La Nariz del Diablo

La Nariz del Diablo
A Play in 3 Acts

The Players:

Jackie — a tourist in Ecuador

Mike — her traveling companion

The Narrator — or just some train conductor guy that Mike took a photo of

Act I: Hotel Europa

[The scene: a small but clean hotel room (well, clean except for the one rather large spider in the corner). The room is full-to-bursting with two beds (one double and one twin), a busted TV, two bicycles, and luggage strewn everywhere. There are articles of clothing hanging from both ends of the curtain rod, the bicycle handlebars, and the headboards on the bed – they appear to be drying.]

Narrator: Once upon a time there was a train that ran the entire distance between Quito and Guayaquil, the two largest cities in Ecuador. Unfortunately, the tracks proved difficult to maintain, and their demise was hastened by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the like. The only portion of the tracks which can still convey a train lies between Riobamba and Sibambe. The last stop on this short route is in the quaint mountain village of Alausi. Alausi, as you may recall, is where we last left our intrepid travelers…

Jackie: [wakes up, zombie-walks into the bano, turns on the shower, and waits with her hand under the faucet for ages] Are you sure they told you there was agua caliente?

Mike: Wha?? Yeah…agua caliente…

Jackie: Well screw this. I’m not taking an ice-cold shower when I’m already freezing to begin with. Maybe we can get a discount for tonight. Como se dice “discount?”

Mike: [pulling on his poncho and donning his feathered Panama hat] How the hell should I know? Just get ready – you don’t have to be squeaky clean to ride on top of a train that spews soot.

Jackie: Okay, let’s get a move on.

Act II: The Alausi Train Depot

[The scene: a tidy but abandoned-looking train station. A few decrepit tracks criss-cross around the main building and through the town streets, with nary a railroad crossing sign or warning light. Some local entrepreneurs are setting up tables to display their llama sweaters and socks and hats for the hoards of tourists they know will come.]

Narrator: Having suffered worse traumas than ice-cold showers, our travelers arrive unphased at the Alausi train station. Their infallible Lonely Planet guidebook advises arriving early for the 9:00 train, so our heroes show up at the platform around 8:30.

Mike: [reading sign] “Boletos” – that must be where we buy tickets, c’mon [he and Jackie climb the stairs to the ticket office].

Jackie: [to the cashier] Buenos dias. Queremos comprar dos biletos a Sibambe, por favor.

Narrator: Unfortunately, this simple transaction does not go as planned. Our beloved travelers learn that the early train leaves only if there are 20 passengers ready to board at 9:00. Since they passed only a few beggars, some goods-hawkers, and an odd-looking French couple on the platform, our travelers have no delusions of riding this train. They take solace, however, in the fact that the train the Lonely Planet guide advertised actually comes through from Riobamba at 11:00/11:30, and that it is guaranteed to be full of gringos on holiday. They promptly buy tickets for this later train (and for less than the price quoted in their guidebook!).

Act III: The Train

[The scene: a surprisingly clean passenger train. The train has approximately 6 cars bursting at the seams with gringos of most shapes and sizes. The gringos are primarily of the retirement class, however. The train itself is rickety (as most trains are), but one of the cars has seats on its roof, safely guarded by a railing and complete with seatbelts.]

Narrator: Our travelers are a determined couple, anxious to ride the fabled train over the infamous “Nariz del Diablo,” an extremely steep section on the route to Sibambe. Many railroad workers lost their lives trying to lay the tracks over the unforgiving mountainside terrain. The track is especially famous because of its unique design as well. Because the hillside is so steep, the train can only advance on its way to Sibambe by zigzagging down the mountain. It goes forward and downward as far as possible, then it joins a new track and travels in reverse down that portion. Finally, it again switches tracks and carries on toward the bottom of the valley in an ordinary, forward fashion. In addition to experiencing this dramatic feat of engineering, our travelers are looking forward to riding on top of the train, which is how things are done on this train…at least, so says their trustworthy guidebook.

Mike: Holy crap, have you ever seen this many gringos in the same place at the same time?

Jackie: Well, sure, back in the States. Still every whitey in Ecuador must be on this train…

Mike: Let’s go get our seats up top.

Narrator: Our travelers climb the stairs to the empty top deck of the train and linger there for only a few moments before one of the train conductors ushers them back downstairs.

Jackie: What’s this crap? I wanna ride on top.

Gringo 1: Oh honey, they haven’t let anyone ride on top for close to a year now. A Japanese tourist was decapitated by some wires crossing over the train not long ago.

Gringo 2: Naturally, they’re suing.

Mike: Why is it that dumb tourists are always ruining our fun? Someone falls and dies in Tikal, so we can’t climb the structures, and now this.

Jackie: The whole reason I wanted to ride this train was so I could sit on top!

Mike: C’mon, it’ll still be a nice, scenic ride.

Narrator: Indeed it is. Our travelers ride on the platforms between the cars so that they can still feel the wind rushing through their hair and so they’re not looking at the scenery through grimy windows. It’s a foggy and rainy day (as always), but not so foggy that they can’t take in the mountain views. Mike snaps photos while Jackie just enjoys the ride. La Nariz del Diablo, or the Devil’s Nose in English, does not look so impressive as one might think; nonetheless, the train’s precarious journey down the tracks that cover it is worth witnessing. Our travelers return from their brief train voyage refreshed and ready to bike once again. After all, they often get to see some pretty spectacular views from the seats of their bicycles, which always afford them the feeling of the wind rushing through their hair.

The End.

Production Stills:

The tracks criss-cross in every direction through the city of Alausi.

The train is full of tourists, but most importantly our travelers.

After Alausi, Mike and I started heading downhill toward the west coast…at least, that’s what our map lead us to believe. J There’s an awful lot of climbing involved in going downhill. Our first day brought us to a small town called Huigra, about 3000 feet below Alausi in elevation. There we found a hotel, which featured some nice landscaping. We especially liked the “bell tree,” as Mike calls it.

Here lies Huigra, a mountain town near the end of our mountain journey.

This “bell tree” not only looked cool, it smelled really nice too!

In Huigra we consulted our map, which showed how we would end the following day almost at sea level: we would drop another 3000 feet or so in elevation. We figured on a pretty easy day of coasting downhill, but we figured wrong. For starters, we climbed fifteen hundred feet. At the top of that hill we were thrilled to be heading downwards toward the coast. Of course, the downhill ended and we climbed right back up fifteen hundred feet again. After another downhill and an uphill of about a thousand feet, we actually were heading downhill for the rest of the day. This might sound easy, but it’s actually quite painful to be going downhill for over 3000 feet. My wrists get very sore from all the pressure put upon them and my fingers go numb very quickly. On top of this, Mike was operating his bike with only front brakes (due to an oversight we won’t mention here) and had to stop quite often to cool them down. Not that I minded.

We figured we were going to have to camp short of our goal city for the day since all of that climbing really messed up our calculations. However, once we got to the bottom the road was plano (Plano means flat in Spanish. The locals are fond of telling us that the road ahead is plano even if we end up climbing for most of the day. Everything seems more plano in a car than when you are carrying 100 pounds on your bike.). Although it took us at least 5 hours to travel the first 35 kilometers of the day, we covered the last 45 in about 2 hours. The epic day (4000 feet up, 7000 down, and 80 kilometers) brought us to El Truinfo, where we holed up for the night.

The next day brought us to the coast with more very flat terrain. The highlights of the day included sighting a boa: it was road kill. The snake was at least as big around as my upper arm. Freaky! I thought they lived in the jungle, but apparently there are a few that hang out in the marshy area we were biking through. We also crossed the mouths of some very large rivers on our way into Guayaquil. The bridges and the traffic that ushered us into the city were fun to navigate.

Now we’ve been hanging out in Guayaquil for a few days. We’re staying with Denis, whom Mike found through the Global Freeloaders web site. He’s very nice, speaks very good English, is an engineering student, and works at the nearby movie theatre (he even got us in for free the other night and we saw Lions for Lambs). He lives in a nice house with his Aunt and Uncle. His Aunt and Uncle don’t speak English, but they are amazingly hospitable. We’ve had several meals with them (which we weren’t expecting at all), and we’re getting in loads of Spanish practice because Denis is very busy and is often not around to translate.

Last night I experienced my first earthquake ever. It was pretty weird. I was sitting on my twin bed when it started to shake. I thought we were going to need an exorcist or something, and I looked over at Mike and said, “My bed’s shaking.” He responded very matter-of-factly with a “Yeah,” so I asked him why it was shaking. “Earthquake, I suppose.” Oh. Right. About this time Aunt started screaming for us to come downstairs, which we did. We stood in the doorframes for a few more seconds until it passed. Earlier that day we had read about the 7.7 earthquake in Chile, so it was a bit surreal for me to be experiencing my first earthquake. Ours was rated a 6.7, but it occurred on the other side of the mountains, close to Macas. Apparently it didn’t really do any severe damage, even closer to its epicenter. An earthquake is called a terremoto in Spanish, by the way.

We are going to be staying here for a couple more days before flying to the Galapagos Islands on Monday. We’re really excited about this side trip, even though it will probably be the most expensive part of our South American journey by far. Oh well, early Christmas present to ourselves, I suppose.

Internet on the Galapagos is supposed to be pretty expensive, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t hear from us for a while. We don’t get back to the mainland until November 29th. In case we don’t get another chance to do so, we’d like to wish you a “Happy Thanksgiving” now. We’re not eating badly by any means, but we won’t have the traditional Thanksgiving fare to stuff in our bellies. Think of us when you are so full of turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie that you can’t move for hours.

Since the latest poll just ended, I’ll also fill you in on that. Although soccer is indeed popular in Ecuador, we have seen tons of people playing volleyball. To be fair, the number of soccer players we have seen may have surpassed the number of volleyball players since I posted the question. However, before we got to the city (Guayaquil) we saw a surprising number of people playing what is known locally as Ecua-volley. I guess it’s easier to fit a volleyball court in the average person’s yard than a full-blown soccer field. I’ll try to think up a new trivia question soon!

Okay, so I know that this post is one of my longest ever, but I have one more fun fact to leave you with. Although our guidebook is useless when it comes to things like whether or not roads are paved or whether we can ride on top of a train, it does offer some good info occasionally. I learned the other day that Lorena Bobbit is Ecuadorian. After chopping off her husband’s penis, the President of Ecuador invited her to the presidential palace for dinner. Ha!

4 Responses to “La Nariz del Diablo”
  1. Dr_Omega says:

    Glad you guys did not lose your head. BTW, what was for dinner after the old man lost his penis?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Love reading your updates. The adventures continue! Zane & Ally are “minus” one day on their due date – with no activity. Have a GREAT Thanksgiving. Love, Aunt Kathy

  3. Anonymous says:

    Jackie and Mike,What a great update! The photos of the two of you in your hats and Mike in the poncho are some of my favorites yet on this blog. Jackie, it’s great how you vary your writing style. You are even giving some Spanish lessons? I really enjoy reading about the biking you have been doing — I agree you had an epic day biking with the 80 kilometers and the 4ooo feet up and 7000 feet down. Hope you have stocked up on brake pads in Guayaquil. Brakes are a good thing to have when biking in the Andes! Makes me want to bike in another country so bad. As I told you I have read everything Wikipedia had to say about the Galapagos Islands. The sight seeing, hiking, scuba diving and picture taking should be great. Have fun, continue to be safe. Love you, DAD

  4. jenn says:

    so, i forgot something to mention on your last post… i eat rice/milk all the time, but it tastes good and is not so thick… my recipe includes: white rice (usually left over), milk, white sugar, and a bit of butter (why? i dont know). put rice in bowl, add milk. heat in microwave (or on stove top i guess), then when milk and rice are hot enough to eat, add the butter and stir. then add sugar (to taste). i like it a bit sweet. there you go… i sometimes eat this for breakfast, in fact, i had some this morning (1pm)… i also love the story and the pictures of you guys on the train (good facebook photos)… im glad that you guys decided to go to the galapagos islands… im jealous (and i will hopefully make it out there someday, so take notes for me)… have a great time… tofurky it up!

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