View Larger Map
We are in Riobamba knowing that we want to go south to Cuenca. Direct it is a six hour bus ride which is not so bad, but no need to rush so we decide to stop off in Guamote a small town just about an hour from Riobamba. Tomorrow is market day in Guamote so a good enough reason to stop there.
The Organization Dilemma
In Guamote we stay at the guesthouse of Inti Sisa, an organization that provides educational opportunities like computers, sewing and a pre-school for the local community. They currently rely heavily on donations from Europe but are trying to become self-sufficient which is difficult because their town is off the main tourist trail. The guesthouse's prices are higher compared to what we where we have stayed in the rest of Ecuador, $14 per person w/o breakfast for a private room. So we stay in the dorm ($7.50 pp) which is like a private room because we are the only customers. Not many travelers make it to Guamote.
|A sewing student|
|Being serenaded by the pre-schoolers|
Anyway, I still recommend coming to Inti Sisa. Market day is fun and worth a night's stay. Eat there and buy goods made by their sewing class at your own discretion. I think they also do weekday tours into the countryside to visit the communities which is probably quite interesting. Check Inti Sisa's website for more info.
Ninety percent of the population is of the Puruha indigenous community. They come from the surrounding villages dressed in their Thursday's best to buy, sell, eat lunch and socialize all day. We leave our hotel and immediately follow two guys walking their cows, correctly figuring that they must be headed to the market. The cow plaza is quite large covering one entire square block. We stand on the outskirts observing the action. Sellers holding their cattle on tethers ready to whack them with a stick if they get feisty. One cow costs several hundred dollars depending on size and sex. Some people will cows early in the morning and flip them quickly for a $10-$20 profit.
I take particular interest in watching one young couple who are deliberating over a certain cow in the same way Mika and I bought our refrigerator. They listen to the salesman's pitch, check the features (hooves, mouth), deliberate amongst themselves, look at some other models, come back to the first cow to check it again, deliberate some more, haggle price with the salesman, sold!
|Ever wonder where the phrase "cash cow" came from...|
|Fruits & Vegetables: The large sacks are all carrots|
Buying Sheep for Dummies:
|Step 1: Buy your sheep and place them to the side|
Feel free to spray paint them so as not confuse yours with somebody else's
|Step 2: Lift your sheep onto the truck|
|Step 3: Pile them in and drive home|
|Rolls of material for making clothing and ponchos|
|Taking a rest|
|Yes, that's sheep on the roof of the bus|
The next day we leave Inti Sisa to spend the night 10 km away at Granja Totorillas, a tourist farm with accommodation. We catch a bus and walk along a dirt road to the large property. Nobody is around and Mika sits with our luggage while I try to find someone. Inside I find empty, dusty rooms with creaky doors and cracked windows. This old place gives me the eerie feeling that I am in The Shining. When Hollywood decides to make The Shining 2 - Here's Juanny!!!, this will be the location. Finally, I hear people (ghosts?) and call out. A woman comes to inform us that we need a reservation to stay there, something the tourist office guy in Guamote forgot to mention.
|Collecting potatoes for tonight's dinner|
There is only one real reason to visit Alausi (that reason is very debatable) which is to take the train ride to see Nariz del Diablo - The Devil's Nose - a rock that apparently looks like the schnoz of ol' Beelzebub himself. This railway was part of the system traveling from Quito to Guayaquil which became obsolete with the construction of good roads and buses. Built in the early 20th century it was an engineering marvel at the time for the way it sharply descended down the mountain. Now it's a tourist trap running almost daily three times a day.
|Market day in Alausi under the watchful eye of San Pedro|
For me one highlight of Alausi is that we find a really really tasty encebollado restaurant. Encebollado is a tomato and fish based soup with chunks of albacore tuna, onions and yucca. It is found all over the country, but here is the best so far. Encebollado is always served with a small dish of popcorn. Alausi is the first place I have been to offer rice instead of popcorn which makes the bowl more filling. On the table are fresh limes with a nifty little lime-squeezer gadget, oil, spicy sauce and mustard to spruce up the encebollado to your liking.