Monday, June 30th, 2003- Day 132

Monday, June 30th, 2003- Day 132

I set the alarm at 6.05am. It was a pretty early start but I wanted to arrive in Huaquillas early as to have some choices as to where to go next. The cost for four nights accommodation in a private room was 18 US (Hotel Pichincha, Torres 8-82). It was a nice quiet spot but I had to put the mattress on the floor for the last two nights as the springs were literally shocking. No windows though. Anyway I was out of the room by 6.30am and hailed a taxi to the bus station (1.50US). I was the only one waiting for the bus (I had bought the ticket yesterday for 5 US). Anyway it was meant to go at 7.00am and by 7.20am, no none else had arrived so we left. The bus was full by Malhala by picking up people. Scenery was nice but I was too sleepy to take much notice. We arrived at the immigration control (to get stamped out) at 12.30am. The bus driver told all the touts to f&(% off and leave me alone. I knew what I was doing (Ihad passed here on the way in to Ecuador) and got stamped out. The bus was good to wait for me as I was the only passenger taking stamped out. He waited 5 minutes. We got to Huaquillas (the bus company was one block off the main street) and I walked the 10 minutes to “Friendship Bridge”.

I ignored the touts offering free Advice (later charging/extorting 20 US) and the money changers with their rigged calculators. I must have ignored about twenty of them before coming to the actual boarder and getting a moto (Motos are not on the Ecuadorian side). I paid the driver 2 Soles to take me to the Peru immigration control 4km outside town. It only took 2 minutes to get stamped in again and get my tourist card valid for 90 days. The control is in the middle of a 4 lane highway so exit the way you come in and not out the other side (unless you want to go back to Ecuador). Mini buses drive by every three or four minutes collecting people for Tumbres. I got in (bags on top) and paid ONE sole for the 35 minute drive to Tumbres. I arrived just off the main street at 1.35 pm. Where to next – Lima! Not yet, Decided to head to Trujillo. It is a 10-12 hour bus journey so to save myself arriving in the middle of the night and a nights accommodation cost (cheap bastard), I booked with “El Dorado” bus company to go at 9.00pm tonight. The cost was 30 Soles.

Tumbres is a nice quiet place. The new pedertinised street is excellent with beautiful mosaic sculptures and the Plaza de Armas has a great one. I caught up with email (1.50-2.00 Soles an hour). I had a nice dinner and a few drinks. I forgot how sticky, hot and humid the weather is here by the coast.

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Tumbes – Peru (30-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it?´s original size

Tumbes – Peru (30-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it?´s original size

Tumbes – Peru (30-06-2003)

Sunday, June 29th, 2003 – Day 131

Sunday, June 29th, 2003 – Day 131

Today is Sunday, so I my plan is to hop on a bus at the main terminal for Sigsig, Chordeleg, and Gualaceo. I set the alarm at 6.30am but did not get up until 6.50am. I did put my mattress on the floor last night to sleep 🙂 Hard to catch a bus this early so I took a taxi to the terminal which cost 1.50US. There are plenty of buses from Cuenca to Gualaceo on market day. The bus was nearly full and paid the 1.50US for the 40 minute journey. It was raining at this stage (very heavy) and the market sellers looked miserable. Well, I visited FOUR markets in the town. There was the mart across the river, which was very muddy. There was an outdoor food market, an indoors clothes market and a small market about 1km away. The mart was interesting with lots of horses and pigs for sale. The weather made things tough. There is a nice “Bridges of Madison County” type bridge to get there. The town is quite big and even had an ATM. I stayed about one hour thirty minutes and then a local bus to Chordeleg which cost only twenty cent.

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Market Day in Gualaceo. Raining but nice colour and background mountains and mist. (29-06-2003)

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Market Day in Gualaceo. A muddy animal mart. (29-06-2003)

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Market Day in Gualaceo. Its all doom and gloom. (29-06-2003)

Chordeleg is a small town and reports said the most “touriorientedated. Maybe for local tourists. The only thing on the main streets were jewelry shops (this is what makes the town famous). The market was small and it only took me five minutes to check out. The scenery surrounding the town was nice with green mountains covered in mist. Stayed about half an hour and took a 40 minute bus journey to Sigsig, which only cost fifty cent.

Sigsig has an excellent market which was covered. This was good beacuse it was raining very heavily. Lots of people about just coming from mass. Very nice scenery surrounding the town. Surprised many of the women were barefoot. I had not noticed this anyplace else. Also instead of felt hats both men and women wore “Pananma hats”. I see some places charge 900 US for these hats.

The villagers harvest the raw plants (paja toquilla) prepare the straw and then weave and shape the finished product. The master weavers (tejedores) employ the most exacting and laborious hand processes to weave the perfect blend of nature and art resulting in hats of transcendent quality.

The Ecuadorian straw-producing plant grows in great profusion. Its fibers are lightweight and light in color and therefore ideally suited for reflecting sunlight and keeping the wearer cool and comfortable during intense sun exposure. The straw is flexible yet strong to allow the artisans to weave hats of great intricacy and beauty. More information about the history of Panama hat making in Ecuador can be found here.

Anyway, it was a good market. I had some nice food including pork sauages filled with a cabbage type substance and steamed baby potatoes covered with herbs = .25 cent. Lots of interesting food and people in the market including roasting “Cuy” (see pictures).

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Market Day in Sigsig. A shop selling ttraditional skirts. (29-06-2003)

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Market Day in Sigsig. They are simply impaled and roasted. In 1996, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 583,000 U.S. households kept at least one guinea pig as a pet. More information on being pets here. Information of them as FOOD can be found here. (29-06-2003)

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Market Day in Sigsig. As you can see “Panama hats” are all the rage this year! (29-06-2003)

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Market Day in Sigsig. Taking a break (with alcohol). (29-06-2003)

After about two hours I took a bus to Cuenca for 1.25 US. It was raining heavy and I was not back until four as it was another 45 minute drive. The bus was very full. At the station I bought a ticket to Huaquillas which is on the Ecuador / Peru border. It cost five dollars and leaves at 7.00am tomorrow morning. I then took a public bus to the city centre. It was my first time on public transport here and it was good. It cost .25 cent. It brought me to yards of a NET cafe where I spent two hours reading the Sunday News. Just like I would do at home. It was still raining. The NET cost between .70 and 1.00 US depending where you go. Connections are good and many have XP. Its harder finding an ATM in this town.

Thursday, June 26th, 2003 – Day 128 to Saturday, June 28th, 2003 – Day 130

Thursday, June 26th, 2003 – Day 128

I was up at 9.00am. I was tired and counted about five small cuts on each hand. My sides were also bruised from the harness. It was raining again and decided to move on. I stayed in town until 11.00am to have breakfast. I walked to the bus station to buy a ticket to Amato as there is no direct bus to Cuenca. It cost ,80US and took about 1 hour as it stopped all the he time. Anyway I had to wait an hour in Amato to catch an infrequent bus to Cuenca. It does not go from the bus station but a few blocks away (the company does have an office in the station). It was eight Dollars and left at 13.30pm. It was quite full as it was coming from Quito. The journey took eight hours and it felt like it. I was tired when I got there at about 9.30pm. I walked out to the road (cheaper taxis) and took a taxi for the 2km trip into town for 1.50US. I find that the Lonely Planet (2002 South American Edition) is about 25% out when it comes to costs in Ecuador. It came to no surprise then when me chosen hostal (4 US in the guide) was 9 US. I moved down the street to another hostal which was 4.50US per night for a basic room (but it was quiet). I had a bite to eat and had an early night in a lumpy (broken springs) bed.

Friday, June 27th, 2003 – Day 129

Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city, but it feels much more like a charming small town. UNESCO designated Cuenca a World Heritage Site in 1999. Once you’re here, you’ll immediately understand why. Much of the city’s colonial architecture remains intact. Even before the Spanish arrived here, however, Cuenca was the second largest city in the Inca empire (after Cusco).

Panama Hats–Here’s a newsflash for you: Panama hats are originally from Ecuador. In 1910, when the Panama Canal was being built, these hats became popular among the workers. These workers returned to the United States and called them Panama hats. But they have always been made in Ecuador: For generations, the indigenous people on the coast have been using local straw to create finely woven hats. The trade has moved inland, and Cuenca is now the major hub for the production of Panama hats”.

I was up and about by 9.00am. The NET connections are good here. Anyway I walked around for a few hours to get my bearings. There are some great buildings here and the city looks great (a rich part of the country). The streets are cobbled stoned and the roofs are all red tiled. The old center has scads of churches and homes dating from the 16th and 17th centuries lining its ankle-bending cobblestoned streets.

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Catherdral (27-06-2003)

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Catherdral (27-06-2003)

For a bird’s-eye view of Cuenca, I walked up to the Mirador de Turi. It took my about 40 minutes. In Quechua, turi means twins, and from this sight you can see two twin mountains in the distance. The views were good. The weather is great (low 30s oc) so its nice to be back in a T-shirt. No need for my new sweaters. I must post them home soon.

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Cuenca – Ecuador – View of town (27-06-2003)

There was a festival on that night which was good. Lots of fireworks and bangers. I got a bit too close as the fireworks here are great to look at but dangerous. Most are home made and are liable to go anywhere. They had pyramid’s of fireworks and people had them on wooden horses, figurines. They let dozens of massive hot balloonslons (balloons fired by hay). They were beautiful flewey flewm into the sky .. but one or two caught fire and down came hot wax on people (took one in the arm). The ballonns wee of all colours and they were preetty big.

Many of of the fireworks (about 25%) went off course and into the large crowds. They hit buildings and people. Worse were those small ones which were dumped everywhere and more often than not flew into the crowds. They lasted only 20 seconds but were super fast. One hit me in the leg. I shrugged if off until one whizzed past my face. I moved back but my leg continued to hurt. Looking down, I noticed my pants was smoldering. I went back to the hostel (five minutes away) and went to the toilet. The firework had burned through my pants (just below my knee at the back of my leg)a and burned me. There was a nasty black weld (about 3/4 of an inch). I cleaned it and the skin wasn’t broken. It was 11.00pm so I showed it to the woman in reception (I just wanted to show it to someone). She made me pore some pure alcohol over it (I think she was drinking it), and I had a sterile gauze as well. I covered it and went to bed. I can see why fireworks have been used as a weapon in northern Ireland and why they were banned , I had planned to go out but with the injury did not. It did not hurt during the night which was good, but the bed was very lumpy. Every time I moved, a spring underneath “thwanged”. I am going to put the mattress on the floor tomorrow night.

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Fireworks. A hay fired ballon sets off. (27-06-2003)

Saturday, June 28th, 2003 – Day 130

I was up at 9.00am and checked my leg. It was fine. No swelling or infection. It wasn’t sore. When I checked my pants I could see a seven inch sorch mark and in the middle the place where the flame entered. I was lucky. Further down was another three inch scorch mark. Those fireworks go so fast, you do not know where they are.

I went to the market to see what was going on. The same old stuff, roast pig, sheeps heads, cows hoofs etc. After that I decided to get my hair cut. I went into the barbers and had a hard time explaining what I wanted (a number one). He was going to hand shave it with a razor!. His assistant knew what I wanted and proceeded. He was back and forth asking me lots of questions (not many foreign visitors her) and asked if I had any Irish money. I showed him a five EURO and told him I would call in later with a coin. Then half way through he takes out his expensive camera and starts taking photos of me like nobodies business. So there am I with the hairdresser and the owner is taking pictures asking us to stop and smile (as I said, he must not get any foreign clients). It was funny, and they did a good job. I feel like a new man and paid the two dollars.

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Four cows hoffs for a pound. Weighting hooffs for a buyer. (28-06-2003)

Next I visited the Museo del Monasterio de la Conceptas. This is a small museum and it cost 2.50 US in. This former monastery is a classic colonial structure, dating back to the 18th century. The nun’s rooms are now all wonderfully curated art galleries; the theme is religious art. One of the highlights includes an impressive collection of gruesome crucifixes by local artist Gaspar Sangurima. It was a 40 minute visit. Most impressive were the religious art museums in Cuszo.

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Museo del Monasterio de la Conceptas(28-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Cuenca – Ecuador – Museo del Monasterio de la Conceptas(28-06-2003)

I also visited the cathedral. It was started in 1880 and has yet to be fully finished. Nice but very dark interior.

To those at home, I weighted myself for the first time today. The results were:

Weight – 177.4 lb (12.67 stone) for height 1.82m (approx 6 feet) which was a result of 24.84. My ideal weight would be 22, while the “normal” range is between 19 and 25. So no need to worry, I must be eating well.

Nice article here about new border conditions between Peru and Ecuador.

The festival was in full swing again tonight. As far as I have learned it is the festival of “Saint Peter’s and Paul”. It is on the 28th and 29th all over the country. It was very colorful tonight when candle lit processions and statue carrying. They covered the ground with rose medals before the statue. They also had live bands at the church and more fireworks. Ive learned by lesson and stayed back. They also released about 100 ballons into the sky. These are lit up and illumunated by hay so they shine for miles as they drift into the sky. It was a wonderful sight. Some of these balloons are massive.

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Cuenca – Ecuador – Saint Peter’s and Paul (28-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Cuenca – Ecuador – Saint Peter’s and Paul (28-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Cuenca – Ecuador – Saint Peter’s and Paul (28-06-2003)

Tomorrow is Sunday, so I hope to hop on a bus at the main terminal for Sigsig, Chordeleg, or Gualaceo. They all host lively Sunday markets where you can buy some very high-quality handicrafts.

Monday, June 23th, 2003 – Day 125 to Wednesday, June 25th, 2003 – Day 127

Monday, June 23th, 2003 – Day 125

I felt lazy this morning. Too many early mornings have caught up with me. I was up at 9.30am and I packed to leave town. Ok place, Latcunga, to base yourself to visit the various markets in the region. By the way, the last two night cost me 13 US (normal price was 16 but discount for longer stay). I walked to the bus station and got a one dollar bus to Amato.

Ambato is a nice town to amble around surrounded by gorgeous mountain ranges all reachable for hiking and walking. Most hotels & restaurants are close to the center as are one or two parks well covered with fauna, flowers and fountains though traffic congestion is heavy in the center and should be avoided. The main Bus station is 2 km north of the center on Av. Colombia and Paraguay.

I got a .17 US ticket to centro. Monday is market day here. I enjoyed walking around (I put my bag into storage at the station). Not a pretty town but it was very busy with many big markets with clothes and produce. Found another “Witches Market” and a place which sold great cowboy hats for 7 US. No room I am afraid. Stayed until 3.00pm and got a bus back to the main bus station called “Terminal”. I got a bus to Banos (they go every 15 minutes) for .80 US and took 45 minutes. It is a small town and it is only a 2 minute walk from the bus station into town.

Banos is nestled between the Rio Pastaza and the Tungurahua volcano, 8 km from its crater. It is a four hour journey from Quito by bus. Banos is a small town always full of bustling tourists looking for a nice temperate weather, exciting trips and expeditions around the area. There is an abundance of cafes, restaurants and hotels; most of them centrally located. It is an easy place to get around with several attractions and activities such as: hotsprings, trekking, horseback riding, climbing, mountain biking, rafting, etc.

Please note: This town has always been threatened by the Tunguragua volcano so, ask around before visiting this area. It was vary active last week with lots of ash and fire, but none this week… just smoke.

I did very little for the rest of the day. Booked into the Marianne Hostal in the town centre for 4.50US per night with private bath and balcony. I walked around town. A tourist town like San Pedro in Chile. Felt a bit out of place having been off the tourist circuit for a while. Nice to have plenty of NET access and got to save my camera images to disk. It was full to the brim with 1,050 images (only 122 MB with low resolution because I need to post them here!. Anyway called into a few operators to inquire about rafting, paragliding, horse riding. It seems that there are too many operators in town and not enough tourists. Its hard to get the minimum of two people together to do any activity. Spent a few hours on the NET catching up and writing the blog. I never saw so many agents and tour operators selling bike rentals, jungle trips etc. Rained heavy from 10.30pm onwards. Was in bed by 11.30pm. Hope its dry tomorrow.

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Banos – Ecuador (23-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it??´s original size

Banos – Ecuador (23-06-2003)

Tuesday, June 24th, 2003 – Day 126

It rained all night long. I had my alarm set at 6.30am but due to the continuing rain and dark skies, stayed in bed until 9.00am. It was nice to be in a small town with little traffic to keep you awake. I had a nice room with a bed bed and nice pillows. I slept well for the first time in a while. Maybe the rain kept people off the streets. In Latacunga, the church bells went off every morning (I was there for four mornings) at 6.30am. I would wake every morning with them. I had decided to take it easy in Banos. Nearly five months on the road and I had not taken any substantial amount of time off (even 2 days) to relax and DO NOTHING. It would be hard as this is a tourist spot with plenty of activities from rafting to paragliding, biking, climbing, treking et. but the heavy rain would help and the weekend was over. I also had about five days of blog and pictures to write and upload not to mention the general website updates.

The baths (as the name suggests) in banos are famous in this country. Thanks to the mighty Volcan Tungurahua, the town of Banos is blessed with several spots where you can soak in hot springs. Las Piscinas de la Virgen at the end of Montvalo in the town (about five minutes walk from my hostel) are the baths closest to the center of town. They contain sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate. Unfortunately, the baths are poorly maintained and not terribly appealing. The El Salado Baths are bigger and a bit more enticing. They are located about a mile outside of town. I took a bus (.20 cent) there and it took about 6 minutes. I brought my towel, shorts, goggles, flipflops and hope. I walked in (they are all outside baths) and paid the “Foreigner” price of US2.00. They were changing rooms, a shower room and a bar. You had to have a shower before trying the different pools. They had three pools of various temperatures. After checking them, I went to the hottest one. There were about 10 people in there. The water was bubbling hot and very brown. Indeed so brown when you got out, you were full of brown streaks. There was also a normal temperature swimming pool (outside). As in all these baths, you jump from the hot bath to the cold pool a few times. I did this and it felt good. There wee no other tourists present. The place must be good as there were people on crutches and wheelchair’s knocking about been helped in and out of the pools. They be must be good. Still, the baths wee not a patch on the RUDAS baths in Budapest which I had the pleasure of visiting two years ago. They were magnificent (but men only). The baths are believed to have been built in the 1550s and rebuilt by Pasha Sokol Mustafa in 1566. The centre of the present Rudas Baths, the Turkish bath, was formed during the Turkish occupation. It has an octagonal pool under a 10m-span dome supported by eight columns and surrounded by a barrel-vaulted corridor. It exists today almost in its original form and is the core of the present baths. What’s more, the baths feel particularly atmospheric when sunlight, filtering through the windows of the domed roof, hits the rising steam of the main pool. See here for more on real baths.

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Banos – Ecuador – The El Salado Baths (24-06-2003)

I stayed there for 2 hours and after another shower took a bus back to town. Throughout my visit to the baths, it was raining heavily with no sign of a let up. I had intended to walk/climb to a mountain overlooking the town to get good views but with the rain and heavy mist, decided against it. It was time for some R&R, but more specifically, update this BOG. I had fallen behind and it would take most of the day to update. I also wanted to catch up with world news. I see thousands of miners in Bolivia have spent a second day (today) of protest blocking major roads across the country.

The main highways between La Paz, Oruro, los Yungas, Cochabamba, and Potosi have been cut off. Reports say protestors may also have taken control of the railway system in the south of the country. I want to travel back via La Paz and Potosi in about two weeks. I hope things settle down there soon. One protestor was killed by police.

I also see the Malaysian PM accused Europeans of being very greedy and liking to take forcibly the territories and rights of other people. I didn’t see this speech reported any place except AFP. See more here.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2003 – Day 127

Decided to go “canyoning” today. I had enquired at “Cordova Tours” yesterday in the town. A full day (including practice on a climbing wall) was 3o US. Expensive, but I had never tried it before. The relatively new sport of canyoning was largely unknown until the 1990s. Even now, it’s more popular in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, than in the USA.

What is canyoning?

It’s Adventure Travel with a capital A! In a nutshell, canyoning simply consists of hiking, climbing, or rappelling to the bottom of a river canyon, then following that canyon to a logical exit point, often a spot at which it’s easy to hike back out. Canyoning includes walking, sliding down rock faces, jumping and swimming-descending some of the water falls requires ropes.

I was up at 8.30am to have breakfast. I had already met one of the guys I was going Canoying with – a dentist from Romania. He said an Irish guy was also going. I had breakfast and went to the operators office at 9.15am. We were joined by the Irish guy (living in Seattle) and two Dutch girls. We left in a 4X4 at 9.30am with our two guides and all the gear. We travelled for 20 minutes to get to a “Pratice” climbing wall. It was harder to get up the homemade ladder to the staging point that to abseil down. We were all given a harness and told how to position our bodies when climbing down. The two guides had Englishish so one of te Dutch girls translated. The Romanian, the Irish guy and one of the Dutch girls had abseiled before so I was at a disadvantage. We had two tries each. After that we drove 20 minutes to our staging off point. We changed into wet suits in the open hair. Instead of boots we wore Wellingtons. It was cold and raining.

We were happy to start walking. it took over an hour to get to our main staging off point. As I was wearing no socks, or T-shirt, I felt cold and didnt know what to expect. Basically we started at a point in the jungle and we had to travel down a canon, throught 15 waterfalls (a cascade of 15 on one route). We would not be walking on land until the finish. Immedially we staryted on the ropes. Indeed we repelled or abseiled down 10 of the 15 waterfalls beacuse they were too large. We climbed down or slided down the others. The last three waterfalls were 45, 53 and 65 metres respectivally. These were large and steep made all the more difficult by the thundering water falling on you. it has been raining here for the last 4 days and the rivers are very swollen. Some of the agencies were not taking people up, but the lure of five paying gringos was too much for Cordova.

The first few waterfalls were OK and were good practice. Indeed I grew in confidence with each one but without gloves we all got friction burns on our hands. The two girls were tour leaders (in Costa Rica and had Spanish) were unhappy with the service. Only two guides and they didnt have communication equipment and they cared little for their own safety going close to steep inclines etc. Slip down a waterfall without being haressed in and your finished. We also only used a second safety rope on one descent. In many tours this is manatory. With the noise of the water you can not hear shouts from people and with overhangs you can not see much above or below at times, especially with the water. After each waterfall, I had to empthy my wellingtons of water beacuse they were full. Everyone received cuts and bruises from the day which was very long. We had only one 5 minute break to eat some rice from a bowl. Otherwise, it was go, go, go. The difficult parts were swinging from one part of the waterfall to the other to get a better line. We only finished the last and biggest waterfall at 6.00pm. Indeed such a sight we were, that people from the main road where we finished stopped their cars and buses to look at the crazy gringos. From the top, you could only see small people below looking up. It was certaintly an exciting day but a little too adventereous and dangereous for me. I was happy to reach terra firma. Had friction burns from the Wellingtons as well.

We changed and had hot tea and an apple at the finishing point. We changed and it took us about 20 minutes to get back to town. i met the two lads laster for dinner and a drink. The two girls were going straight to Riobamba tonight. I was in bed by 11.30pm, exhausted from a hard day. It was raining from 10.00pm onwards again. I am sick of this rain.

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Banos – Ecuador – canyoning. This is me coming down one of the easier watefalls. The top part was 3 metres which was fine but then there was an overhang, so you had to become nearly horizontal and then jump, swinging down undernreath the rocka nd letting yourself down aanother 7 metres with water pouring down on top of you the whole time. (25-06-2003)

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Banos – Ecuador – canyoning. Yep, thats me coming down the last waterfall. There were two ropes for two people at a time. There was no additional safety rope. Its all up to you. (25-06-2003)

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Banos – Ecuador – canyoning. Yeah I know, a very attractive bunch. With the wetsuit, harness and wellingtons we were a sight. (25-06-2003)

Sunday, June 22th, 2003 – Day 124

Sunday, June 22th, 2003 – Day 124

I was tired and was meant to get up at 8.00am. Did not do so and finally had a shower at 9.00am. I went back to the bus station by foot to get a bus back to Pujili. I knew there was another day to the festival. I did not know exactly what was on, but I said I might as well as everything closes down during Sunday in Ecuador. It was also market day in Pujili. There was a big crows waiting to get on the bus and was lucky to get a seat (bit buses leave every 15 minutes).

When I got there I went around the market for a while, but there were no parades, but I saw many people walking up a side street. I followed them for five minutes until we got to a field. It was an amazing side. About 100 telephone polls (some a lot bigger) were artificially planted in the field. At the top of these polls were various products. Some were man made like pots, basins, clothes. Others were bags of produce like potatoes, corn, carrots, oranges. Others had live sheep, guinea pigs, rabbits, fowl etc. tied to the top. More surprising was the fact that they were all alive. They were in discomfort, tied with rope to these polls with thousands of people looking at them. Bottles of whiskey were also tied up there. At around 11.00am, a traditional parade approached with bands from surrounding areas. They were all dressed as normal with no festival costumes. It was nice and they were all hitting the bottle. Sunday was definately a locals day. The music was the same but very different from yesterday. At around 11.30am, some fireworks went off and hundreds of local lads started rushing up the polls. It seemed the booty at the top of these polls belonged to anyone who got up the polls fasted. Some brought bags with them. It was a great sight and tough work for those two did it. Some of those who got up first threw the gear to the baying crowds below. Others brought bags with them and filled them up. This material as worth money and could be used at home or sold. At first the guys only climbed the polls with man made produce. Later on, they climbed the polls, with animals. This was funny stuff as sheep fell from heights and guinea pigs were thrown from heighs to crowds below. Some lads fell from polls etc. All this was going on with bangers going off and bands playing on a makeshift stage.

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Pujili – Ecuador – Day two of the festival. This was the highest pole with the best goodies on top. It also created the most competition in getting there. These three lads were in the lead. (22-06-2003)

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Pujili – Ecuador – Day two of the festival. This guy wasnt throwing his winnings to the crowd. He wanted a bag to put them into to. (22-06-2003)

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Pujili – Ecuador – Day two of the festival. Five polls and five sheep strapped to them. Some had bags of produce like corna nd bottles of alcohol strapped there as well. (22-06-2003)

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Pujili – Ecuador – Day two of the festival. More sheep. See the guinea pigs tied to the pole to the left. They were just left hanging there. (22-06-2003)

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Pujili – Ecuador – Day two of the festival. An overview of the festival field. (22-06-2003)

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Pujili – Ecuador – Day two of the festival. This guy wanted a sheep to bring home .. and he did. (22-06-2003)

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Pujili – Ecuador – Day two of the festival. For lads going for the same prize. (22-06-2003)

I stayed there until about 2.00pm and went back to the market for an hour. More boozing going on. The locals from surrounding areas which had came earlier to take part in he parade with their village bands had taken position on different corners of town. They were hitting the booze hard and there was lots of music and dancing. The women were as drunk as the men. Watched this for a while. The market here is good with plenty of goods and produce. I did not eat here as they use the worst of meat for soups here in the market. Cows legs, sheeps heads – terrible things to look at. As a farmers son, it is a bit disquieting to see a full cows head complete with horns looking out from a butchers window. Nothing goes to waste here. Every piece of skin and bone is sold and used.

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Pujili – Ecuador – Day two of the festival. For lads going for the same prize. (22-06-2003)

I got a bus back to Latacunga but the town was dead. As it was Sunday, EVERY thing was closed. I went down to the market area to watch the local me play volleyball. This is common in all towns here. I am surprised very few play soccer here. Maybe it is because men of all ages can play volleyball. They are not very good, but they enjoy it. I stayed there an hour watching them lay on three different courts on the main plaza. I did very little the rest of the day. I watched “Total Recall” in Spanish on TV and went to bed after dinner in a local chicken restaurant.

Saturday, June 21st, 2003 – Day 123 (Part B)

Saturday, June 21st, 2003 – Day 123

PART B

I got a bus and arrived around 10.15am. I didn’t realize it was such a big festival. There were crowds every where including TV crews. I got to the area close to the reviewing stand. The procession of groups had begun. Each group had three minutes in front of the stand. All had a jeep with a sound system in front of them. They were all dancing or cultural groups. They came from all corners of Ecuador to get to this important event. So important in fact, that the president of Ecuador, Lucio Gutierrez was there. It was impressive but the weather was hot and stuffy. I moved across to the other side of the street where I could sit down of the side walk. The view was better there and there was a little shade. It was a long affair. It lasted until 4.00pm. As you can see from the pictures, it was nice to see all these groups from all over the country including African Ecuadorian from the North. You could see the open mouthed locals looking at these bare chested black men.

The festival broke up at 4.00pm but that’s went the party started. The whole town was getting drunk fast. This was binge drinking at its worst and by 6.00pm, people were falling all over the place. I saw a notice for the “Cockfighting Grand Final” which was to take place at 5.00pm at the “Colliseo Muncipal de Galleos”. I asked about a dozen people before a local could direct me to the right place. When I got there, they said it was delayed until 6.30pm. I had two beers close by in “Nana Bar”. The place was full of drunks and like a lot of places in town had no toilet. The guys just got to the front door, had a leak onto the street and went back to drinking making sure to shake my hand and offer to buy me drink on the way back to the seats. You get pretty tired of guys asking you the same questions, making conversation etc. , but I was civil and enjoyed my beer (1 US for a 600ml bottle). The place is like many in South America. Dar, with big mirrors on the dance floor walls so people can dance with themselves, watching themselves and taking part in syronished dancing.

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Pujli – Ecuador – corpus christi. (21-06-2003)

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Pujli – Ecuador – corpus christi. (21-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Pujli – Ecuador – corpus christi. (21-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Pujli – Ecuador – corpus christi. (21-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Pujli – Ecuador – corpus christi. (21-06-2003)

I went back to the impressive cockfighting stadium when was wooden but had a nice high ceiling and tiered seating. I watch the people come in (entrance was one dollar). Mostly men of all ages were present. Of maybe 100 people present about 25 % were owners. They came with their leather bags which contained there fighting cocks. Most had two bags with them. They were weighted and groups of people baited each others animals to get them in the mood. Then they match up birds. This goes on for about 20 minutes. Then they go back to the corners taping an extra claw to the back of each leg of the cock. Theres a four-minute limit for fights to move the fights along, consequently, theres a lot of draws because the other bird has to die or become incapitated to win. The two owners and the referee could stay in the ring. There was serious betting doing on in the audience. There was also a lot of heavy drinking going on. There were about 40 cocks present and there owners put them in closets for safe keeping. I only stayed for three fights. In each case the fights took about 10 minutes with 1 draw and two outright wins. The wins came about by one cock basically pecking and clawing the other to near death. It was 9.30pm and I am sure it would have kept going until dawn.

Cockfighting, sport of pitting gamecocks against one other. Though popular in ancient Greece, Persia, and Rome, cockfighting has been long opposed by clergy and humane groups. Massachusetts passed (1836) the first law in the United States forbidding cockfighting; England banned it in 1849. Cockfighting jousts take place in a small circular pit into which the gamecocks specially bred and trained for fighting are placed beak to beak by their handlers and then released. A combatant wins when its opponent is unable to fight, or is killed. Metal spurs, occasionally attached to the fowl’s natural spurs, make action deadlier. The sport is still popular in Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and the Middle East, and despite its illegality parts of the United States. It is nearly always the focus of frenzied gambling, as anthropologist Clifford Geertz noted in his famous study on the Balinese cockfight (1973).

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Pujli – Ecuador – Cockfighting Ring. (21-06-2003)

The streets were pretty deserted but a lot of rubbish from the festival. I found that the bus back to Latacunga were very infrequent at this time. I waited on the road back for 15 minutes with others until a pickup jeep appeared. It is custom here to take take passengers if you have room. About seven of us jumped in. It was a cold journey driving along back to town but I was happy to be on the move. I had an early night since I have been up all hours. The reception guy welcomed me back after my night away. Still tired and sun burnt from Friday. Did not bother collect my backpack from storage. Watched some TV.

Saturday, June 21st, 2003 – Day 123 (Part A)

Saturday, June 21st, 2003 – Day 123

PART A

Zumbahua is a typical mountain market where llamas and riding horses are traded. It is a small and unspoiled market and perfect for people, who like to experience a genuine Indian market. Indigenous women still come with their llamas to town to help to carry with their purchases later on. I awoke at 3.15am, 4.15am and 5.15am to look out my window to see traders setting up there stalls and bringing in their produce by bus, jeep, donkey and llamas. Even so, between those hours I slept heavily although I had got a bit sun burn from the day before and I had scrapped by leg and hands in a few spots. Anyway when 6.15am arrived ( I had set my alarm for that time), I got up and went out. Even thought the food and clothes plaza was still been set up, the mart (5 minutes walk away) was in full swing. This was far better than I thought. No tourists and lots of photo opportunities. I am such a tourist 🙂 Anyway there was an area for pigs and sheep and another area for cattle and llamas. Everybody was every colourfully dressed and the stall food was beautiful. I spent about an hour there before going back to the food and clothes market. Only a few tourists come here and I enjoyed the morning. I even visited the on site slaughter house which had maybe 5 cubicles where sheep were killed on the spot, blood drawn and stripped into parts. These guys were good at their job and the owners of the animals waited for their meet. No part was wasted included the feet, head and stomach which were all given to the owners. There was a corner where a guy was chopping and feathering hens. All a bit bloody but I was glad I was it. Nobody minded I was there. I didn’t want o leave that early but I wanted to get to Pujili for the corpus christi celebrations. It was 9.00am and I was here for four hours. The festival in Pujili was meant to start at 9.00pm. I hoped it would not start on time.

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Zumbahua – Ecuador – Market Day. (21-06-2003)

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Zumbahua – Ecuador – Market Day. (21-06-2003)

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Zumbahua – Ecuador – Market Day. (21-06-2003)

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Zumbahua – Ecuador – Market Day. (21-06-2003)

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Zumbahua – Ecuador – Market Day. (21-06-2003)

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Zumbahua – Ecuador – Market Day. (21-06-2003)

Friday, June 20th, 2003 – Day 122

Friday, June 20th, 2003 – Day 122

I was up at 6.05 am to get to Zumbahua. I wanted to visit its famous market tomorrow, Saturday. There is a frequent bus service from Latacunga to Zumbahua. Most buses leave from Av. 5 de Junio in Latacunga. I walked to the main bus station on the same road and was there by 6.35am. The next bus, I was told would not leave until 7.00am. The journey took two and a half hours and the cost was US$2. Some markets and when they are on are listed below.

Sunday

Santo

Domigo de los Colorados, Pujili, Cuenca, Otavalo and Park

El Ejido (Quito)

Monday

Ambato

Tuesday

Latacunga and Otavalo

Wednesday

Pujili and Otavalo

Thursday

Saquisili, Otavalo, Cuenca and Riobamba

Saturday

Otavalo, Latacunga, and Park El Ejido (Quito)

I intended to stay at Pension Zumbahua.Located at the top of the plaza. There are only three places in town, so not a lot of choice. Most have dorm space only. I arrived around 9.20am and started walking down the unpaved road to the town plaza. It is a tiny village with maybe 100 inhabitants. As I approached the plaza, a white 4X4 jeep pulled up and people inside waved at me. I recognized them as a travel agent and his wife from Holland whom I had met on the Riobamba tourist train. They were in town for the day and had hired a guide and jeep. They offered me a lift to Quilotoa lagoon. I had not booked into any hostel yet, but the offer was too good to refuse. Buses there are very infrequent (.30 US) and I could hire a car (15 US), walk 4 hours up there (its approximately 14 km to the north of Zumbahua) or get a collective bus from the Plaza that costs 5 US.

I took them up on their offer and off we went. The volcanic crater of Quilotoa has a serene mysterious looking green lake inside. The volcano’s bowels 400 m down head towards a deep ascending cut in the rim of the volcano right of the car park, 30 minutes descent and one hour ascent or rent a mule for just US $3.00.

The water itself is stagnant due to no in or outflows and consists of an alkaline consistency as well as sulfurous and is certainly not for drinking so do take your own drinking water.

As I was there by 9.30am and knew there was little to do in the village I decided to walk around the total circumference of the rim. I was told to allow 4-5 hours and be careful in some areas as the conditions can be slippery and dangerous.

I went counter clockwise and the first hour was fine with good views of the crater and lake. After that it was hard as you climb on the rim. Some of the paths were only a foot across with drops on both sides. In most cases the ground was sandy and the rock was chalk like breaking away if you needed support. I nearly turned back three times within the first 1/3 of the journey but found safer paths. I didn’t meet any other hikers on the paths, just a few animals and farmers working their field. The second 1/3 was fine and I was making progress. The last 1/ 3 was very difficult. I am still unsure as to whether I took a wrong turn but the only path available to me was one half way down the rim towards the lake. I walked about an hour until I cam to a full stop. There was a gorge in front on me and it was too steep to go down. I sat down for a few minutes to decide what to do next. It was nearly four hours back. I felt a bit scared up there in the middle of nowhere, with the only choice being to climb towards and over the gorge back to the path. It was difficult and would not like to repeat the experience. It took me another hour to get back to my start point (five and a half hours in total). Even though it was only 3.00pm, I felt a lifetime had passed. There was a little local restaurant up there and I went for a beer (600ml bottle for 1.25 US). There were a few locals inside, and I most have looked a state. Shaken but relieved look on my face. I was also filthy dirty from climbing with hands and feet. There were no tourists to be seen and I didn’t know how I would get back to town, 14km away. Luckily, a bus pulled up and for .30US got back to town. I didn’t want to do anything, so I booked into my hostel for four dollars (in a 4 bed dorm) and stayed on the plaza until 6.00pm eating pancakes (street food)a and watching all the local men play Volleyball on the plaza. I never saw so many hungry dogs in one town. The local restaurant will not look great. The meat was the usual left overs (feet, head, offal etc.) and was been cut by a dirty hachet. I went into the local shop to buy water. There were about 30 kids and teenagers watching I believe one of the view TV an d Video combos in town. They were watching “Mad Max“. I found a spot and watched it with them to there amusement. There was nothing else to do. I went back to the hostel and went to bed around 9.00pm. Early but I was physically and mentally exhausted after the mornings hike. There were no other tourists booked in, and I had the dorm to myself.

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Quilota – Ecuador – volcanic crater of Quilotoa. (20-06-2003)

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Quilota – Ecuador – volcanic crater of Quilotoa. (20-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Quilota – Ecuador – volcanic crater of Quilotoa. (20-06-2003)

Thursday, June 19th, 2003 – Day 121

Thursday, June 19th, 2003 – Day 121

Latacunga (2,850m) is the capital of the Cotopaxi Province, with some 55,000 inhabitants and is a good base point for some interesting excursions such as the Cotopaxi volcano. The city has been destroyed three times in the past by the Cotopaxi volcano. In 1742; 1768 and in 1877. The volcano’s activity is zero at the moment and other eruptions are not expected for at least some decades more.

I was up by 6.00am again (this is becoming a habit) so that I could take a bus to Saquisili. This market is considered the most important market in Ecuador by the country’s economists and located next to Latacunga. Saquisili market located in 8 main plazas sells everything from food produce including, oranges, mandarin oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, radishes, avocados, herbs, radishes, okra, red and yellow bananas it also sells meet produce such as pork, beef and mutton parts as well as screaming wild pigs that run around aimlessly in pens along with llamas, sheep and cattle although the latter is 1km from town. I went early as I wanted to avoid the tourist buses that come mid morning and also to see the animal market (it’s best to arrive before 07:00 to see this). The local Indian attire consists of small black hats and red poncho garments.

I walked to the main bus station (10 minutes and got a bus for .30 US. It took 15 minutes and I was there by 7.00am. It was easy to find the animal market by following the farmers leading animals there. It was very colorful with different areas for cattle, sheep/goats and pigs. A lot of business was been done. This market was ten times bigger and better than the animal market in Otvalo. The place was full and thank God not many tourists in sight. By 8.00am the tours buses from Quito were arriving. They were following each other around like sheep. Most were not used to animals. Some hotels (Hilton Colon and Quito) offer a two-hour tour to the Saquisil? Market on Thursdays. My Spanish has improved a bit and I was able to hold conversations with a few of the locals. By the way, in relation to my photos, I try to ask permission first. This is especially true of close ups and pictures of any local produce like the pigs heads. Some do refuse and it I have no problem with that. I would not like unsolicited photos of me.

I enjoyed the market. I saw two other main markets. The first was a produce market with potatoes, onions, carrot’s, corn etc. It was very busy. I had some nice fried food in the market called “Allullas con queso de hoja (biscuits with string cheese)” which is a specialty of the region. The other was a more tourist clothes market with sweaters etc. Didn’t say long there. As I wanted to travel to Pujili to see if and when the Corpus Christi celebrations were on, I left at 9.30am. This was a bit too early and I am a bit sorry I didn’t stay longer but knowing these markets, they start to die down by noon – so getting there as early as possible is the key. Even 6.00am is not too early.

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Saquisili – Ecuador – Market close to Latacunga. (19-06-2003)

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Saquisili – Ecuador – Market close to Latacunga. (19-06-2003)

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Saquisili – Ecuador – Market close to Latacunga. (19-06-2003)

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Saquisili – Ecuador – Market close to Latacunga. (19-06-2003)

I took a .30 US bus back to town and immediately got a bus to Pujili for .30 US. It is only a 11 minute journey. It is a sleepy pleasant town where markets on Tuesday and Sunday are the main focus. Kids were playing volleyball and everyone was painting their premises. I guessed there were no celebrations today and I enquired. They started tomorrow, Friday at 2.00pm and were on all day Saturday and Sunday with cock fights included (I had missed them in Otvalo). I decided to check out the town and toyed with the idea of booking accommodation here for Saturday night. I spent about an hour asking people. Most had no idea until I found a taxi driver. Their was only one place in town. It was off the main plaza. I saw the rooms which were not all that nice (rotten actually). The guy wanted seven Dollars. No point I thought as my hotel in town was the same price and I could take a .30 US bus back and forth. I walked around until 2.00pm and climbed the local vantage point overlooking the town. I took a bus back and spent the rest of the day strolling and buying a few small things like a new toothbrush, getting my shoes professionally cleaned and finding out about different markets taking place over the coming days. I also went on the NET for a while but very slow connection. Found an interesting article which says new research (2003) found that over 60,000 people died during the Shining Path insurgency in Peru during the 1980s.

Around 6.00pm, a band started up on the main plaza. I went down to reception and asked what was on. She said it wasn’t a Corpus Christi festival, but the ESPE festival. It seems it is on the 19th of every year and it organized by students who have just finished their exams. I went down and watched it pass. Indeed, while it had some traditional dancers, in the main it was students dressing up and enjoying themselves. The parade had about 30 floats and each college faculty like Medicine and Electronics had its own floats. It was good fun and most participants were drinking. Indeed as soon as they saw the “Gringo”, they usually forced some drink on me. Most of it was home brew alcohol. There was no way I could refuse and I didn’t want to insult them. It lasted about an hour and a half. It went around the Plaza and I could have watched the whole thing a second time.

All the students moved to another Plaza which I went to later (around 9.00pm) because they had fireworks. I never saw so many drunk people in my life. There were guys mainly falling down drunk (and a few fights). Nobody was drinking beer. They were all drinking home made alcohol or whiskey/vodka. Again I had the problem of people making conversation, trying out their English and offering me booze. I had a couple of drinks to be sociable and watched the great bus basic fireworks display. May of the fireworks were bamboo based and would often shoot over peoples heads or in many cases after exploding in mid air fall down to earth again on top of people. It was impressive though with many “Catherine Wheels” making white sparks fall over everyone. I was impressed but escaped the hordes as I was taking another early bus tomorrow.

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Latacunga – Ecuador – ESPE festival. (19-06-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in it´s original size

Latacunga – Ecuador – ESPE festival. (19-06-2003)

Wednesday, June 18th, 2003 – Day 120

Wednesday, June 18th, 2003 – Day 120

Today was train trip day. I was up at 6.05am as we were told to be at the station by 6.30am. I bought some croissants from a vendor (.10 cent each) before I got to the station. There were about 40 tourists already there. I bypassed the guards checking tickets and passports as Marys name was on mine. Normally you have to show your passport when buying tickets. The steam train was now out of commission for 3 months for two reasons. The first was that it was too heavy for the now badly eroded tracks. It kept on derailing and they didn’t want 40-100 dead or injured gringos on their hands. The second reason was it was too expensive to maintain as it had to stop many times for water and fuel. Now in operation were two diesel powered carriages. Locals say it is still dangerous as the tracks are in bad repair and because of the many landslides and soil subsistence.

More on the Train

The Train ride from Riobamba is out of this world, the highlight being bite the Devil’s Nose and Alausi Loop. The train departs from Riobamba on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 07:00, arriving in Alausi around 10:00-10:30, hits Sibambe about 11:30-12:00 and regresses back to Alaus? around 13:30-14:00. Tickets for the 07:00 train go on sale one night before around 18:00 to 19:00, or the same early morning at 06:00, do take note that the seats are not numbered, so as with Egyptian trains its best to arrive early. The train service isn’t always punctual with some disruptions and changing timetables so do check locally about current times. The administration office is positioned on Espejo, adjacent to the Post Office, for information call Tel. 960115, or 961909. Metropolitan Touring, have private autoferro on the Riobamba-Sibambe route. They need a minimum of 20 passengers to run the train and are flexible any time convenient to your group or mixed ones.

The cost was 11 Dollars. The reason why it is popular is that you can roof ride. Over 90% of the people there did because unlike yesterday, it wasn’t raining. Anyway we set off at 7.00am and it was pretty exciting to begin with. The scenery was great and we could see many people working the fields. We passed many locals who laughed and waved at the passing gringos on top of the train. On our carriage there were about 25 on top, 10 below with only 3 people from Ecuador. As this train is faster than the old steam one, we got to our location by 10.30am. There were 2 stops for the toilet or to buy snacks. Anyway, while the scenery was good, I wasn’t impressed by the Devil’s Nose and Alaus? Loop. It wasn’t trilling, exciting or dangerous. The views were so-so and by the time we got back to Alaus? at 1.00pm, I was ready to head back to Riobamba. It was a nice day out, but not a must do activity. I was pretty under awed. Anyway the town of Alausi was nice with many colorfully dressed locals queuing at the bank.

We grabbed a bus (1.50 US) for Riobamba which was nearly full. The best part of the day was the scenery on the way back. It was spectacular with a patchwork of fields. We arrived back at 1.55pm and four of us shared a taxi back to the hostel (1 US but he tried to charge us more).

Anyway I grabbed my bags, said my good byes and headed back to the station which I just left. A Quito bound bus was just leaving. I jumped out and grabbed it. The cost to Latacunga was two Dollars and the journey took two hours. I took a taxi to the main plaza in the town for 1 Dollar as it was raining. I checked out about 5 hotels and hostels but I think there is a agreement amongst them. No matter what place I checked out, the cost was eight Dollars. The guidebooks say between five and seven. I even checked hostels which were not in the guidebook. There must be an agreement between them. As they were all the same price, I went to the most luxurious (Well, biggest room and bathroom, and hot water) which was the Hotel Central just off the Plaza. I paid for two night s (15 Dollars) and walked around town. I visited a few agencies to check on treks and climbing opportunities. Prices were between 100 and 150 US for 2 day treks. I will wait until Sunday to decide on those. Most shops were closing by 6.00pm and I had to chase around to look for a restaurant as many close by 8.00pm. Found a small place and had a 1/4 Chicken and Chips with salad for two Dollars.

As I was up since 6.00am, I decided to have a long shower and an early night (9.30pm). There are two or three NET cafes but connections are VERY slow. I had tried to find out when the Corpus Christi celebrations in Pujili were on too no avail. Tomorrow is the official day but many festivals wait until the following weekend. Anyway, I had a good scrub and went to bed.

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Riobamba – Ecuador – The Train to nowhere. Some bright spart had cut a tree on the tracks. It took 20 minutes to clear. Lots of impatient gringoes. (18-06-2003)

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Riobamba – Ecuador – The Train to nowhere. Good view of Chimborazo which I had been yesterday. (18-06-2003)

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Riobamba – Ecuador – The Train to nowhere. (18-06-2003)

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Riobamba – Ecuador – The Train to nowhere. Colourful lot waiting for the bank in Alausi. (18-06-2003)

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Riobamba – Ecuador – The Train to nowhere. Some locals waiting for the bus. (18-06-2003)