What makes a day special, unique and memorable?  Is it seeing some new drop dead gorgeous scenery for the first time?  Is it doing something unique within a commonplace situation?  Is it meeting someone from a different culture and having a deep heart connection with them as you share your differences despite language and culture barriers?  How about all of the above?

Today started out in a not so remarkable way; however, read to the end of this post and see how a Special Day can happen when least expected.

Yesterday I left Banos and traveled to Riobamba with the purpose of spending the night and taking a train ride this morning down Nariz Del Diablo (the devil’s nose).  The train draws a lot of tourists, but also many Ecuadorians on the weekends.  I had picked out Hostal Oasis from my guide book to spend the night because it sounded fun and quirky.  It was plus when I arrived, two friends I had met in Cotopaxi and Banos, Philippe and Hattie, where there cooking dinner and invited me to join…off to a good start.

We left at 5:30 this morning, in the dark, for the bus station.  Philppe and I were taking a two hour bus to Alausí to catch the train and Hattie was headed south to the Ecuadorian Coast.  We have some breakfast in Alausí and walk to the train station.

Outside the Train Station

We take the train which descends over 1,000 meters through hairpin turns and switchbacks.  It is the last remaining section of what was an extensive run from Guayaquil to Quito a hundred years ago.  Of note, over 2,500 people died lying this stretch of track over a period of several years.  The views are amazing with sheer drop-offs to a river below.  Before very long, we are traveling beside the river.

Leaving Alausi

All Aboard!

Can You Imagine Farming Here?

The Descent

Switchbacks Ahead

Philippe and Philip at the Bottom with Indian Nose Behind

After a lunch break at the bottom, we ascend back to Alausí.  It was great spending some time with Philippe and us getting to know each other.  We exchange emails and go our separate ways, but little do I know, things are about to get even more interesting.

After a short wait, I catch a bus headed for Cuenca.  The bus is full and I am the only passenger standing in the aisle.  Well, three to four hours of standing on a bus doesn’t seem like a great prospect.  If you have ever taken a long distance bus in South America then you know that most of them have a separate driver compartment with a closed door separating the passenger section.  I decide to take a chance and knock on the door and ask the conductor if there is room for me to sit with him and the two drivers.  They agree and now the fun begins!

We are driving through some of the most beautiful Andean mountain passes I could have ever immagined.  We go up and down hundreds of meters over and over.  The mountains rise in places to five and six thousand meters.  The clouds and green mountains are incredible and I am surrounded by a huge glass bubble.  I would never be able to see all this from a passenger seat!

Relief Driver Joe Says This Is His Brother (with Appropriate Braying Noises)



Robert, Our Driver

I also get to see first hand how important the conductor is and how he communicates with the drivers as to when it is safe (relatively) to pass on some of these hairpin turns.  We are joking and telling stories.  Pretty soon we are singing Stand By Me in English and Spanish.  Then it’s Andean Disco sing along (think pan pipes with a Donna Summer backbeat).

Relief Driver Joe and Conductor Pablo

Pablo Gives the Go Ahead to Pass

The Road Less Traveled

This Section of Road Had Recently Washed Out

Up in the Clouds

We pass through some clouds and then a bit of rain.  And the piece de resistance is a rainbow spanning a 1,000 meter gorge!  It’s the fastest and most fun four hours I have ever spent on a bus.  We say goodbye at the terminal and 10 minutes later, I am at my hostel in Cuenca starting to write these words of appreciation for a special day indeed.

Rainbow, The Andes, Ecuador

The End


Postscript:  I just discovered that this is my 51st post since starting this blog five months ago.  It has truly been a labor of love sharing my travel experiences in this way.  To all the old friends, new friends and various readers that have joined me along the way I offer my sincere appreciation.  I hope you continue to enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing these posts.
Chau for now!







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  1. Judie May 30, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    Wow!!!! Philip!!!!
    What an awesome experience. The scenery took my breath away~as usual, love your blog writing and photos! I appreciate your sharing all this thru words and photos so I (and others) can experience this amazing journey with you.
    What’s next on the travel agenda?

    Much love,

    • Philip May 30, 2011 at 3:43 pm #


  2. The Travel Chica June 2, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    I got to ride in the drivers cab on a bus trip from Buenos Aires to Mendoza in 2009. It was so much fun!

    Enjoy Cuenca. I didn’t make it there, but I’ve heard it is wonderful.
    The Travel Chica recently posted..Horses- Cowboys- and Grilled Meat – Oh My!

    • Philip June 2, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

      Cuenca was okay. Villcabamba, where I am now, is amazing!!!

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