Today we went on an adventurous trip up over the shoulder of Cotacachi Volcano and down into the Intag Valley, where a lot of Ecuadorean coffee comes from. The views up top before heading down the other side were fantastic. Many picturesque farms dotted the open landscape. There is a small community up near the summit called Urcusiqui. The elevation here is just over 12,000ft.
Once over the top, the landscape changed dramatically in a very short time. As we headed downhill towards the Intag Valley, the vegetation suddenly changed into dense jungle. The road was very steep with many switchbacks, small mudslides, dense fog patches, and a few washouts. It was a bit tricky to drive.
We passed through several small communities before coming to the bottom of the very narrow, winding valley floor. We dropped from over 12,000 ft to around 6,000 ft in about 30 kms of twisty, turny roads. The town of Apuela, the largest of these communities, is situated on the top of a narrow ridge above the Intag river. We got totally disoriented in this tiny town and ended up driving in circles around the central square until we finally figured out that one of the side streets was actually the way out, down a very steep road to the valley floor.
The next community down the river was Nangulvi. It is home to the Nangulvi Thermal Springs Resort. After passing it and thinking we could continue on all the way to Otavalo, we encountered the end of pavement and started up a very rocky, muddy, gravel road. Our GPS said we were on the right track, but our poor little Chevy Spark was getting beat up. After about 15km of this, we turned around and headed back to the resort for a nice lunch. Soup, a glass of fresh pineapple juice, grilled pork chop, rice, salad and lentils, all topped off with a poached banana covered in homemade caramel sauce – $3.50.
We ended driving out the way we came in, and in total did about 180 km. Doesn’t seem like much, but it took us over 5 hours of driving. Welcome to Ecuador……