Disaster and the devil's nose
Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
103Trip End Apr 05, 2006
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Well, the optimism didnīt last very long. By 3pm that afternoon it had completely evaporated as the two of us tried to come to terms with disaster - our camera had been stolen barely an hour into the bus ride from Quito to Riobamba! Hereīs the sorry story.
About 45 minutes into our journey, two guys and a girl got on the bus. The two guys sat directly behind us with the girl in the opposite aisle. I had the window seat and my daypack was at my feet
At this point the guy behind Rich became very chatty, asking him where we were from, the time etc. whilst we were trying to figure out what was missing. At first we thought that all was okay, but then realised that our camera was missing, including half our photos from the Galapagos! From the corner of his eye, Rich noticed the woman hop up and asking the driver to stop... we suspect she must have had the camera.
We were both kind of paralysed by shock, and felt bit stuck as to our next move... the conductor was nowhere in sight and none of the other passengers seemed to notice what was going on. While we were deciding what to do, the bus pulled over and the woman got off, with the two guys remaining behind.
Hereīs the cloak and daggers bit.... we were now sitting on the bus knowing damn well that the guys behind us had stolen our camera, but that the camera had in all likelihood departed with Seņorita
We decided to scribble a note requesting the camera back for a hundred dollars reward, and stating the name of our hotel in Riobamba. As we were writing the note, the bus slowed down and the two guys hopped up to leave. We quickly showed the note to the chatty guy. He opened his bag, but we demonstrated that we knew he didnīt have it. He took our note off the bus with him anyway and gave us a meaningful look as if to say that a deal could be done.
So we continued our bus journey to Riobamba feeling sick to the stomach, but a little hopeful that there might be a slim chance of recovering the camera. We knew the likelihood was small, but it was there. The question was: had we offered them enough to make it worth their while? We arrived in Riobamba about 4pm, checked into Hostal Oasis (very nice) and waited. Yes, we actually waited outside the door in case someone showed up for their īrewardī. By 7.30pm we gave up the vigil, accepted that the camera was gone for good, and went to the police... who basically fobbed us off.
Needless to say, we spent a very restless night, tossing and turning
We still hadnīt managed to make a police report for insurance purposes, but the next morning we decided that it would not ruin our day - we would go and do what weīd come to Riobamba for: the Nabiz del Diablo train ride. So we raced to the station (the hotel owner drove us there) and arrived just in time for the 7am departure.
The train is nothing more than a bus on wheels, a single carriage locomotive exclusively for tourists. It plies the only remaining bit of track, from Riobamba to Alausi and down the īDevils Noseī, a remnant of a great feat of engineering that used to run from Quito to Guayaquil... the rest of the railway line has long been wiped out by earthquakes, landslides etc.
The most coveted seats on the train are on the roof (for the views) but we arrived too late to secure a seat up there and settled for one inside. A blessing really, as a rooftop spot takes its toll on the bum! The three hour ride from Riobamba to Alausi took us through spectacular mountain scenery, past beautifully fertile hillside fields worked by Indians in colourful traditional dress
About halfway to Alausi, the train stopped in a small village (canīt remember the name) where local women offered food, drink and craft for sale. It allowed us a closer look at their colourful outfits: kneelength, gathered or pleated skirts in red, pink or green, blue or red shawls, little bowler hats. At Alausi the train stopped again before we started our short but hair-raising descent down the Nabiz del Diablo (Devilīs Nose) itself.
The Nabiz del Diablo is a very steep mountainside, basically a cliff, which the train negotiates by means of two switchbacks. The sheer drop-down right beside the carriage all the way definitely means itīs not for vertigo sufferers! There were three trains going down within a few minutes of each other, so half the fun was watching the other trains ahead of us go down. The ride down to the bottom of the Nose takes about 30mins, and the same amount of time back up. For the ride back up we managed to get seats on the roof - thrilling but hard on the bum!
All in all, we found the train ride is worth the $11 per person
Early on Thursday morning we caught a train to Caņar, about four hours away. Again, the scenery was amazing: dramatic mountain passes, little green farmerīs fields impossibly high up on mountainsides. We checked into Hostal Ingapirca (well-priced if a little shabby) at about lunchtime and, in the early afternoon, made the short local bus ride to nearby Ingapirca, the site of Ecuadorīs most important Inca ruins.
It was raining when we arrived, so we killed a little time by having a bite of lunch and checking out the museum. The rain lifted a little, and we explored the ruins: now all that remains of this key administrative outpost of the Inca Empire are remnants of the finely crafted stone walls. Within the half-moon shaped compound would have been storerooms, accommodation for officials, and homes for normal folk. The remains of the central temple are very well preserved and show the trapezoidal doorways and tightly fitted stone work very well
Having explored the main site, we walked on to a little hill nearby where some more interesting Inca artefacts are found: a large boulder carved for use in an Inca game, an aqueduct and a huge human face in the cliff. The theory is that it is a natural formation which was enhanced by Inca stonemasons. All very interesting.
That evening, Caņar was swarming with children in fancy dress or carrying candles, preparing for a Christmas parade. We walked around the town a little, observed the commotion and watched the start of a candle-light parade.... Yes, Christmas is upon us, and boy, over here in Ecuador itīs all about kids dressing up!
On Friday morning 23 December we hopped on a bus to Cuenca, our next destination. On the bus we again admired the lovely dress of the Indians in the area. Just like those around Alausi, the skirts are full and kneelength, with a touch of embroidery at the hem. Colours are bright pink, blue and green, and the ensemble of skirt and shawl is rounded off with a white bowler hat, a distinguishing feature of the Caņaris.
We arrived in Cuenca nice and early, about 11.30am, and strolled around town
So we spent the best part of the afternoon traipsing around the electronic shops of Cuenca, searching for our beloved Sony Cybershot DSC W5 at a good price. At first we dispaired... it seemed that weīd have to pay well over $500. Then we hit on a few cheaper places, and finally found a tiny, family-run store that offered it at $435... and the guy offered us a cash price of $360 - bargain! It seemed a fair price to pay, and after a little more shopping around, we concluded the deal at about 4.30pm. It promptly started to rain as we carted off our purchase, so we retreated into a cosy cafe for celebratory ice-creams and coffees.
By the next morning, Saturday the 24th, it was still raining cats and dogs, but that didnīt deter the folk of Cuenca from coming out onto the streets for their famous Christmas Eve parade. We joined the crowds on Ave. Bolivar and watched as marching bands of youngsters and group after group of kids in colourful fancy dress filed past. Unfortunately we could not stay very long, as we had to catch an 11.30 bus to Loja. We hailed a cab at about 10.50am (the previous day the ride from the bus station to the centre had taken about 10 minutes), but still the driver couldnīt get us there on time... needless to say the Christmas parade had brought the streets of Cuenca to a virtual stand-still!
We waited around for the next bus at 1pm, and finally we were on our way to Vilcabamba, via Loja! It was Christmas eve, Cuenca was abuzz with festive spirit, but we had no idea what Christmas day in Vilcabamba would hold...