We are now half way through our Ecuadorian hop on, hop off bus tour and it’s still cold. I’m a bit amazed how such a tiny country has such intense contrasting climates. You have hot and humid in the Amazon, a mix of hot and cold in Quito, and then you have sub zero temperatures in Quilotoa, and serious sweater weather pretty much everywhere else. I guess it only makes sense considering we went from Quito at 2,850m above sea level to 3,914m in Quilotoa and all the way down to 1,820m in Banos. I hope the coast will boast hot and sunny, though I’ve been told to expect overcast and cool.
I know I talk about the weather a lot, you’ll have to forgive me, I’m from Toronto, Canada. We have such extreme weather, that it’s often all we talk (or complain) about. Sometimes, especially when the seasons are changing, we can have all four seasons in one day in Toronto. You can go from chilly and breezy in the morning, to thunderstorms by lunch, to hot and humid in the afternoon, to a legit blizzard or hail at night. Our Summers are full on Caribbean style heat with the humidity turned all the way up, and our winters, which last about 7-8 months, are Arctic at best, Antarctic at worst. You can see why I’m chasing that illusive, humidity free sun!
Come to mama!
Today’s agenda was jam packed! We were on the move from Banos to Riobamba to check out Ecuador’s oldest church, Guamote to visit an indigenous market, Ozogoche to take in some beautiful lagoons and enjoy some lunch, before heading to our resting place of Alausi where we planned to take a ride on the famous devil’s nose train. We’ve really been astounded at how much Wanderbus squeezes into one day. If you weren’t counting that was 5 stops in one day, beginning with our pick up in Banos at 6:30am and ending 167 kms later in Alausi at 8pm. All that driving, and so much room for activities!
Riobamba, is situated at the country’s center, and with its proximity to Ecuador’s highest peak at Chimborazo volcano, has a cool climate year round. It is also where as mentioned, Ecuador’s oldest colonial Catholic church is located. Iglesia de Balbanera, built in 1534, and is dedicated to the most holy Virgin Mary Nativity Balbanera. A sculpture of her is protected in a glass case just above the altar. In the entrance, there is a painting of an earthquake that hit the city in the 1790's. The church is very small and quite plain in comparison to the grand churches you can find in Quito. If you happen to have a clear day when visiting, on the horizon behind the church you’ll catch the majestic snowy peak of the volcano.
Guamote, our next stop, is a small canton with a population of 35,000 people. Here we got to enjoy our second indigenous market, where the hustle and bustle of vendors and their clientele could be heard and seen in full effect. This market differed from the one we visited in Tigua in quite a few ways. Of course, you have the usual street food, and clothes, but here you also have handmade silver and gold jewellery, and livestock! Ecuador, before colonization, was very rich in chemical elements like silver and gold. So much so, that even the indigenous tribes had social classes. The women originating from wealthy families sported peacock feathers in their hats to display their status. Spending any amount of time amongst these communities, you gather a stoic feeling of all they have endured over the centuries, in their conflicts with the Spaniards.
The Lagoons of Ozogoche in Sangay National Park was our early afternoon stop. If you get the chance to camp there do it, there is soooo much wildlife there including ocelots, jaguars, and bears oh my! There is pretty much always at least a light drizzle going on in the area, so the land is always moist and muddy, making our trek to the lagoons that much more fun (enter sarcasm font here)! But the beauty and absolute serenity, is unmatched. We enjoyed lunch here before moving on and let me tell you, Ecuadorians know how to eat! An entire fish, rice, corn, soup, sweet tree tomato dessert for $7 seemed almost like an eat until you can’t eat anymore situation. We were so full leaving the park that we were really happy to nap and rest on the bus, on our way to our final stop.
Alausi….what can I say? Have you ever approached a friend’s house only to hear music blasting, voices and laughter blaring, and the obvious signs of a giant fête slapping you in the face? Well that’s what it was like arriving in Alausi. To our surprise Las fiestas de San Pedro, Alausi’s biggest annual festival, was in full swing upon our arrival. This massive party lasts about 1 week at the end of June-early July and includes parades, the running of the bulls, cock fighting, kids amusement rides, street fair galore, all day and all night marching bands, fireworks, and the Reina (Queen) of the festival even makes an appearance. It was absolute mayhem, but ended up being so much fun. It was a nice way to spend a few days, especially considering that we didn’t even end up riding the devil’s nose train. It was so cloudy while we were there that we decided it would be a waste. Imagine spending $90 CAD to see nothing. A fellow Wanderbus traveller actually told us it wasn’t worth the money either, which made us feel better. For most, it definitely would have been, but for us, having travelled on the bus through the mountains for so long, we kind of already saw what we would have seen on the train.
It’s been an intense ride on the Wanderbus, and we can’t wait to get going again. We’re currently enjoying a delicious latte and a crepe waiting for our chariot to pick us up, taking in all the music, party goers, sights, sounds, and smells of delicious street food that the festival has to offer. What a ride it’s been. Maybe soon, we’ll see the sun the sun again. I know I know, the sun the sun, ugh! But I’m like a child that had it’s favourite toy taken away...and I can cry if I want to.