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Friday, February 9, 2007

Arrival at Chimborazo

I awake suddenly as my face hits the seat in front of me. “Where the f$%& am I?” I try to collect myself. “Aqui! Necesitan Salir!” the conductor yells. I come to my senses. We have arrived in San Pablo, our destination. I jump up and make my way as quickly as possible, through the narrow isle filled with people, to the front of the bus. I jump off and find Roberto, Brenden and Gavin outside. The conductor runs to the back of the bus, opens the cargo hold and starts throwing our stuff onto the road. In my half daze, I am so consumed with anger about the treatment of my bag that I don´t stop to look around. The bus begins to move and the bus driver runs to try and catch it. I catch my breath and look around. We are in the middle of absolute nowhere...

After boarding the bus to Ipiales, the boarder town on the Colombian side of the fronteer between Colombia and Ecuador, things went pretty smoothly. The road was incredibly windy and sleep was impossible. Every time I dozed off, I was slammed one way or another into an armrest or my fat sweaty companion in the seat next to me. There was only one military search and they were quite nice. They kindly reminded Brenden that if we were stopped again, the next soldiers might not take too kindly to his army print hat.

We arrived in Otavalo about 24 hours after leaving Bogota. The city is incredibly colourful with an enormous market. We spent the next day exploring before making our way to Quito. From Quito, it was of to Chimborazo, our final destination (for the time being). We were told that the best place to get off the bus was San Pablo. The conductor told us that he would help tell us where to get off.

So here we are. On the side of the road in rural Ecuador with only our bags and dumb looks on our faces. No town in sight. Nothing. We decide that the best thing to do is walk up to a farm house and ask directions. We make our way to the closest one. As we approach it, we realize that it is actually a little hostel-hotel. We ask the man in the reception area for our location. It turns out we are no where near San Pablo. He tells us that we are about 15 kilometers outside of a major city in Chimborazo, Riobamba. We re-fuel on some rice and chicken (the appetizer was soup with a bowl of popcorn that you are supposed to put in the idea). After that we take our only option. Hitch it into Riobamba. We end up catching a small bus filled with indigenous people and their crops.

Once in Riobamba, we make some calls to try to find our contact. Our luck changes and we discover that he is in Riobamba, although no-one knows exactly where. We are assured that if we wait on this certain street corner that he will come and meet us. 1 hour later and after a torrential down-pour, we finally meet Antonio Inga. He is much younger than we expected. His spanish is very easy to understand as he speaks slowly and with confidence. We load all of our things into the back of a truck and head for the pace where we will spend the next month or so.

We drive for about 45 minutes, until we are in back in the rolling Andean mountains. We climb higher and higher. At this point it becomes apparent that the area to which we are heading has lost power. We have no idea where we are and can´t see anything. Antonio turns down a dirt road with a sign welcoming us to Casa Condor. Antonio starts honking to inform the care-takers that we have arrived. The headlights catch something off to the right. Antonio turns the truck to shed some light on what ever it is that we have seen. Directly in our headlights is a small Quichua woman fighting to gain control of a lamb that has apparently broken its pen. She is completing this effort in abject darkness but seems to be faring quite well. She finishes what see is doing and leads us to our room. She lights candles in every room and starts to boil some water. She gives us some tea bags to add to our cups. In the candle light, I see that the bag says Coca Mate. “Huh, my first taste of Coca tea.” It really wasn't that bad ... after two spoon fulls of sugar. This tea was intended to help us deal with altitude sickness. We find ourselves quite short of breath. Not too surprising as we have now ascended to 3840 meters above sea level.

We unpack our bags and get ready for sleep.

There is something so satisfying about having such a hard yet successful day and being able to definitively end it by blowing out the last candle.

This morning we awoke to the picture of Chimborazo in all its majesty right on our door step. We are now staying just at the foot of the mountain that can bring you the closest to the sun on earth! Unbelievable.

This morning Antonio took us to the school and introduced us to all of the grades. They were all so excited when they heard that we were going to provide them with soccer equipment.

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