Saturday, November 06, 2004

Week 19 - Otavalo to Loja, Ecuador

October 30 to November 5, 2004

Saturday to Sunday - OTAVALO, ECUADOR

Went to the markets all day. There are three major markets each Saturday spread throughout the city - an animal (cows, sheep, and pigs), food (fruit, vegetables, legumes, and grains), and an arts/crafts (mostly hand made textiles and clothes) market. Many indigenous come down from nearby villages to buy and sell goods. The day was filled with amazing colors, smells, and sounds. Very fun for the senses. As a first impression, people of Ecuador were extremely friendly.

Market - arts and crafts...



Otavalo was the closest city to the equator that I stayed at. It is less than 15 miles north of the imaginary line (like going from Houghton to Calumet). One would expect it to be hot, but due to the high altitude (2530 meters), it was not hot. The weather was perfect - very, very, very strong sun during the day, but yet not hot. The evenings were cool - perfect sleeping weather.

Left Otavalo for Riobamba via Quito. Crossed the equator on the route to Quito, the southern hemisphere - the other side of the world. In Quito, we said goodbye to our Swedish travel partner of three weeks - Jimmy. He was off to find a flight to the Galapagos Islands and Kiko and I continued to Riobamba to ride a train - considered the most difficult railroad in the world.

Monday to Tuesday - RIOBAMBA, ECUADOR

From this town of 150,000 people at 2750 meters in altitude, you can see the snow capped Mount Chimborazo. Very pretty.

Another surprise - after Kiko and I bought our tickets for the train - who did we see walking down the sidewalk... but Jimmy from Sweden!! He ended up booking a flight that did not leave until Sunday so he decided to take the Four hour bus ride to Riobamba to ride the train with us!

And so, the three of us rode seven hours, on the roof of a box car, to Nariz del Diablo (The Devil´s Nose). Trains are so amazing, so unlike any other form of transportation. People (no matter what age or what country) come out to watch in them pass and wave at passengers and engineers. This train passes through country sides and villages three days a week, every week, yet people still run out to wave and watch. So cool! Click to see information on the Nariz del Diablo train.

This train voyage is very special in that it is considered one of the world´s greatest rail engineering accomplishments. It is 464 km long in total and reaches an altitude of 3609 m. What makes it so special are the series of switchbacks built at a 5 1/2 % grade. Because the Devil´s Nose is so steep and there is not enough room to loop around in an "S" pattern as most trains on mountains do, this train forms a "Z" pattern by going forward and backwards (in reverse) through the zig zag switchback system.

In this photo, you can see the Devil`s Nose and if you look closely, you can see a single red train car transversing the mountain.

Workers have to get off the train at each change in direction to switch the track - to change the direction. Pretty amazing and the views are just as spectacular.

It was a pleasantly cold and exciting ride.


Got the news that Bush won. The election came up very often in conversation - I did not meet one person, local or foreign, in support of Bush, including myself.

We got off the train at Alausi and expected to go on to Cuenca like all other travelers. However, because the town´s setting was so beautiful - we decided to stay. With a population of 5,000, the town was small and very friendly. It was so quiet and beautiful at night - all surrounded by mountains. It was also very charming with the train tracks going right down the middle of the street and the train station in the town´s center. So quaint.

We said goodbye to Jimmy (who by the way, is very tall) again and he returned to Quito (but I have a strong feeling we will meet him again somehow).

Thursday - LOJA, ECUADOR

Picking up the pace to be able to visit my brother, Kyle, who currently lives in Santiago, Chile. After 10 hours and two buses, we arrived in Loja - only to spend the night. Spent the day walking around town and waited to catch a night bus to a city on the Ecuadorian border, Macara.

Friday - "BUS TO BORDER"

Left towards Peru at 11pm. Ecuador has been amazing. On the list of my most enjoyed countries.

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