As Mike wrote in the last blog we arrived at our not-so-great hostel (Ecuahogar Hostel) in the suburbs of Guayaquil on Tuesday, June 6th. The main reason for staying at this place was because it was close to the terminal terreste (main bus terminal). So, on the day we arrived we walked to the bus station and bought tickets to go to Riobamba the next day.
On the way home from the bus station we stopped by a grocery store. (I know this blog is on Riobamba but…) To give you an idea about what Guayaquil is like, we went to the grocery store in the more-safe-than-downtown suburb of Los Sauces and there was a guard tower directly in front of the grocery store doors. In the guard tower was a guard with a rifle, apparently ready for any person planning on stealing food. If a person managed to get by the guard with the gun in the guard tower, there were two more guards in bullet-proof vests past the guard tower who stood in front of a metal fence. We laughed about this but then we thought about buying groceries in downtown Guayaquil where we didn´t go into the store because it had bars on the outside. Instead, you told the woman what it was you wanted and she passed it to you through a hole in the bars. In downtown Guayaquil, we also dropped our laundry off through a hole in the bars at the laudry service place and picked it up through the hold in the bars as well. (Just thought I would share that because it makes for an interesting story.)
Anyway, on the morning of Wednesday, June 7th, we left our not-so-great hostal in the not-so-great Los Sauces suburb of Guayaquil and caught a cab to the main bus terminal. We checked in at the ticket counter and the guy said something in Spanish that we didn´t understand. We hear things in Spanish that we don´t understand and if it doesn´t seem important, we generally just ignore them. Since we had 8:15am bus tickets and it was 7:35 we went and sat in the monstrous waiting area where there were 15 flat screen TVs showing music videos. At about 7:55a we made our way to the bus where we saw the guy who sold us the tickets. He and another guy were waving and yelling something in Spanish. As we walked up, the bus was starting to leave. Oh sh$&%(/#! One guy yelled at the bus driver and he stopped. The other guy took our bags and put them in the storage area under the bus. And away we went at exactly 8:00am, 15 minutes early. Whew! That was a close one! In retrospect we think the guy at the ticket counter probably told us the bus was going to leave early that day but since we didn´t understand what he was saying we didn´t know.
The 5 hour bus ride from Guayaquil to Riobamba was filled with beautiful scenary. We actually weren´t sure when we were supposed to get off the bus (a common problem) so we got off one stop early. The bus attendant yelled, “Cajabamba” and with the Latin American music blaring over the bus speakers it sounded like “Riobamba” to us. After we collected all our belongings and got off the bus, I said to the man, “Riobamba, Si?” He said something that I didn´t understand but Mike told me that he said we are near Riobamba but not at Riobamba. So we get back on the bus for another 30 minutes. When we got off in Riobamba, we were surprised how cold it was but then we remembered that Riobamba lies at an altitude over 9,000 ft (so no wonder it was cold!) We caught a cab to the downtown area of Riobamba (population 126,000).
Just like many times before, we stood there on the corner in the middle of the city with our bags and our map, trying to figure out where we are. We didn´t have a place to stay but identified a place in the guidebook near where we were standing and go there. It turned out to be a lovely place. It (Hotel Tren Dorado) was a actually several houses, each nicely decorated with a common sitting area and a garden. Our room had coordinating old-fasioned English furniture and decorations. Best of all it was clean, with hot water (yes!) towels, and soap. All for $16.
The next day we just hung out in the city, ran errands and caught up on our blogs. One fun, unexpected thing that happened was that at about 4:00pm, we heard a band playing. Hmm…what was that? We walked down to the main street in town to find a huge parade was taking place. It was clear that it was some sort of (beauty?) contest whereby good looking girls in white satin outfits sat on top of different floats waving to the crowd. Behind each girl and her float were either dancers or a marching band. We watched the parade for almost an hour. It was very interesting to watch because each group of dancers or marching band members wore colorful costumes and no two groups were alike. The dancers were in traditional outfits from various cultures. There was one group where the men carried spears, wore scary masks and huge feather headresses and the women carried skulls. Bet you never saw that in a parade in the states!
The main reason we came to Riobamba was because it is the starting point of a spectacular 5-hour train that includes going down the ”hair-raising” Nariz del Diablo (Devil´s Nose). Passengers are allowed to ride on the roof of the train and that´s exactly what we did.
On Friday, June 9th, we got up at 5:00am in order to be at the train station by 6:00 to get a good seat on the roof of the train. A good seat, we were told by another traveler, is towards the back so that you are not sucking fumes from the train engine the entire time. This same person also told us to dress warmly and yes, do rent the seat cusions. That morning we rented 4 seat cushions for $4 - good thing because it would be impossible to ride on the roof without these cushions. Here we are on top of the train:
We didn´t think the train ride was as scary as the guidebook made it out to be but it sure had its fair share of unexpected events. Oh sure, it started out innocently enough…
We rode on the roof for about 3 hours before getting to a small town called Alausi.
Here is a picture from that small town:
From Alausi we started the ”hair-raising” switchback descent along the edge of a cliff. About 2 minutes after we started the descent, the train derailed. It was obvious something went wrong because the train ride suddenly became very rough. We waited for about 30 minutes while a couple of railroad employees somehow got the wheel back on the track. Still roof riding, we went down the series of switchbacks to the bottom of a canyon known as the Devil´s Nose, but Mike and I both felt it wasn´t hair-raising or even scary (but it was still pretty fun) .
On the way back up the switchbacks, we felt that familiar rough ride and knew the train had derailed again. Only this time we were still going but the other half of the train had been left behind. It seemed like railroad workers came out of the woodwork because before we knew it, there were many people working on the track. It took over an hour for the workers to replace several railroad ties and fix a broken piece of the track. Here is a photo of the cars that were left behind:
And a photo of some of the guys who eventually fixed the track (using a variety of materials including logs and tree branches):
So, we survived riding on top of the train, for what would turn out to be a 7-hour train ride, and although it wasn´t scary it was certainly entertaining. Once we got back to Alausi, instead of continuing on the train, we caught a bus back to Riobamba, saving us at least 1.5 hours.
The next day we took a 4-hour bus from Riobamba to Quito, Ecuador, the last city on our around-the-world trip.