Saturday, December 3, 2011

Riobamba - Cuenca

23 Nov 2011

We are getting used to early starts - really!  We left the hotel at 6.00 after we had breakfast and headed through the western flanks of the Andes to Alausi a small town about 1 hour from Riobamba.

Here we left the bus and climbed aboard a train which promptly left the station bound for Sibambe a the foot of the 'El Nariz del Diablo' or Devils Nose Railway.  This remarkable feat of engineering sees the railway line descend from Alausi to Sibambe, dropping from 2607 metres above sea level to 1806 metres en route at a gradient of 1-in-18.  There is no 'rack and pinion' for extra traction and the diesel engine manages to tow trains up and down, albeit rather slowly.

El Nariz del Diablo Railway

The line is single track and the ledge was blasted out of the cliff by Jamaican 'slave' labour with huge loss of life in the early 1900s.  The route includes a 'zig-zag' during which the train pulls up to buffers whilst the points behind it are changed, then reverses down the next section of track, before repeating the manoeuvre again to start going forward.

Lynn and the train at Sibambe station

At the bottom, we were treated to a display of Ecuadorian dancing and were given a snack of sandwiches and coffee.

Train Bus at Sibambe

After about an hour, after another single carriage train looking like a bus on railway wheels came down, we started back up the 'Devils Nose' arriving back in Alausi about 30 minutes later.  We were involve in a minor tourist incident on the journey back when a petulant German tourist became most abusive because he could sit where he wanted to sit.  We eventually defused the situation by moving, for which we were rewarded by the train guard with souvenirs of the railway!  Still at least we didn't steal German sun-loungers this time!

Once back in Alausi, we got back on the bus and headed out of town to continue our southerly journey.  After about an hour, we stopped at a petrol station and ate a packed lunch supplied by the hotel in Riobamba.

From hear, we continued south through spectacular mountain scenery to the town of Incapirca, high in the mountains. Here we visited ruins of the Inca town built here.  The Inca town was built next to an older native village and included the remains of a spectacular sun temple.  It is still a mystery as to how they managed to cut blocks of stone so precisely, as they never discovered steel and only had soft metal tools.  Incas also never discovered the wheel either.  Whilst we were there, a huge local funeral processed down the hill to the church and cemetary, hundreds of people following the hearse, a barely modified estate car.

Ingapirca ruins

During the journey south from here, we encountered a thunder storm and torrential rain.

Finally, we started heading downhill to Cuenca situated where 4 rivers join in a mountain valley at 2500 metres.  The old part of the city today still mainly consists of Spanish Colonial buildings erected on top of the Inca city after the Spanish had conquered them.  It is a delightful city.  Our hotel, the Victoria, was built on the edge of the old town and was a converted Colonial mansion.  All the rooms overlooked the Rio Tomebamba.

After we had checked in, we managed to make a reservation for dinner at Raymipampa cafe/restaurant next to the 'New' Cathedral where we ate fantastic local food, mainly beef and chicken and at very reasonable prices.

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