• Joanna

Let Me Explain You Why

One of the things that I desperately wanted to do while I was in Ecuador again was ride the train.  

Not just any old, boring train... and not just to any location.  I wanted to ride The Devil's Nose train.

Nariz del Diablo


When I was in Ecuador 26 years ago, I'm not quite sure where we boarded this train- but I do know that our final destination was Riobamba.


The praiseworthy thing about this particular train ride was that our group not only got the experience of riding IN the train, but we got to ride on TOP of this train.  Through all the mountains, the zig-zags, the tunnels, the cliffs, we sat on top for the most dangerous and thrilling parts of  the journey.


We hung off the sides for photo opps, climbed up & down the rail cars ladders, hung out the windows yelling at each other, jumped from train car to train car... all exhilarating stuff back when we were 19 years old.


Looking back at my memory books, the things that really stood out to me was;

  • Tim standing up on top of the train.

  • The train pulling out of a station, while Anthony was still behind a building relieving himself, and having to run to catch the train.

  • Trying to keep our heads down and not breath in while going through the tunnels - black, smokey and boiling hot.

  • Stuck inside for a time period next to a very old and smelly woman.

Also, I remember the train being filled with indigenous mountain people, chickens, pigs, bananas... you name it... and us.


Now, planning my second trip to Ecuador, I searched and searched for this particularly dangerous train... desperate to relive this treacherous and life threatening adventure, in my mid-40's... but the description I had in my mind & memories didn't quite fit the description of any of the tourist tours I found.  Then I discovered why.


In 2010, a tunnel cable dropped, and ended up decapitating two Japanese tourists.  It makes me cringe considering that we went through the tunnels, living life on the edge, lifting up our heads and trying to breathe through all the smoke and darkness...

Understandably so, after this appalling incident, there had to be a serious upgrade to the Ecuadorian rail system.  No more 'on top' of the train.


Looking back at the 'good ole days,' I'm actually quite proud that I lived to tell the stories of when caution was thrown to the wind.  Now saying that, I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to say that there are huge rules and restrictions implemented now.  Look at the base boards for one of the bridges we had to cross!


Anyway - our tour began at 7:00am... actually the van was slightly late... 7:10am.  Waiting... outside... in the rain.  No tip!

Four American couples (2 fantastic older couples that lived here in Ecuador now, 1 young & obnoxious couple from New York and another very quiet, keep-to-themselves couple from South Carolina), Mari, me, and a  Canadian lady from Toronto... who also ended up proving herself to be quite bothersome as well.  To explain further, her phone died... so I offered to charge it on my lap top during one of our many van trips.  This, to her, was suddenly an open invitation to charge her phone on my computer at every stop... 


From the moment we got picked up, we had a 3 hour journey ahead of us to Alausi, were we would board the train.  Just what I wanted, more travel time.  My ass deserves a prize for "Most Compliant."


The New York weirdo was behind me for the entire van trip, and I don't know if he was sleep talking, singing or following along with some kind of a lecture, but it almost seemed like he was trying to whisper confidential information to me... give out secret coordinates.  I almost turned around and asked him to shut up.. but finally just decided to try and ignore it.  At one point, I heard his girlfriend say,"What are you saying?"


We only had 20 minutes in Alausi before boarding the train... and there was a small market there. Quick look around, backto the station and All Aboard!

Our rail car was almost full, but not really.  Mari and I ended up switching to single seats so that we both had a view when the train started chugging along.  It ended up being breathtaking - volcanoes, waterfalls, lush valley river bottoms... 


The tour was a section of tracks around a mountain  that requires the train to reverse directions several times to zig-zag down steep sections.  It's quite the impressive and technical procedure!  At a few points, I figured that the train was just going to topple over the edge and that would

be the end of us.  At every turn of the track, the scenery would be on one side or another... and that's where everyone would flock. Seemed a smidge bit too lopsided for my liking and a smidge bit too lopsided to be able to maintain upright stability on the tracks.  I tried to even out the weight proportions by occasionally staying on the opposite side of the rail car while everyone was hanging out the windows taking photos... and we aren't dead... so I think it worked.


No one thanked me.

But... everywhere that I go, there is always someone who takes their traveling experience to a level of 'let's throw it in everyone's face' and to be sure, this trip was no exception to the rule.  This one girl... let's call her 'the photographer'... huge expensive camera hanging around her neck, khaki pants, hair in a pony tail, fanny pack, acting like National Geographic sent her on this trip... 

One of those"If I get 10 photos out of a 1000, I'll be so happy"people.  You know the kind...

Hogs the view the entire time because she obviously looks like a professional.  Capture this... capture that...


How to tell that she's not a professional?


She kept announcing how amazing her photo album was going to be.  


Photo albums are sooooo 90's...  get a cell phone, bitch.  No one cares.


My main concern was not dropping my iPhone in to the unknown... her main concern was letting us all know NOT to let her mother know that she was hanging out the window to capture the perfect shot.


"Don't tell my mom I'm hanging out the window." 


"Don't tell my mom that I attempted that shot!"

After listening to that for 2 hours, I finally blurted out;


"I already told her."


Shut up. 

Then she found a friend... a fellow'photographer', though, he was slightly more amateur that she was.  He appeared to have nothing more than a cheap flip phone with an video app... and he used it the entire journey.  Then the race was on, they compared notes on photography shading & shadowing & capturing difficult shots and shared stories & adventures... and when I say'they,'I mean all of us, because we were all subject to the irritation.  No one got out alive. Commence eye roll immediately...


Mari and I did take lots of photos, despite the Nariz del Diablo paparazzi. We managed to squeeze our way in to a portion of the windows that weren't being using to capture dangerous shots, selfies and exciting, top of the line video footage.


Then one of the ladies on the train came right up to me and said, 


"You know why it's called the Devils Nose?"


No.


"It's because everyone knows that the Devil doesn't like sulphur."

Well, I guess NOW everyone knows.. because that is something I didn't learn in school.


Back at Alausi... lunch time.


Soup to start... with cilantro in it.


Chicken, mashed potatoes and salad with cilantro in it.  You can imagine my facial expression... Do not venture in to Ecuador if you do not like cilantro!  Finally warning... they put it in everything.


But... I endured the pain of the tastebecause I am a multi-cultural woman, who doesn't complain...often.


After lunch, we checked out the local market again and I ended up buying a couple alpaca scarfs... really beautiful and soft.


I must admit that I've spent most of my time in the local markets purchasing things for others... so I decided that it was high time I finally purchase something for myself!

Next stop: Ingapirca... It took 2 hours to get there after the train trip and  I think that everyone on the van fell asleep(excluding Secret Agent man behind me.)


Mari and I went to Ingapirca together, with the entire family, 26 years ago... but like Cuenca, neither of us remember anything.


The tour guide was amazing.  I had to laugh, because he kept telling us stories, history, folklore... and it all began with"Let me explain you why"... hence the name of this blog.


Ingapirca is the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador and the the biggest and most significant is the Temple of the Sun.  The people that lived here were sun and moon worshipers and hosted ritual celebrations, believing that they needed to be as close to the Gods as possible.  


They would make sacrifices to the Gods- animals usually, but even small children at times if they believed that the Gods were upset with them (due to a volcano or horrible weather.)  It was really interesting... but freezing and raining almost the entire time we were there.  Thank God for my one and only outfit for these conditions.  


A lot of the site is now in ruins, because back in the 1950's and 60's, it was common practice for the people of the nearby town to come and collect the stones to use as foundation for building their homes.  Some of the boulders have now been returned, but no one knows exactly where they came from on site.

Back at the hostel, that night, everything was in the same order as we had left it....  We decided to just stay the extra night because we were tired. My'money is no object'frame of mind was tossed out the window due to fatigue and indifference.


I kept waking up in the night though, very much doubting the pillows that my head lay on.  


If I get lice... who is going to help me get the bugs out???

Trying to find a place to have dinner was a challenge as almost everything in the city was closed (Sunday), but we managed to find a cute little restaurant in the Historical Centre.  I had draped myself in my lovely new alpaca scarf... for warmth and style.  Feeling quite pretty and extra confident in my new trendy & classy purchase.


When we arrived at the restaurant, I removed my jacket and my scarf to get comfortable.  Mari almost immediately yelped,


"Joanna... que paso?"


Better start being real nice to me because I've got 2 beautiful, alpaca wool scarves for give-away because they turn my neck an attractive shade ofbumpy rash red


I finally buy something amazing for myself... and I'm allergic.


At least now, when I have to fill out those medical forms at massage clinics and doctor's offices, and they ask me to to fill in the allergies I have... I can write alpaca.


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