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2002-11-03 - 11:30 a.m.

Okay, so I was wrong about last weekend. I didnīt climb a mountain. Instead, I took a bus to Riobamba (four hours - large, comfy seats, bad American movies on the TV, winding mountain roads, cows and chickens and pigs lingering on the roadside, and at times it felt like we were climbing into the clouds) with about twenty other students from my school. We were led by the fearless Cedric (from Belgium, who speaks French, Flemish, Dutch, English, and now Spanish) who booked our reservations and collected money and did everything but drag us out of bed each morning. We spent the evening in Riobamba, most of it at a discoteca drinking dollar cervezas (never a good idea, regardless of which country youīre in) and dancing to the music which could only be described as a cross between salsa and techno (Iīve given up on the salsa, by the way; I just donīt think my genes are hardwired to make my hips move that way).

The next morning, we were at the train station by 6 am, to go to El Nariz del Diablo (the Devilīs Nose). Most of the train tracks in Ecuador were damaged beyond repair in the El Niņo rains of 1982-83, but these were repaired in the late 80s, mostly for the benefit of tourists. Eleven dollars (an exorbitant ticket price by Ecuadorean standards) gets you a seat on top of the train; an extra dollar gets you a plastic seat cushion. We clambered aboard the top of the train at 6 am, backpacks making us topheavy, and claimed our spots on top of the train with the other tourists (all clad in remarkably similar traveling clothes, which I am just now beginning to appreciate). The train left at 7 am, and we sat back and watched the countryside unfurl in front of us, interrupted only by the vendors who walked from one side of the train to the other selling overpriced snacks, grabbing the hands of the tourists so as not to lose their balance, as they gingerly stepped over hiking boots and backpacks. Watching the countryside pass by was like watching television, glimpses into a world that you canīt be sure, even now, actually exists - colorfully garbed women with babies slung across their backs, barefoot children playing in the dirt, and everyone waving at the train as we passed by, perched on top like pigeons on a telephone wire.

The train trip is only supposed to take five or six hours, or so Cedric had been told (each person he asked told him a different number), but we soon realized why the ticket was so expensive - at four separate points during the trip, the track literally had to be repaired so that we could continue. Each time, we started back up again, despite all thoughts to the contrary. All told, we were on the train for about eleven hours (most people got off at Aleusi, eight hours into the trip, but my crowd, me included, was determined to stay til the end). The last few hours were quite amazing, beautiful scenery as we inched our way up El Nariz del Diablo. We were really too tired to care at that point (and if I could have held the digital camera steady enough to get a decent shot, I would try to post a picture - maybe next time). The bus trip home was on an oversold cramped little bus (no bad American movies this time around), and four hours later, we were back in Cuenca, dazed and hungry and sore and determined to never spend eleven hours on top of a train again.

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