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ROUTE cuenca - machala
Travel

Head for the south-east corner of Cuenca and follow signs for Machala. It’s almost as easy as that. The first problem you encounter is a diversion sign which tries to lead you up and over the hill at Turi. Ignore this sign. There is no reason for it and it might be there forever. Continue south along the main road which winds through the beautiful wooded Tarqui valley. There’s a Petrocommercial petrol station.

After 20 minutes the valley opens up and your cross a wide plain. This is the site of the Tarqui battlefield. The road veers left and over the side of a small hill to La Y where you turn left to Loja and right to Pasaje and Machala. The government are currently working to repair the road and there are many signs to trumpet their contribution. When I passed in late 2008 there was one long 5km stretch which was only open to one lane as you start to descend from the plain and drop down to Girón. This should be fixed now but there will still be work going on along other stretches.

This initial descent is spectacular – I was grateful for the excuse to go slower and enjoy the spectacular view (you can sit on either side of the bus) as the land opens up to reveal everything dropping away towards the coast. The road switches back several times before entering Girón, just past an interesting rocky outcrop. For me, these views are what Ecuador is all about: awe-inspiring, road-defying geography, and when you are lucky enough to pass by in clear conditions you have to take the opportunity to enjoy what you see.






In Girón we tried to get to the waterfall and failed. You turn uphill at some traffic lights for San Fernando. A little way out of town leave the paved road for a very steep concrete track on the right. We missed this and continued uphill to San Gerardo which was equally scenic. The road up is good quality and it’s possible to continue over the ridge down to San Fernando and come out on the main road further down. You can also find places to sleep up there.

From Girón the main route continues downhill. The road quality is generally good but it is forever broken up by landslides – hopefully the parts the contractors are repairing. You pass through the fertile Yungilla valley where many people sell fruit and vegetables at the roadside. On the way there is an X-games track on the left. From a distance you glimpse Santa Isabel, set high on a ridge. It’s got some nice buildings but you have to divert a few kilometres off the main road to visit them.

Further down the scenery changes completely as the road enters the rocky canyon of the Río Jubones and then again as lush vegetation starts to grow up in the lower, tropical climes. There are many banana palms and orange groves. The humidity increases as you pass through small unmarked settlements – Uzucurummi and Casacay - before finally entering the town of Pasaje which, when we rushed through on a wet, late Sunday afternoon, felt very bleak and ugly.

Pasaje is the end of the descent. A good road leads directly west to Machala. Side roads will connect you with the highway going north towards Guayaquil or south towards the border – you don’t have to go into Machala unless you really want to.






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