Day 5 - Wed May 23, 2007 – Alauci to Lasso—Bob: 111, Kathy: 201

Today is our anniversary. We've been married fifteen years. Do you believe it? Time flies when you're having fun. It was also an adventure. Our plan was to take a train ride through “The Devil’s Nose,” then head to Lasso.

We started the day by packing our bags and eating breakfast in the hotel. Then we had to ask if it was alright to leave our bags in the room until we returned from our train trip. We didn’t known Spanish and our proprietors didn’t know any English. Somehow we got through it but between that and breakfast taking longer than expected, we got a later start than we had hoped. We walked hurriedly back down the mountain into the town of Alausi.

We walked to the train station where the tickets were supposed to go on sale at 9:00am. We got there about 8:30am. We went into the small building and up the stairs. The place looked like something out of the 1940's. One room even had two old telegraph machines sitting there and 1950's-style telephones. There was about eight or ten other tourists waiting for the tickets to be sold, but the office hadn’t opened yet.

We passed the time by talking to a nice young man from Holland who gave us lots of information. We had heard so many conflicting times and places relating to this train, and had gotten so much misinformation, we didn’t know what to do. I’ll try to explain how I now understand it works.

Apparently the Spring rains have made the train tracks unstable and susceptible to derailing. Therefore, only a single bus-like train car can ride the rails. It can’t pull other railroad cars behind it. Therefore, there’s only a small number of seats available to be sold each trip. The tour companies often pre-buy their tickets, making it even more difficult to do on your own.

The train makes several trips: The first one left right away as soon as the tickets were sold, which was about 9:05. It travels through the Devil’s Nose and down to the bottom of the canyon, then back up again, returning to Alausi at 11:00. At 11:05, the train takes the next load and does the same thing, returning to Alausi at 1:00. At 1:00, the train takes yet another load. One of the trains doesn’t return and I don’t know which one. Instead, it keeps on going until it reaches the city of Riobamba, which takes several hours.

The 9:00am train was booked by a tour company and sold out. Kathy and I got tickets for the 11:00 train. Apparently lots of people were counting on the train to Riobamba, but it was sold out immediately, leaving several people stranded, trying to find other means of transportation.

We wandered around the city, taking photos of people where we could,

until about 10:15, then Kathy got nervous and we headed back to the train station.

We sat at the station and chatted with other tourists. I spoke to one guy who insisted that the most beautiful place in the world was a place called Torres del Paine (“Towers of Pain”) in Chili. He said that it beats Machu Piccu hands down, no comparison. I've been all over the world and seen some very beautiful places, but I still count Machu Piccu as the most beautiful I've seen. That means Kathy and I have to plan a trip to Chili! She wants to get to Antarctica before we die, and a lot of those tours depart from Chili. The problem is, it's extremely expensive.

Eventually the train came back with the first load of passengers and we got on board.

The trip was thrilling because it was very steep with sheer cliffs to one side.

The train let all the passengers out three times to take photos.

The scenery was beautiful.

The scariest part of the train ride was when the mountain became too steep and, after switching to track direction, we headed down the mountain backwards. Let me tell you: chugging down a mountain backwards in a glorified bus at 30 miles per hour is more than just nerve-racking. It’s downright terrifying. We were grateful when we reached the bottom.

The scenery was beautiful and we took lots of photos.

When the train got back up the mountain again, we got off and took a taxi back up the mountain to our hotel (for a grand sum of one dollar). We paid for our room–all of twenty dollars for the night–and told them our plan was to walk to the gas station and flag down a bus to take us to the town of Lasso. The woman at the hotel, in Spanish of course, urged us take a taxi to the bus depot and purchase a ticket instead. Then she called us another taxi to take us back to the city; this time with our luggage. Reluctantly, I agreed.

The bus station was a tiny hole-in-the-wall room inside a string of tiny buildings, half-way up the hill of the city. I doubt it if was as big as my bathroom back home. We purchased our bus tickets and bought junk-food while we waited for the bus. Several little children started hanging around us. I gave them some of my Dorito chips and they smiled. Instantly, I was their friend.

The bus came and the man validated our tickets. The small children got on the bus too. It lumbered up the steep hill again, and made its first stop: the same gas station I wanted to walk to from our hotel!

We told the driver we needed to get off at Lasso and he indicated that he understood.

For the next couple of hours we sat and stared out the bus window. For the most part, it was boring, except for a section of high-rise apartments I saw that were painted like a rainbow of color.

Then suddenly they told us to get off the bus quickly. We grabbed our things, which had gotten quite scattered, and shuffled off the bus. Suddenly I saw Kathy running for another bus. The men told her that we needed to transfer buses to a different one. Hastily, I dragged both suitcases and carrying our heavy backpack toward the second bus. They shuffled our suitcases into the storage area underneath the bus and we headed down the road.

We tried to explain to the new bus driver that we needed to go to Lasso, but he clearly didn’t understand a word I was saying. Some women across the aisle from us indicated that they would tell us when we got to Lasso.

The miles and hours clicked away and I followed our progress on a small map Kathy had printed out from the Internet. Then suddenly, as we pulled out of another town, the women started yelling that we were leaving the town of Lasso and had missed our stop! Panicked, we made the driver stop the bus and let us off. We hastily collected our luggage from the bus’s belly and started trudging back to town.

Just outside of Lasso is our Hacienda. Our options were to walk to the Hacienda, which supposedly was one kilometer from the highway (about a half mile), take a taxi to the hacienda, or call the hacienda to get a ride. We saw a telephone but I didn’t have coins. We didn’t see any taxis, so we decided to start walking.

Kathy was getting anxious, so I stopped and tried to ask a woman how far it was to the hacienda. She indicated it was a long way and that we should go back to catch a taxi. Eventually she took pity on us and offered us a ride. We gladly accepted.

It was a long ride. Even the driveway was huge, and lined with beautiful trees.

When we got the to hacienda, I was so grateful for her help that I gave the woman ten dollars. That’s a lot of money for the people of Ecuador. She wrote down her name and telephone number, as if to say, “For that kind of money, any time!” Her name was Cecilia Delgado, and the numbers she wrote down are 2719143 and 099833398.

Once at the hotel, we checked in and arranged for a guide to take us on a one-day excursion tomorrow to see the local market and visit the volcano park.

A man said, “Quick, you must go outside to see the sunset on the volcano.” We went out and took photos, but there were lots of trees obscuring the view.

After exploring the hacienda,

we ended the day by eating a wonderful dinner at the Hacienda. Kathy ordered the Sea Bass, which was good. I tried to order a Filet Mignon which cost thirty dollars, but the waiter talked me into getting a house special steak, a “poor-man’s filet mignon” (my description) which only cost twenty dollars. It was fabulous.

Kathy was so impressed she said she would order that tomorrow.