Anthony on the Gringo Trail 2005 travel blog

Short rest break at 3,200 metres for the gringo express

Locals in the highlands

Keeping warm

Train climbing around canyons

Waving for sweets

I never knew cows could be so much fun

Here I am in Riobamba. When I was leaving BaƱos, I noticed a load of guinea pigs being grilled, rather than deep-fried. It looks fractionally less gross, but still very unappetizing with their little feet, etc. I nearly took a pic to show you all, but decided that was bad taste.

The bus journey here was interesting, with great views of the back of Tungaruhua, looking really dramatic. The road has only just been reopened after the last lot of ash and lava, and is still a bit exciting for my taste, threatening either to landslide ash on the bus or landslide the bus down into the canyon, and the bridges had rather a homemade look about them. Anyway, Riobamba is quite a big city and its market day, so is a bit hectic compared to what I'm used to the last few days. I went out and about, but then decided to go back and hang out in the peace and quiet of my hotel instead. But at least, as I write, I am also talking to my youngest on msn - only way I can get to talk to him.

18th Sep: I am in Riobamba to do one of the world's legendary train journies, dubbed the most dificult, mainly as it goes along and up and down some very steep bits, including from sea level to 3,200 metres. No getting away from altitude round here. Up before 5, cold shower (!) and a nice breakfast to get on the train roof by 6. I thought this was a bit keen myself, but by 6 there was no space left on the roof, and everyone else had to go in the carriages, which cannot have been anything like as much fun. There was about 50 people on each roof, about 1 in 5 Ecuadorian, the rest gringos. Cold for the first couple of hours, and then hot, and then hotter, and then even hotter. Something I have never seen before that I also saw a few times today was animals on the roofs of buses on their own, like they wanted to be there. I saw goats, pigs and several sheep, all seeming to be having the time of their lives. Also, all along the way there were little peasant kids waving. It turns out this was to encourage people on the train to throw sweets and crisps to them. Having read all about sustainable development, us gringoes skipped the sweets and tok pictures of them instead, while the Ecuadorians pelted them with junk food. The kids seemed to prefer the sweets. Note the ubiquitous pork-pie hats worn by all ages and genders throughout the Andes.

Fab views from the train roof, as we go along canyons with the kind of drops I would hate in a bus or a car but don't seem to mind in a train, often looking straight down several hundred feet while bits of earth slide down. And I teamed up with three girls to share food and watch each others stuff, which always makes life easier. The most fun though was when we derailed...twice. Both times I was looking towards the back of the train when it happened. As you can imagine, everyone on the roof of the carriages concerned freaked out a bit, grabbed anything to hold on to and then bumped violently along the sleepers until the train stopped. Most entertaining. Luckily - and unusually - no one was standing up either time. And now I am in some town called Alausiu - where the train ends - which looks like where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their ends (which was in Ecuador as it happens) waiting for a bus to Cuenca.

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