Saturday, March 14, 2015

Picking the Devil’s Nose

Personally, I think some of the desk staff at the Riverfront II Condominium was happy to see us leave. One desk clerk reminded me of Mr. Crabb from the Mr. Selfridge series. His nose elevated as soon as we made an appearance. It was less than a second of my handing over keys that he offered to call a taxi for us.

Although taxis should have meters, it seems in Guayaquil they march to a different drummer. We never found one with a meter in use. Generally, we discussed the fare ahead of time. This worked against for the trip to the bus station. The driver wanted $5 and was not persuaded otherwise. It was not a taxi he was driving, but a lovely new black car with no driver identification on the back of his seat as required in other cities.

Arriving ultra-early to the bus station gave us time to have a coffee, but allowed me to make three trips to dehydrate. These buses are not equipped with facilities, which gives my bladder nightmares the nights before and day-mares the day of riding. We are heading to Alausí to take the historic train to the Nariz del Diablo. We picked the Devil's Nose for a train journey.

We had assigned seats, but as we pulled out, the bus was less than a quarter full. Ron had the notion that he would find other seats to spread out. With some foresight, he held off on this; within the first hour, the bus was not only full, but there were at least 10 people standing in the aisle at various points. Between reading and napping, the four and half hours went rather smoothly.

It is incredible how the bus stops at any given point along the
journey to let passengers off or have new ones board the bus. People continued to stand in the aisle from the first hour out of Guayaquil until we arrived in Alausí. We had some concerns about finding a taxi to get to our hotel, but these were quickly abated. The hotel was across the street from where the bus ended the route. There is no station here, but just an oversized parking area.

When searching for a place to stay, we chose to spend two nights there. Alausí is the starting point for one segment of the Ecuadorian Scenic Trains. The only trains routes available in the country are
historic and cultural tours, none offer basic transportation. So we did not have to rush, we planned to take the train from Alausí to Sibambe to see the Devil’s Nose. At Sibambe, there is a cultural show for an hour and then the train returns to Alausí. We both love train travel; I especially love it. My father worked for a railroad for most of his life. I worked for a railroad for two years before deciding to return to college.

Alausí is an adorable little town that my attention span or patience would endure for longer than the time we will spend here. It
reminds me of the old Andy Griffith show that took place in Mayberry. It has a charm all of its own. There are plenty of small restaurants and about four places offering accommodations than I could find during my search. The train station is at the end of the main street. The main street is divided by sidewalks on either side of green spaces and planted gardens in the center.

Coming into the town, no one can miss the giant statue up on a hill. At first, I thought
it was Jesus, but it is St. Pedro or Peter. Peter is the patron saint of the city; Ecuadorian artist Eddie Crespo created the stature. The original name of the town was San Pedro de Alausí.

Hotel Europa where we booked a room is a typical Spanish colonial design. It is two stories with an open courtyard. One enters each of the rooms by a balcony that wraps around the center of the building. Our room has an ensuite bathroom. Had we chosen a shared bathroom, we would have had to walk via the open balcony to one end or other. Bathrooms are at both ends. The room has two double beds, it is clean, and that is where all bragging rights end. For $50 a night, it is not worth it. Breakfast is not included.

Once we settled in the room, we immediately went to the train
station to buy our tickets for tomorrow. They closed at 5pm; we arrived at 5:30pm. This is our first agenda item in the morning. We checked the tourism office. We were out of luck there too: closed.

Walking around the town was a real treat. It is small and cozy. Many of the home and stores are painted in pastel colors with ornamental balconies and plants hanging over the street. They do get more than their fair share of tourists here as the train ride is quite popular.

Most restaurants are empty so it is difficult to judge which one to choose. We selected the one across from the hotel for simplicity. A fixed menu consisted of juice, soup (cheese potato), chicken, rice, and mashed potatoes for $2.75 each. Adding in beers raised it up by $2.50, almost the cost of another dinner.

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