I've been pretty busy with school and realized I had not yet written about the train I took a few weeks back to La Nariz del Diablo. I ended up heading there with some of the French speaking international students so it was a good weekend of mainly Spanish (with them occasionally reverting to French or me reverting to English). The train typically runs between Riobamba, a city that I had stayed in when we had traveled to climb Chimborazo, and a small town called Alausi. Our original plan had been to take a bus into Riobamba, stay the night and take the train ride in the morning. However, we found out that the tracks near Riobamba are currently in construction so we instead decided to head to Alausi.
When we got to the bus station around 10 am we found that the next bus to Alausi (direct) wouldn't be leaving till 130. My friends wanted to get going as soon as they could so we decided to take an indirect route--first going south toward Ingapirca--Ecuador's most notable Incan ruins, and then catching a second bus on the side of the road to Alausi. The bus driver signaled for us to hop off when we reached a side of the road where there was a restaurant and a couple trinket stores--and nothing else really in view. They drove off and since it was past lunch time at that point we decided to sit down to eat. Just as we had all sat down the bus arrived (which we had been told would be arriving in an hour or so) so we all sprinted to it as it was starting to take off. All the seats were full so we all had to brace ourselves for an hour/ hour and a half standing with all our bags while the bus went up and down the Andes mountains. As locals started to get off the bus along the way we were eventually able to get seats and we arrived soon after. The indirect bus route ended up arriving just around the same time we would've arrived if we had taken the direct bus (as I had tried to point out at the bus station) but we ended up meeting another French girl on the second bus--who seemed thrilled to be around French speakers again.
We ended up finding a hostel called the Panamericano for 8/each and then headed to get dinner. We found that the majority of restaurants were closed--one restaurant owner told me that most places shut down on Saturday afternoons so families can spend time together. We eventually found a small place to eat seco de pollo and ended up chatting with the owner for a while after. Like many small towns in the Andes here, the electricity was shut off until about 6 or 7 at night for construction. When we arrived back at the hostel we found all the doors locked and had to bang on the doors for about 10-15 minutes before we were finally buzzed in. We ended up deciding to stay in the rest of the night rather than risk getting locked out again and woke up early for the train.
While we had been told we'd be able to buy tickets the day of the train, we found the next morning that they were all booked through the day till 2. We all needed to get back to Guayaquil, and I had to prepare for a class presentation for Comercio Internacional but we ended up getting helped out by the man managing the ticket sales. He told us to be patient while he scanned the computer for cancellations. One couple almost was unable to get on the train despite the fact that they had made reservations a month back. He found room for us in the 9oclock autoferro, a little bit cheaper than taking the actual train but it goes the exact same route along the tracks, just doesn't include food. When he asked for our passports I realized I didn't have my copy and blanked on the numbers. Eventually he turned to me and quietly said, please--just invent some numbers. We were told by him to tell anyone who asked us that we had reservations a month back, or he could get in a lot of trouble. However once the train got going, it was more than half empty, so I'm not quite sure why getting the tickets had become such a process.
In the past, passengers had been allowed to ride just on top of the train, for more thrills. A couple years back a couple of tourists didn't see a cable coming and ended up getting knocked down the mountains so it's now prohibited. It was still a good mini trip. We enjoyed being in such a small peaceful town--a huge change from Guayaquil.