A long day - so be prepared for a long entry!
I didn't have a reservation for the train ride yet, but hoped to get a ticket for the 8am ride. I went down to the train station which was a 5 minutes walk at 7:30am – Alausi is a very small village – and was lucky. By 8am the train left, almost on time and started the world’s most difficult track. It’s only 13km downhill from Alausi to Sibambe, but takes about an hour as the average speed of the train is only 13-15 km/h. It’s the world’s most difficult track due to the sheer rock wall known as the Nariz del Diablo, below Alausi. Plans were started in 1874, but work only began in 1899 on the coast in Guayaquil
and the train track zigzagged up to Alausi in 1902. The Devil's Nose is so steep that the train has to reverse alternate bits of track and zigzack the 800 metres in difference in height
. It is also called the most difficult train in the world as it was hard to get people here to work on the railway track. And though it is only 13km long 2,500 people died during its construction. Every now and then the train changes tracks till it reaches the station of Sibambe. We went a bit further to get a view of the mountain called Devil’s Nose (Nariz del Diablo), then went back to Sibambe station and had a one hour break. The local folkdance group welcomed us and danced a few local dances. I like the music in Ecuador which is very lively and happy. A little lunchbox was included in our ticket and we enjoyed it at the nearby café with a great view over the valley. There is also a little museum explaining what the locals do in this area and how, like farming, making clothes and little bags that they use to carry seeds for agricultural activities or coins. After an hour we zigzagged back up the mountain and enjoyed the view from the other side: after the train station in Sibambe the passengers had to change sides so we were all able to get a view of the great high grassland landscape from both sides. I got back to the hotel for another hour as my checkout wasn’t till 1pm, then took the bus to Riobamba, which is 2 hours north. I wanted to go straight to Banos from Riobamba but I would have needed to change bus terminal, so decided to continue to Ambato instead, another hour and change bus to Banos there. Unfortunately, I also had to change bus terminal in Ambato. A guy from the bus terminal accompanied me to the bus stop from where I had to take a city bus to the other bus terminal
. He passed me over to another waiting passenger, his name was Jack, who said he will show me the correct bus. Problem was, the bus never came. So Jack recommended to take another city bus instead to a bus stop, walk a bit and take another bus to the bus terminal. I was horrified and didn’t want to do that. But as the direct bus still didn’t come Jack offered to accompany me. I was thankful for that. We finally reached the bus terminal (which I wouldn’t have found myself, because upon getting off the first bus we walked around 4 blocks and 3 corners where I would have definitely got lost). It was 5:30pm and the last bus to Banos left at 5pm. So we had to walk up 500 metres to the highway and stop one of the buses coming from Quito going to Banos. Just as we were about to reach the bus stop, a bus stopped and Jack ran to get him to wait for me. Once I came running with my luggage I jumped on the bus, thanked Jack and wished him "buena suerte" (good luck) which is a common phrase to say goodbye and the bus drove off. Gosh, what a bus change! It took me a while to catch my breath again. We reached Banos an hour later. It was 7pm and dark by now. I didn’t reserve a room, the town is small enough to walk around. However, today is a public holiday in Ecuador and seems locals from everywhere had the same idea as I – spend a few days in Banos. All popular hostels were full. Walked around for a good 45 minutes, then got a boed at Hostel Transilvania, a popular hangout for Israelis. And I found out next day why it is so popular with Israelis, the woman who runs the hostel is married to an Israeli.
As much as I love local street food, my stomach had some problems with it recently and so I didn’t eat anything since lunchtime in order to avoid having to rush to a toilet while I’m stuck on a bus. I was starving by now and walked down the street to the main plaza to get some food
. I passed a tour agency that offered trips to view the volcano Tungurahua, which erupted recently, at 7pm, 9pm and 11pm. It was 8:15pm and I bought a ticket for 9pm - just 3 USD. Had a quick set dinner (merienda – set dinner with soup and second dish for 2 USD), then we boarded a truck that got converted into a kind of open air bus and drove up to the volcano. Unfortunately, the fog set in and covered the peak of Tungurahua, so we only got a view of Banos at night, which was nice as well. As it was a bit chilly up there they offered hot drinks with cinnamon taste and a bit of alcohol in it (something like hot tea with rum). And around the viewing site a little fiesta was on. People selling local food, there was a bonfire and some guys were entertaining the crowd (and it was a crowd up there!) as comedians. I didn’t get much of their jokes but the crowd laughed a lot, so I guess they were hilarious. Before we got back to town the 2 guides told us that we will stop at a disco where a free cocktail is included for us. One of the guides, Henry, asked me on the way down whether I want to go dancing tonight. I was dead tired and told him that I might consider that tomorrow, tonight I just wanted to go to sleep. But since there’s a free cocktail and we stop at the disco anyway, I thought I can as well enjoy that. The cocktail was a shot set on fire and you got to drink it very fast with a straw – before the straw burns. Then your throat burns instead, but it was a nice drink. So now the boys got me and we stayed dancing for 2 hours or so. Turned out Henry is a good Latin-dancer and it was fun to dance with him, especially as, all of a sudden, I wasn’t tired anymore!