We managed to find a 2PM Transportes Patria bus for $5 pp to Alausi. Nothing like sitting on a hard bar running through the middle your derriere for 4.5 hours. Our goal was to catch a ride on the Devil’s Nose train. The train usually originates in Riobamba and travels south to Alausi, then tackles the steep switchbacks of Devil’s Nose. With 5 switchbacks around and through a steep canyon, the tracks are an engineering marvel. Unfortunately, during the off season, the rain frequently washes out the tracks between Alausi and Riobamba so we’d be taking a chance to get to Riobamba (passing Alausi on the way) and then there was no guarantee we’d be able to ride on the roof since two Japanese tourists were killed (supposedly decapitated by an overhanging wire) in 2007. So we opted for the touristy ride of a “mini train” which was more like a bus converted into a single engine train car that runs on the track from Alausi down to Simbambe station and back. This is the heart of the Devil’s Nose. The ride cost us $7.80 each and had some great views of the canyon, Devil’s Nose … and the steep falls down the canyon side if you fell out of the train. Check out this video we took from the train
Ecuador is most known for: its rare wildlife in the Galapagos, the highlands and the equator. The Galapagos are extremely expensive ($1000 each for flight and cruise around the islands – and with our luck all the wildlife would be on vacation elsewhere), and the highlands were completely socked in with clouds, so we stopped in Riobamba to break up the trip to the Midal Del Mundo (Middle of the Earth) outside of Quito. At least we can say we saw one of the indigenous hummingbirds (larger and differently colored).
We’ll remember Riobamba for its pork BBQ; there are sections of the markets where stalls of huge BBQ’d pigs are semi-carved, on display and ready to eat. Walking in, it’s like disturbing the hen house – all of the women clucking at once, waving succulent chunks of pork at you hoping to have you try and buy their pork. All we can say is, “that was some darn good pig!”.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador. It’s clean, got bike lanes (which residents do use) and an efficient trolley and bus system. The city would have been even nicer if it didn’t pour down rain on us every chance it got. We did get one nice day – luckily when we wanted to the do the touristy thing at the Equator. We caught a local bus to La Ofelia (a large transfer station), then switched to the Midal del Mondo – all for 40 cents. For $2 each, we entered the site and took the mandatory straddle the equator pictures, walked into “town” and had chicken and rice for lunch (no, really, chicken and rice – I know it’s hard to believe), and then returned to Quito. We explored the main square and churches, did some shopping, but mostly wondering why we were at the equator in the middle of summer and were having to wear jackets and long pants.
Even though we fast-tracked it through Ecuador, we were left with the following impressions:
• They are a very vibrant people – buildings, sculptures, clothes are all very colorful
• Air pollution in the cities is terrible and deforestation is the most destructive we’ve seen – for hours for as far as the eye can see entire hills are carved into fields
• A now very rich entrepreneur sold an aircraft carrier’s worth of clown head garbage cans to Ecuador .- you can’t turn a city corner without being startled by one.
We made our plans for the trip north to Columbia. Next stop, Pasto, Popayan and the coffee region of Columbia. For more pics, check out the gallery.