Thursday, May 24, 2018

Day 6: Mercado de Papas

Woke up a little after 6am, getting ready for the Devil's Nose Train ride. I looked outside the windows, woo ooh, blue sky, 'yay!' I thought to myself. The hostel host offered me a breakfast for 3 dollars, sure. I was going to find some foods to eat before I got on the train anyway, he made me a ham, egg and cheese sandwich, with a bowl of nicely arranged fruit, and yogurt. I knew that yogurt was going to give me a run, but I ate it anyway. It was delicious! Got to the train station, there were more tourists waiting to board, I was on the second trolley, on the right side. Both sides had some good views, but at the nose (the scariest part), the cliff was on the right hand side. Anyhow, as we left the station, we went right into the fog, literally at the foggy bottom, I could not see no shit! I was so disappointed, and thought geez, if we left an hour earlier, we would have nice blue sky, the one I saw when I woke up. What did I know about weather? About 5 mins or so later, we cut through the fog and were back to have a nice clear vision for the rest of the trip. The weather pattern here, especially on the mountains, was so unpredictable. The train was really going just for one station from Alausi to Sibambe. Sibambe is located in the bottom of a mountain by a river. In order to go down, the train needed to do a zig zag downhill, since the mountain was kind of in a triangle shape and sharp, looked like a nose. That's where it got the name Devil's Nose Train. Because the angle the train needed to make, there was really no room for error. In the old days, travelers were allowed to sit above the trolley, but after an accident a couple years ago, it was abandoned ever since. I was just glad to be inside, even so, it was damn scary to look down.

At Sibambe, we stayed for an hour to visit the usual touristy stuff: cafes and shops, watched a traditional dances and took a ton of pictures with the train, the people in colorful clothes. The folk dance was actually quite entertaining. But I found it more interesting talking to two sisters from Germany. They do a trip together every year. We talked about traveling, Hong Kong, life in US...etc. I like that kind of instant connection as travelers, and we talk about the passion of traveling. It just felt good. Nothing major to note on the way back. I returned to the hostel, paid, and off I went to the next town. Turned out there was a bus in Alausi going to Riobamba that would pass by Guamote, so I did not need to go back to the highway to look for bus. It took about 45 mins. Guamote is even much smaller than Alausi. There are less than 2000 population, I believe. The bus did drop me off at the Pan-American Highway, but the town entrance was literally right across the street. I got into town around noon, it was another hilly town, I was looking all over for my guestroom, and couldn't find it. To make things worst, I had a pee emergency. Ended up, I walked to the back side of the town, not far from the church, and finished my business behind some rocks. So I could focus on looking for the guest house.

I asked some locals, ¿Dónde Estás, Inti Sisa? They pointed me to up on the hill all the way. An old man in his pancho just walked by and he greeted with me in Spanish, I think he asked me my nationality, I said Chino, and he continued speaking Spanish, I just said I don't understand. We smiled and he shook my hands. It felt kind of welcoming. I guess it was the hours when the kids came out from school, everywhere were students in their uniforms. Some kids were saying "Hi, How are you?" showing off his broken English in front of his pals. I answered in my broken Spanish. We all laughed. It was a match from heaven. Meanwhile, I finally found my guesthouse, Inti Sisa. I got in my room and dropped my backpack as soon as I opened the door. It got heavy. My room had a king size bed along as another single bed. I really didn't need that big a room, I forgot why I chose it actually. I think the difference was very little, maybe that was why.

Inti Sisa, a non-profit organization, aside from running a guesthouse, they also organize a lot of social programs for the local community, they also run a school for the indigenous kids right behind the guesthouse. For other schools up on the mountains run by the government, often time they do not get enough funding, Inti Sisa would also provide supply to those schools. I admired their missions, and I am glad that I stayed there and learned more about what they do. Eva, an originally Belgian, started off as a volunteer to run this place for a year, but 7 years later, she is still there and she have built her own house. She is very talkative, you can't not have an instant connection with her. She is that kind.

Guamote is famous for their Thursday weekly market. I arrived on Wednesday afternoon so I have some times to explore the town a bit before the market took over, I ventured out to walk around town a bit, took some picture of the locals. Not all of them were friendly towards camera. I started to use my phone cell to take pictures instead, that was probably not as threatening, a lot of people do not even notice. I walked by an older woman, she greeted me with a big smile, I returned her a big one. I asked her foto, ok? she nodded, so I took a picture of her. That was nice, I wished they all would let me do that. It seemed the older ones were more friendly towards tourists. At that point, it seemed like I was the only one in town. A lot of people called me Japonés or Chino. When they knew they guessed it right, they laughed. Eva told me that the potato market started a day earlier. So, I was kind of half looking for it, when I found it, it seemed they just started to fill the place. I circled that area for a few times, I think some locals including the police may be wondering what the hell this Chino was doing. Later, I was sitting there by the side of their markets, trying to sneak-peek some pictures when nobody noticed. But of course, I was the only Asian Face around and I had my phone up the whole time, they all noticed. It got a little chaotic, people loading and unloading stuffs, with trucks and trucks of fruits, potatos came in and out, parked on the side of the tiny road.

I returned back to the guesthouse for my cooking class at 4pm. The teacher actually spoke in Spanish, so Eva were my translator. We were making empanadas (one with banana, the other with cheese which is easier to make). We did it all from scratch, from the floor added water to turn into dough, handed roll it until the right consistency. The teacher had to help me with that, since my hands were not strong enough, after a long while, it was still very sticky. And then when the dough was ready, we wrapped banana and cheese inside the dough, and deep fried them. We ate it with coffee. It was actually pretty tasty. I thought that was it, but then she brought another bowl of quinoa out on the table, so we were making two items today. Ok, the second dish were quinoa balls, it consisted cooked quinoa, some seasoning including thyme, some type of oil they used, and onion. Rolling those tiny balls in the palm were very tiring, and it felt like we were making a 100 of them. Eva ended helping me to finish, since I was too slow. The quinoa balls were the appetizer for everyone at dinner tonight. One interesting fact Eva told me tonight is the boiling water at the altitude where we are at is only 89 degree, so often it usually takes longer to cook things that normally does not take as long. I did not know that. Another thing while I was in the kitchen with the girls who were cooking. Clearly, she was boiling a pot of fingerling potato, but they did not think those are potato, I guess in Ecuador, they do not have such a thing as fingerling potato. I was asking if we can call them papas pequeño. They laughed. While I was preparing the quinoa balls, I asked Eva if I could visit the school tomorrow morning. She said Yes. It was not on my original to do list really, but I think it would be a nice add on.

Two large group of tourists have arrived and stayed in Inti Sisa tonight as well. I guess that makes sense since tomorrow will be the big market, a lot of tour groups come on Wednesday and stay overnight, so they could go to see the market early. The dinner was getting a bit crowded and noisy, I sat with two women from Belgium, and Nadine from France. Again, we have had a nice chat during dinner about traveling in general. Today has been a very good day actually, from the train, to the talks with friendly people and the cooking.

See all Day 6 photos with Devil's Nose Train here.
See all Day 6 photos with Folk Dance here.
See all Day 6 photos with Guamote here.
See all Day 6 photos with Inti Sisa here.