Yesterday we were in Alausi, a moderately sized village which required a tough climb on our part to get to. Alausi is famous for the Nariz del Diablo train which brings busloads of people each day to experience the harrowing ride. Until the big El Nino storms of 1997-98 which destroyed large portions of it, the largest infrastructure project in Ecuador was the train from Guayaquill thru Riobamba to Quito. They cannot afford to repair it and it no longer operates all the way through. The portion of the ride from the coast to Riobamba required about 2.5 Kilometers of elevation gain. That’s an enormous project for a railway. The nose or largest gain is on what is called the Diablo train. Tourists can still take the train from Alausi up to the “nose” where it shunts back and forth to give the big thrill of such elevation exposure. I wish I could have had a chance to take the ride but our timing didn’t work to the train schedule. Alausi is built on a big hill so the streets are steep – they are all built with larger bricks and can be a little uneven. As I was entering the town on my bike I spotted one of our better cyclists, Albert from Germany, walking his bike down the hills. He’s one of the stronger riders in our group but a flat tire with tubeless tires had him walking the last kilometer. Each day we get written instructions and a profile of our climbs but even so a GPS is the best way to go. Albert and I wandered the streets for a while trying to figure out the written instructions – finally we met Rob, one of the organizer of the trip, and he was struggling to find the hotel as well. Three heads were finally good enough to find our way. Another of our riders, Diedrick from Germany, took off fast this morning but managed to take a wrong turn and headed back to where we were yesterday. Wow. He had a real long day today – while we had our shortest day of the trip.
The terrain has precipitous drops and steep climbs as you’ve noted in my writing – but much of the land is terraced and farmed nonetheless. They seem to be very strong people. I watched men unloading 50 lb bags of concrete out of dump trucks, another carrying what seem to me to be huge rocks by hand out of a construction area by hand, and men and women working their fields all by hand as they have for who knows how long. Much of the grade we pedaled today was up to 12 percent on the Garmin and some of it hit 17 percent. That’s steep. At the top of the passes there are big views down long valleys with mist trailing through much of them. Many different shades of brown or green in the terracing depending on the crops. They get snow only on the very highest elevations since we are so close to the equator. Yesterday peddling past Chimborazo much of the mountain was white. Of course it is the highest peak in Ecuador and higher than Denali. Tonight the mist is rolling into Chunchi bringing cool air. Many of us had arrived in Chunchi a little past 10 this morning – Diedrick got in about 4 really knackered, as the Aussies would say.
Tonight I walked down to a church which was built on the steep mountainside, using the existing rock precipice to form the back walls. It was open for anyone, with lit candles burning, a ceramic bust of Jesus above and a collection of other ceramic figures spread throughout the rock face. An old man and his wife were sitting in the front of the small chapel – she was speaking into a type of two-way device – it appeared that she was talking to a priest. We, Terry from Australia and myself, respectfully left the chapel to them.
One of the real trademark parts of Ecuadorian dress, as well as Peruvian and Bolivian, is the women’s hats. Most alll of them wear them and there is a certainly a variety but they all resemble something you saw on men in the 30’s and 40’s. Others are unique sort of felt top hats. I’ll include a photo when I can. Many of you are probably familiar with them. I understand that in Bolivia we will see everyone in traditional dress. The little villages even here are completely traditional – Four of us biked into one yesterday. Talk about steep streets. Wow. One looked like a wall in front of us. Their grocery store is the open air market and the square is where everything social happens. Pretty cool.
Tomorrow we will bike to our first ruins of the trip – I understand that they are some of the oldest Incan ruins found anywhere including a sundial. I look forward to them – it will once again be our biggest day at 6900 feet or so elevation gain.
I almost forgot about my title today. We are now off of the main highway and on smaller roads with less traffic. It is also amazingly scenic.