Day 4 - Tue May 22, 2007 – Alauci – Bob: 155, Kathy: 140

This morning we got up early, showered, packed and got ready to go. We ate breakfast while we talked to a man from New Zealand and his sister. They were interesting but their accent was very hard to understand. It was almost easier trying to communicate in Spanish! I don't mean anything bad about the people of New Zealand. I only mean that this couple had a very thick accent.

When I looked at my watch, I noticed it was two minutes to 8:00am. The problem is, yesterday morning we had scheduled a tour guide to meet us at 8:00am and we still hadn’t checked out of the hotel. Quickly, we finished breakfast, ran to the room, finished getting ready, grabbed our bags and we headed back down to the hotel lobby and checked out. Unfortunately, our guide and driver were supposedly stuck in rush-hour traffic and didn’t arrive for another half-hour.

Our guide was nice. We hired him to take us on a tour into the mountains, stopping at an archeology site and ending up in the town of Alauci where we do the train ride tomorrow.

Our first stop was a gas station where we bought some candy bars for the trip. Gasoline is very cheap here. An imperial gallon of gas (I’m assuming; the guide said it was 4 liters and larger than an American gallon) cost $1.45. When we left Minneapolis, gasoline was $3.25 per gallon.

We drove into the mountains and our first stop was a church built onto the side of the mountain.

The views were spectacular and we took lots of photos.

The church was very cool, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. As a matter of fact, we’ve seen dedications to Mary in all of the churches. In fact, it seems like Mary is more important to these people than Jesus is. We were told that this is because of the way the Spanish had introduced Christianity to the native people.

Our guide told us that, according to the native Indians, Jesus seemed like a very weak God. For example, he wasn’t as powerful as the Sun God. How could he be when he let himself be killed? Other guides have told us that the concept of Jesus’ self-sacrifice was completely foreign, in fact nonsense, to the natives. After all, they believed in sacrificing animals (and in older times, people) to the Gods for favors. So the concept of a God getting sacrificed to them was the complete opposite of the way things should be. They just couldn’t understand it, no matter how they tried.

However, the natives still believed in Mother Nature as a kind of God. When they were told that Mary was the mother of God, and mother of Jesus, they found something in her they could worship. So Mary became more important to the natives than Jesus was.

As we walked around the church, our guide asked me if I drove a motorcycle. I said yes and asked him how he knew. He said it was because of my T-shirt, which happened to be a Stratovarius shirt. I asked him if he knew Stratovarius and he said yes. It turns out he is another metal-head and he prefers symphonic metal like me! He said he liked Nightwish and Manowar too. Very peculiar to find someone who even knows these bands. We talked about heavy metal and had a great time. Ah, if only such open minded people could be found in the United States!

Next, we visited a friend of our guide whose family did weaving of hats and little trinkets.

We bought a few woven Christmas ornaments and took photos of the cute children.

Shortly after we left, we saw a very strange sight. We saw a woman roasting a pig with, believe it or not, a blowtorch.

Our guide told us that the people would slaughter a hog in the morning, roast the skin for breakfast, then roast the rest of the meat throughout the day. They would be working on eating and selling various cooked parts of that hog all day long.

Soon we found the car on the Pan-American highway. Supposedly, this is the highway on which you could drive a car all the way from Alaska to South America. Our guide said that it’s not quite accurate because the road is interrupted in several places. First of all, it doesn’t go over the Panama Canal. Second, it cuts right through some man’s hotel. Third, there are several gaps and closures in Peru.

As we drove through the towns and pretty countryside,

I tried to pay attention to what makes this place different from the United States. The most odd thing I saw was tall corn plants all over people’s yards. In other words, there would be five or six corn stalks next to the sidewalk, next to the shed, and everywhere else for that matter. Some houses looked like their lawn was made of corn rather than grass. It was strange to see. Hey, maybe that's not such a bad idea. Think of all the time I'd save mowing my lawn! And I could eat the by-product.

As usual, we asked our guide all kinds of questions about the Ecuadorian people and customs. I asked them about a war with Peru I had heard rumors about. He told me that Ecuador and Peru had a long history of small wars. The latest one was in 1994 when apparently Peru attacked Ecuador. Ecuador kicked them out but our guide said they were wrong. Apparently the two countries were divided by a river in the jungle. However, neither side quite realized that the river split and nobody knew which side of the split belonged to which country. I guess there was recently a peace agreement signed that called for an end to all hostilities and a new era of cooperation between Ecuador and Peru. They established a huge bi-national park that is jointly owned by both countries. Jointly owned by both countries? I had never heard of such a thing. That spirit of cooperation simply amazes me.

Our guide also told us that the common hills are rich with Uranium, but neither country has nuclear capabilities. I told them I thought nuclear power was bad for the world and that the Uranium should stay in the ground where it was. It may seem cheap. It may seem clean. But that nuclear waste is just plain bad for the entire world and all its inhabitants.

That began another discussion about Ecuador relating to energy. It seems that there is currently only one massive hydroelectric dam that provides an ample amount of electricity to the entire country of Ecuador. Our guide said they have plans to expand though, and sell the power to neighboring countries.

We drove up into the mountains until we came to an archeology site called Ingapirca. The site was much better than I expected. The scenery was beautiful,

with Llamas and Alpacas roaming around the site, acting as lawn mowers.

The first building we encountered was the temple of the moon.

Our guide said that the native people, the Canari, worshiped the Moon God. The Inca people conquered them and erected a large temple to their God: The Sun God. Then, to appease the natives, they erected a temple to the Moon.

I remember when we were in Peru, the inevitable question was raised: how did a handful of Spanish Conquistadors conquer an army of tens of thousands of soldiers of the Inca? There were several reasons: First, disease. The Spanish brought diseases that killed the natives. Second, technology. The Spanish were intimidating, arriving on a huge ship, riding horses, wearing armor. It made the natives afraid. Well, today we learned another reason: our guide told us that the Canari people were proud people and they resented their Inca conquers, so they gladly helped the Spanish fight the Inca's armies. He said that for every Spanish soldier, there were a hundred Canari helping to fight off the Inca.

Anyway, the temple of the Sun at Ingapirca was big and beautiful.

We took lots of photos.

There were strange stones with carved holes that were puzzling.

The stones–the ones that hadn’t been reconstructed–were perfectly fit together without mortar, like the sites we saw in Peru.

And the building was perfectly aligned from East to West, with the sun passing into the building at the summer solstice.

We drove a lot, and on the drive, we talked to the guide a lot about his people. He was a native Canari descendant. He told us that the Canari are a very proud and stubborn people. And they absolutely hated their photo being taken. We saw lots of the people in their beautifully colored dresses, coats and scarves, walking their animals.

There were lots of animals tied up at the side of the road to graze for the day.

Unfortunately, we got very few photos. At one point, I asked the driver to stop and I ran back up the hill to take a photo of a house that was drying a rainbow of dresses on the top floor. They probably thought I was crazy, but I thought that if I couldn’t take the people's photos, at least I’d take a photo of their colorful clothes.

The weather was absolutely perfect: partly cloudy and warm with pretty blue skies.

After a while, we stopped and ate lunch at a decent restaurant.

After a decent lunch at a hotel, our guides kept driving further and further into the mountains, and the further we got, the rougher the roads became. Eventually the pavement disappeared and we were driving on a lunar surface. To make matters worse, clouds started pouring over the mountains–as they have every other day we’ve been here–and it produced a thick pea-soup fog that covered the road. It also completely obscured the view of the valley.

Hours later, we finally reached the town of Alauci, pronounced something like “Alla ooo see”.

Our guide found us a hotel called La Colina–the first one as you approach town–and we checked in.

The guest book implied that nobody had stayed there for a month. The hotel is located at the top of a mountain and the town is down in the valley. Unfortunately, that bothered Kathy. Her worst fear was being stuck in the hotel with nothing to do and the town out of reach. I wasn’t willing to give up that easily, so we loaded up the backpack with our coats and cameras and started walking down the mountain toward the town.

It didn’t take us long to reach the bottom of the mountain and we sauntered into town. All the children stared and smiled us as we walked. They were so cute.

Some said, “Hello” and giggled at us. I’d answer them with “Hola. Buenos Tardis” (Hello, Good afternoon). I must admit I make a strange sight with my gray hair amongst a sea of black heads.

We walked around town and saw the various tiny shops with sweets and such. We headed over to one side of town where there was an enormous statue of Saint Peter, known here as San Pedro, holding the keys of heaven.

The statue was at the top of a big hill and we climbed up it without too much difficulty.

The town is probably about 10,000 feet in altitude and at times I’ve felt a little lightheaded today, but the hill wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

We took a few photos of the statue, then walked to the train station where we’re supposed to catch the train tomorrow for a scenic ride through a very treacherous mountain pass known as “The Devil’s Nose.” It’s supposed to be breathtaking.

All the advertisements showed people riding on top the train, however, our guide told us that they didn’t allow that anymore. He said that about two months ago, there was a group of Japanese people riding on top the train and not following the rules. One guy stood up on the train and was facing the back of the train, trying to take a photo of the mountain pass. Unfortunately, he wasn’t looking where the train was going and when the train went under some low wire or something, he was decapitated; he literally lost his head in a bloody mess. That’s why they stopped letting people ride on top. I don't know if it's true, but I heard the same story from multiple independent sources.

We eventually wandered into a restaurant and saw down. Nobody here speaks English, so we did our best to communicate. I asked for a menu and the proprietor said they didn’t have one. She spoke slowly–in Spanish–and described the only thing they were serving: soup, french fries, pork and a bunch of Spanish words I didn’t understand that turned out to mean “rice with an egg on top.” We agreed. We also asked for two beers and drank them with dinner. The Spanish word for beer is Cerveza, pronounced “Serve Ace Ah”. Important word to know! Both of our meals, including the two beers, only cost us six dollars total.

After dinner, we walked to a taxi and had him drive us back up the mountain to our hotel, which is where I am right now, and after transferring the photos from our cameras, I started writing this log while Kathy watched an old rerun of “Law and Order” on television.

What amazes me most about Ecuador is how modern it is. I expected it to be more third-world like Peru, but it’s not. There are definitely some third-world aspects to the country, but in general, the people, houses and businesses look a lot more modern and wealthy than any we saw in Peru several years ago. We drove by a ton of houses and they all looked very clean and modern and well-kept, with fresh paint on many.

Everyone's got electricity. There was a ton of new houses and buildings under construction too, so the economy is booming. Don’t get me wrong: there is poverty here, but not nearly what I expected.