Supposedly, one of the classic journeys in Ecuador is to take a train ride on an old steam locomotive through a treacherous stretch of high mountainous tracks called "The Devil´s Nose." The ride originates in Riobamba, a mellow non-touristy town in the Central Highlands surrounded on all sides by gorgeous mountains. Lauren & I specifically headed there to take this train ride, but things played out quite differently than we had planned on.
Our first attempt to take the train was unsuccessful, since the train decided not to run on the first day following carnval. So rather than wait two more days in the city, we opted to go 40 km away to the base of the mighty Volcano Chimborazo and enjoy the outdoors. This was an excellent call. We stayed at a tiny hostel that used to be a train station on the now-extinct railroad, and were treated to home-cooked meals, generous hospitality, and absolutely breathtaking weather & views all around. I even learned to play chess from a French climber staying there who had summitted SIX mountains in 10 days!!! The following day, we went for a lovely hike along the old railroad tracks, casually taking in the scenery and exchanging enthusiastic waves & smiles with the locals. We even made friends with a local girl who was walking a donkey down the road, and she asked us if we would so kindly give her a little gift of candies. Unfortunately for her, not only did we not have any candy on us, but I adamantly refuse to give those kinds of gifts away to people who don´t have access to dental care. Sadly, many tourists choose to give candy away though, and primarily to children.
Finally, we headed back to the city for Round 2 of the train excursion. And guess what? We failed again. It turned out the train for the following day had already been booked up, so we we were flat out of luck yet again. But not all was lost. Randomly, while eating a delicious lunch of potato cakes, eggs, salad, avocado and beets at the market, we met 2 guys originally from Riobamba who have been living in New Jersey for the past decade, Vinny & Carlos. They couldn´t have been nicer people, and immediately took it upon themselves to show us the best possible time in their hometown. And that they did. The first night, after taking us out to dinner at a delicious pizza restaurant, we went back to Vinny´s apartment and climbed up to the 4th floor of his building to watch the nearby Volcano Tungurahua spewing out surreal clouds of glowing red lava. It was my first time ever seeing an active volcano erupting!
We also met up with another Carlos, one of their buddies from high school. It turned out that he owns a hacienda (farm) up in the mountains about a half hour outside of Riobamba, and he is a professional horse trainer. Our three new friends had been trying desperately to convince us to stay an extra day in Riobamba, and it took one mention of the phrase "riding horses" to instantly convince to utter a very enthusiastic: OK!!!!
It turned out to be easily one of the greatest days we´ve had in Ecuador. We spent the day hiking around the hacienda through the beautiful and foggy Andes, rode beautiful horses, were treated to a huge and delicious lunch, and even tried our hands at milking cows! Lauren was an instant pro, but I couldn´t quite figure it out. It was still fun nonetheless. The fun continued back in Riobamba that night, when after a decandent dinner of "the best ice cream in the world" (according to Vinny), we danced the night away at Vinny´s farewell party with a dozen of our new, wonderful Ecuadorian friends. The fun we had could never have been matched by a train ride with a bunch of tourists. Once again, a change in the plans turned out to be the best course of action. Vinny, Carlos and Carlos showed us exceptional hospitality and we are incredibly grateful to them for everything they did for us. ¡Grácias, amigos!