Alausi y El Nariz Del Diablo

On the bus.  Mountains.  Always mountains.  Sometimes here I still say to myself “I’m in the Andes!”  Still a surprise.  Most of the mountains are given over to endless acres of food.  I am dismayed at the destruction of Ecuador’s natural environment, but can’t fault the people for trying to earn a living, and the patterns are beautiful.

Destination – Alausi.  Pronounced “Ah-lauw-SEE”.  After almost 3 weeks of studying spanish in the constant noise of Cuenca, it’s time for a break before I start again in Banos in 4 days.

I am here.  ‘Here’ being a small tienda (store) on the side of the highway, below the cemetery.  Town appears to be down.  I lack a hotel reservation, so I can’t easily ask for directions.

First impressions?  Not positive.  I hope it improves.  I find a hotel, and negotiate a rate.  Drop my bags, grab water and my camera, and explore.

Up the small hill to the ridiculously tall statue of the town’s patron saint.  I play football/soccer with 3 young boys for 20 minutes.  They seem delighted to play with a random gringo.  I say goodbye, and continue on.  An older woman stops me on the street and talks to me for 10 minutes.

Onward with explorations.  A boy of about 10 says hi, but is shy.  When I respond, he follows me.  He introduces me to his brother, we talk for 5 minutes.  They insist on a photo.

This, I will soon discover, is life for a visitor to Alausi.

I randomly choose one of my 4 restaurant options.  Set menu only, not a la carte.  Soup, roasted chicken, rice, a few vegetables, glass of juice.  $2.00.  The soup and chicken are excellent.

After dinner, loud music from the main square.  I walk down to see about 200 people dancing, led by 3 young adults on a stage.  Part of a government effort to encourage physical fitness.  The fun atmosphere is infectious.  I see some of my new young friends again, they insist on another picture, as do other boys.

Next day.  A kids bike race on the main street.  I like this town.  A day spent exploring.  I talk to more people.  The people stop me on the street and insist on talking.  I am forced to be more outgoing.

I board the train later in the morning.  It’s the main reason I came to Alausi.  Reputed to be one of the most dramatic train rides in the world.  For years, tourists could ride on top of the train cars,  but the deaths of 2 Japanese tourists in 2007 ended that.  I hear stories that they were beheaded in the accident, but can find no verification anywhere.

Anyway.  The train ride is well organized, clean, quiet, orderly.  In other words, not like Ecuador. Scenery is beautiful.  Over 7 miles we drop several thousand feet to the small village of Sibambe.  On the way, huge dropoffs as we wind down the mountain.  Three times, the train has to back up to navigate the switchbacks.  An impressive bit of engineering.

At Sibambe we are greeted by indigenas dancing in their Sunday best.  A definite tourist setup, but beautiful to watch nonetheless.  Tour the small but surprising museum, eat the terrible lunch.   I buy a bar of chocolate, and later regret not buying more.  It’s the best chocolate I have yet to find in Ecuador, but I have not found it again.

After an hour, we repeat the trip, going up “el nariz del diablo” – the devil’s nose – so named for it’s shape and for the difficulty of the engineering.

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Returning to Alausi, my experiences are repeated.  It seems that everyone in town wants to talk with me.  They are particularly delighted when I tell them that I love their town, and that I am staying two nights.  Most tourists just come for 1 night or even just for half a day, for the train.

This continues up until the time I leave late the next morning.  It is probably the friendliest town I have ever been to.

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