fences.
Small communities and towns each have their own stunning backdrops.
We made it to Cuenca in five hours and were relaxed when we arrived. The fog at the beginning of the mountains was a distant memory.

Do you take longer routes to avoid hazardous roads?

5 comments:

  1. Hi Emily - sorry took me a while to get here ... love seeing the photos and looking at Google maps to see your route. Amazing views - must be stunning to live in and visit further into the Andes. In the old days when I was doing more travelling I'd not use the main roads ... or I'd leave really early to beat the traffic. Animals and people on roads can be a dangerous hazard ... animals in southern Africa certainly were.

    Just by chance have you come across the Babaco fruit - champagne fruit, I called them - I picked up some in South Africa and they were amazing ... but originate in Ecuador apparently ... I wrote about them in 2009 - a mere eight years ago!! Delicious they were ... cheers Hilary

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    1. I even looked up on Google maps to see the route you'd taken - only to find ... if I'd clicked your link you'd given it to me - doh! H

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    2. Hi Hilary, I see Babaco fruit all of the time. Really delicious! I will have to go find your post from 2009.

      How funny that you looked up the route on Google maps. I should have been clear that the links would have taken you there :)

      Taking the roads less traveled sometimes provide amazing experiences. The animal hazards in Africa had to be quite different from my experience. I can imagine driving down the road only to encounter an elephant or rhino.

      Thank you so much for your visit and comments!
      Emily

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  2. Hi Emily. What Coelho writes, I feel:)
    When I was in school (grade 8 or 9) I read this book called 'Alive' and ever since then I've wanted to visit/trek/explore the Andes. Your post and pictures are prodding me to start planning this long overdue exploration:)
    Thank you for the virtual trip.
    Have a great week ahead.

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    1. Hi Arti, What a great and heartbreaking book Alive is. It is one that I would like to read again. As you can see, there is no snow on this route. Hope that you make a real trip someday but in the mean time, I'm glad to provide the virtual one.
      Thanks - you have a great week, too!

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