Friday, November 04, 2005

Urbina to Riobamba

Maria Magdalena assists with meals and the care of the posada. Her dress is quite typical of those in the high country.

12:00 p.m.

Slept for nearly ten hours. At 6:30, my thermometer said it was 48 degrees, but it felt frigid. Slept under layers of heavy coarse wool blankets. Awoke at 2:00, with a headache from dehydration. Opened my eyes to total darkness. “So this is what it’s like being blind.” Then a momentary thought flashed: "what if I turn on the flashlight and it’s no different?" Turned it on and noticed that, during the night, the windows had been shuttered from the outside. I suddenly felt claustrophobic. “Note to myself: I never want too live in a place where you have to shutter your windows.” Found my way to the bathroom (a separate wing off the back of the building.)

At 6:30 a.m., the trekkers were all gathered around their table, gear piled along the wall. I was going to wait and let them move on before having breakfast. I just didn't want to deal with it.

My room at "La Stacion"

While the others dined, I went outside to see what the day was like. Fog covering the land. Opened up the shutters, then went out for a long walk along the road. Walked for about two hours, through the peaceful farmland. Cattle farming seems to be the main occupation in this district.

Up there in the clouds is Vulcan Chimborazo, the tallest volcano in the World (and apparently, because of the Earth's bulge, its summit is the farthest terrestrial point from the center of the Earth.)

On a July morning, when the winds blow, this is how Chimborazo might look!

A French couple staying at the posada are following the "Inca Trail" and making a documentary of their journey. This is their car, and in the trailer, they pull two llamas, which are used for some of their travels.

Returning, enjoyed a quiet breakfast and chat with my host, Rodrigo and a couple from Guayaquil. The trekkers were off on a ten-hour hike over the slopes of Chimborazo. Their bus was to meet them on the other side. At breakfast, Rodrigo provided coca tea bags (apparently, it helps with acclimatizing), but I opted for the instant coffee. In addition, we had banana slices and bread with cheese and preserves.

Learned that Rodrigo is a climber. He climbs Chimborazo about once a month. He has climbed Aconcagua in Chile, the highest mountain in the Americas. "Peru has mountains. we have volcanoes," he said. He spent eight years in Massachusetts working for "Friendly Foods", until they were bought by "Hershey". He left his job earning $50,000 to come back to Ecuador and earn $1,000. "Life's not about the money, though it's nice to have for traveling." He is also working on a project to teach children about ecology, using a cartoon character named "Condorman".

Rodrigo "Condorman" Romoso bought the abandoned "La Stacion" sixteen years ago. In addition to running the posada, he is a mountain climber and guide, marathon runner and is working on an ecology program for children. "Condorman" is the character used to teach children ecology and environmental awareness.

We talked about Ecuador's economy. The minimum wage in Ecuador is $150 per month, though many earn less. I remarked about the low gas price. He said it's actually very high, as Ecuador is South America's second largest producer of oil. Thirty years ago, the price was pennies a gallon.

I also commented about the great roads. From Colombia to Riobamba, he said, the roads are privately-maintained (by a Colombian company.) After that, it's the government that takes care of them. They get noticeably worse, he said.

There was no water this morning. There must be a break somewhere up the mountain. The water comes from glaciers high up on Chimborazo. "It's a community problem," he jokes, as neighbors come buy to see if he has water. No one wants to volunteer to climb the slope to see what's wrong.

Rodrigo had to leave for town again, so I took a few photos, and paid my bill:
$15 for the room and two meals. I gave him $20.

Less than twenty miles away, I came to Riobamba. A typical scene: so many concrete and brick buildings under construction, re-bar poking up into the sky. Many look like the project has been long-abandoned. I don't understand it. (Someone later explained that construction proceeds as funds become available. So a company builds only as many floors as they have financing for, with plans to continue upward at a later date.)

A strange custom: when turning left, drivers turn on their left turn signal, then pull to the right shoulder until traffic is clear. Of course, my habitual behavior is to try to pass them on the right, which doesn't quite work.

Beyond, out into the mountains again, I see what Rodrigo was talking about: the country has gone crazy planting eucalyptus and pine for harvesting. Apparently, it's exported to Japan for pulp.

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