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ROUTE quevedo - latacunga

This is a spectacular drive through banana plantations, cloud forest, steep hillsides of maize cultivated by predominantly indigenous communities. When the road reaches the high pass marking the Western range of the Andes and descends towards Zumbuahua and finally to Latacunga.

From the roundabout south of the river in Quevedo, a right turn takes you along the road to Valencia and La Maná The road is wide and well-paved in this section. It passes several packing plants and then fields before entering Valencia which seems like a pleasant town. The verges are planted with flowers. There is movement but not dirt and chaos. At weekends the Quevedeñans go to eat fritada there.
La Maná is 10km further on. It feels a little busier and more commercial. It also has a pleasant feel, partly due to the fresh but never cold climate. There are several hotels in town and some centros turisticos (a swimming pool, restaurant and play area) on the Valencia road. You can visit some waterfalls down a track about 45 minutes from La Maná. The turning is on the right before you enter town and is signed.

From La Maná the lower stretches of the road are very beautiful, following the path of the river which cascades down over boulders through a verdant sub-tropical landscape. There are a few settlements before the ascent begins, gradually at first but soon steepening as the road begins to wind uphill, leaving the river behind and hugging the hillsides, which is where the surface deteriorates. As of 2007 it was being resurfaced (or possibly surfaced for the first time in places) all the way to the highest pass. Up the valley there is a town called …. Which has a beautiful location. It is quiet and undeveloped, but there are some nice old wooden facades and several well-kept front gardens with flowers and plants. There are also a lot of kids judging by the number of school children we passed walking down the road.

Further up we had to wait about 45 minutes as contractors laid a drain in a ditch on a hairpin bens and then brought earth and stones to fill it in, finally packing it down sufficiently to allow vehicles to pass. It was quite tense watching huge trucks trundle uphill, turn in a little space between a bus and a pick-up and then reverse up to deposit their loads, which the digger then moved into the ditch.

After this delay the road made a final climb of about 30km to the pass. The colours of the landscape change with more browns and yellows. The road leaves one valley and crosses into another. There are a few isolated houses. The road winds around the top of the peaks to ---. Far below you can see the village of Zumbuahua on the valley floor. All around are steep hills and mountains, often cast in shadow, which makes the scene seem even more dramatic. The land is much more populated and the road is in good condition. You see many people in their houses or out with animals as you pass the scattered Quechuan communities on the way down to Zumbuahua, from where a pot holed road leads north to Laguna Quilotoa).

The paved road now follows the contours of the hillsides, steadily climbing past small houses of indigenous communities with wonderful views along the fractured valley floor to the north and up to the peaks of the Illinizas. In Tigua you can stop to visit galleries of local paintings which have a distinctive, primitive style. A few kilometres further east is the Posada Tigua. There are some great trails for trekking in this area. The road climbs a lot more. You may see herds of cows or sheep, often accompanied by small children.
At last the road flattens out and Cotopaxi comes into view, across to the east. On a good day you can also see the peaks of the Illinizas from here. It is possible to turn off the road and park. When you continue you cross the páramo and then descend, with liberal use of the horn around the hairpin bends. Latacunga comes into view on the valley floor. When you pass some eucalyptus trees (protected by a fence – the only form of safety barrier on the whole descent) you are getting close.

The road passes through Pujilí where there are some archaeological remains, a lake and shops. You continue to descend, past white chalky slopes to finally arrive in Latacunga. You will come to a set of traffic lights on a hill. Go through these and the next (where the train tracks cross) to turn onto the Panamericana going north or south. Alternatively continue straight and over a narrow bridge to enter the city centre. Just before the bridge there is a simple restaurant serving good chicken on the left hand side of the street.


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