Sunday, November 30, 2008

Into Riobamba


I woke up early Wednesday morning to catch a bus to Riobamba from Guaranda. Instead of going to the terminal, Dan told me I could just stand on the side of the road and flag down a bus, essentially like hitchhiking, but it's a very common practice here. It was my first time trying this on my own. Waiting for the 7:50, I found that no bus was coming or stopping for me, and the long wait began. An indigenous woman walked by and I asked her when the bus was coming. "Ya mismo," she told me, meaning right now. But in Ecuador, that generally means not for a long time.

We talked for a while and she was nice enough to sit with me on the side of the road and wait until the bus came. As we sat there big plumes of black exhaust were blown in our faces by other buses and cars, polluting our lungs. In the ditch on the side of the road the sun slowly rose and became stronger, and about an hour later I could feel by neck burning. Every time a bus came by I asked the woman if that was it, but she kept saying maybe, but probably not. Dan eventually came down, surprised to see me still there. He got on his bus to town, and about 15 minutes later the bus finally came. I picked up by backpack, said thank you, and ran after the bus which was waiting up the road.

Two hours later and I was back in Riobamba. My plan was to show up at the hotel I'd been told about, ask for the man I was told about, and hope I could do the climb up Chimborazo. Normally I would love to have a plan and know what was going on. I think part of living here has eased me up a bit on that. When I lived in Europe, I would have all of my hostels, planes, and trains planed out perfectly. Now, however, I'm going with the flow of life in Ecuador.

Showing up at the hotel I asked for the cheapest room, $6 a night, shared and with a bathroom down the hall. The guy at the desk insisted that I get my own room with a bathroom for $10, but I wasn't interested. I soon found out the reason he was so concerned was because the hotel was practically empty, and I had my own room anyway for the cheaper price. After I settled the room, I told the man that I was looking for a man named Joel who worked for Alta Montana. He knew who I was talking about, called Joel, and 10 minutes later he showed up to talk business.

Though I'd emailed him twice a week earlier, he hadn't gotten back to me until that morning, when I had no Internet access. A short man with a lot of energy, he was enthusiastic to tell me that I would be able to go on the climb Thursday morning with Baltazar Uscha, the last iceman of Chimborazo. My friend Sarah, who teaches in Riobamba, also wanted to go, but she had to be sure that she would make it back by 4:30 pm to teach. Joel assured her that she would be back in time, and we would rent horses to make sure we could finish the difficult hike and make it back in time.

We settled on $65 for the transportation, hike, and horses. We probably over payed, but since I'd already arranged to write an article about the experience, I was mostly concerned with getting it done. After we finished the business, Joel took us to buy hats, gloves, and rubber boots, necessary for the hike. A man who seemed to know everyone in the city, he helped us get fair prices on all of the goods. A pair of boots ran me $6.50 and a warm wool hat was $3.50. Though I didn't need the hat, I liked it enough to splurge.

After wards Sarah invited me to have lunch with her host family. The host dad, who's going a little blind, loved to talk about Frank Sinatra and imitate John Wayne, using his fingers as pistols as he walked into a fake saloon. He also loved to talk about Boston, since he's hosted so many volunteers from there, he feels like he knows the city even though he's never actually gone.

Sarah showed me about Riobamba before she had to go to class, but she later called me to tell me that classes were canceled because of a student strike over elections. I've passed through Riobamba a few times and had only seen the outskirts, so the town looked like a dump. But going into the center, I could see that it was pretty nice. The center was pretty and though there isn't much to do there, it was cool to check out a different city for a couple of days. The best part of the city is the stunning views of three different volcanoes on the edges of the city. On one side there is Chimborazo, leading to the coast, and on the other side is Tungurahua, leading to the Oriente, or Amazon.

After a great burrito for dinner, I went back to the hotel to try to get some rest before waking up at 5:30 am to get ready for the day on Chimborazo.

To be continued...

Above: A sign showing the way for the hike of the hieleros, Baltazar Uscha's grandchildren at home, Chimborazo in early morning

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