October 5th - 7th 2003
We left - a little reluctantly - the next day. On the way in to Rio Verde there are a couple of tunnels you drive through which have taken over from the previous roads. On the way out we took the road round rather than the tunnel after Rio Verde where a waterfall cascades over the road. Not quite as watery a cascade as we would have liked to give the landy a good wash! But it was good enough.
Rio Verde Gorge and Road
Next stop was Ingarpirca, the most important Inca ruins in Ecuador and at an altitude of about 3,160m. We were hoping to camp there for the night but it didn't look very sheltered and was too near the village to be completely secure, so we spent a fairly expensive night at the Posada Ingapirca, 500m above the ruins along a steep narrow track. It was a very cold night - no heating but luckily lots of blankets.
Up early the next day, we wandered down to the ruins as the sun was rising and were the only ones there. The central structure is a platform believed to have been a solar observatory and there are various stone walls outlining what would have been storehouses etc. It is an interesting site, although not as extensive as some of the Peruvian ruins we have seen in the past. Entry to the ruins is $6 each.
After breakfast at the Posada, we then headed to the colonial city of Cuenca, about 2 hours drive away, and enjoyed the beautiful sunny, hot day. A good day for camping, so we headed out to the Parque Nacional Cajas, about 30km southwest of the town, to camp in the hills. The park is known for its plethora of lakes (230 lakes in the 29,000 hectare park) against a backdrop of harsh and bleak countryside. At an altitude of about 3800 - 4500m it was also known for being very cold at night. It took about 45 minutes to get to the Park Entrance from Cuenca and after paying the exhorbitant $10 entrance fee each (locals only pay 50 cents), we headed to the designated camping area at Lake Toreadora on the north side of Cajas.
The Park Ranger was just about to go home, but not before informing us that it was another $4 each to camp with no facilities! It was too late to turn back as we only had an hour before dark and even though the Ranger suggested we could stay in one of the two Cabañas around the lake for the same price as staying in our tent, on closer inspection of the Cabañas we decided against it.
Lake Toreadora and the inside of one of the "Cabañas"
We ended up accepting the kind offer of the Security Guard to kip down in the Ranger Station instead. That meant we could cook under shelter and be up early in the morning without having to pack away the tent. It turned out to be a very cold and none too comfy night sleeping on the floor, and we were woken up around 6am by loud persitant banging on the window. It turned out to be a bird who kept flying at the window, but we took advantage of the early wake-up call and walked around the lake for a couple of hours, enjoying the fresh air and the interesting vegetation.
Then we headed back into Cuenca to catch up on emails and have lunch before heading off to nearby Baños - a smaller version of the one near Riobamba - to camp near the thermal baths - or so we thought. Footprint's South American Handbook was bang up to date (2003) and said that camping was permitted near the thermal springs of Hosteria Durán in Baños. On arriving at the Hosteria Durán, however, the hotel manager informed us that it was no longer possible to camp as there had been problems with security in the past and it was $48 plus taxes to stay the night in the hotel, well over our budget. The manager seemed to take pity on us and offerred us the special corporate rate of $30.50 including taxes for a room for the night with use of the thermal pool and baths. A good opportunity for a restful soak in the therapeutic waters.
We ended up staying a second night as the water pump seemed to be making a loud squeaking noise and we thought we might have to change it. After a bit of investigation it turned out to be a "dry" auxiliary belt due to the dusty conditions on the Quilotoa Circuit and the noise quickly disappeared after an application of some wax.