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  • the lunar flora
    the lunar flora
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  • our alpaca buddy makes it a more friendly place
    our alpaca buddy makes it a more...
    by richiecdisc
  • our room looking a lot cozier with reinforcements
    our room looking a lot cozier with...
    by richiecdisc

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    engulfed in a think blanket of fog

    by richiecdisc Updated Feb 20, 2008

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    Fondest memory: Morning came early but unfortunately the sun did not, nor any hint that a huge mountain was anywhere in the vicinity. Chimborazo was completely engulfed in a thick blanket of fog. We debated on heading on the trail and hoping for an eventual clearing. It worked out that way for us in Cotopaxi but that was a much easier trail to follow. With no assured clearing, we opted to abort out hike and head to Cuenca. Our Swiss friends were readying themselves for their adventure and I must say I envied their having a guide and imminent four day hike. I was fairly certain that they would get good weather at some point. One thing about the mountains: if you wait they usually come out to play. We’d play too, but it would be in Cuenca, not around Chimborazo. I was happy to have at least given it a shot and got to see the old train station that didn’t seem so haunted after spending the night. My wife was happy I was willing to accept defeat at the hands of the bad weather rather than forge on as is my nature. Mostly, she was happy to be heading to Cuenca and as soon as we got by those nasty dogs on the way back to Pan American Highway, I was too.

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    the skeletal remains of two gringo backpackers

    by richiecdisc Updated Feb 20, 2008

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    Fondest memory: This brings us back to the carcass and skeleton which my wife noticed with no reaction, perhaps the most deadly of all reactions. We had a good two mile walk to the train station cum hostel that would be our base and the last thing we needed to do was argue. Instead we trudged on into a gray abyss. Did I mention that the weather was miserable? Sure, this would have been easy if the skies were blue and Chimborazo was visible to lead us its way. If things weren’t bad enough, the area was desolate with little sign of life but what seemed abandoned farms. We could certainly understand why people would have pulled up stakes; this place was not looking all that hospitable. And that was before the territorial dogs caught our foreign scent. We’d had the good sense to take out our walking sticks after seeing the dead remnants of the llama and now we added a few choice rocks to our arsenal to keep the dogs at bay. The last thing we needed was the skeletal remains of two gringo backpackers to be added to the allure of this dirty back road in the Andean highlands.

    The sight of the old train station was relief and though not exactly bustling with life it was obviously open as a couple of guys greeted us as we walked up. We secured a nice if rustic room and one could imagine it being a lot more inviting if full of hikers going about their business. But in this empty state, it seemed more of a haunted reminder of a glorious past: the hostel was once a train station at the highest point of the Andean Railway. It wasn’t exactly warm either with wind ripping across the barren landscape and even our hosts seemed to wish they were in a place warm and less foreboding. I wrestled up some food in the kitchen after learning how to work the huge propane stove and soon enough we learned to accept our new if temporary home. When the owners brought out their alpaca, we even had something to take photos of. (continued below in Fondest Memory)

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    the Swiss arrive

    by richiecdisc Updated Feb 20, 2008

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    Fondest memory: A few hours later, our prayers were answered when a jeep drove up and out popped some more backpackers. They were Swiss and better yet one of them was a licensed guide who I could ply for information on the proposed hike. With their arrival, the wood burning stove was fired up and the once ominous hostel seemed a lot more inviting and friendly place. As the sun went down, Chimborazo’s base became visible and it looked like we might get some clear weather the next day. The Swiss guide said they were doing a similar hike to the one I had planned and that the initial part was not hard to navigate as long as the weather remained clear. We would be welcome to follow them but they were going with pack animals so their pace would surely be quicker than ours.

    We enjoyed our evening meal and also looking at the big collection of table top photo books about the Andes and the train station in particular. We readied ourselves for starting a three day hike the next morning and got to bed fairly early in anticipation of an early start. The room seemed a lot cozier with other people in the hostel and we got a good night’s sleep despite a howling wind. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)

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    the rotting carcass of an unfortunate llama

    by richiecdisc Updated Feb 20, 2008

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    Favorite thing: They named the province after it so I guess most people would say...Chimborazo, the highest peak in Ecuador.

    Fondest memory: When I saw the rotting carcass of an unfortunate llama I knew I was pushing my luck dragging my wife on what might be an aborted attempt to squeeze one more hike into our Ecuador adventure. The matching skeletal remains of a cow’s head on the other side of the road did little to allay my suspicion. We’d already been thwarted on an attempt of Ilinizas Norte due to an ice storm and impenetrable fog. Following a half circumnavigation of Cotopaxi and some incredible backcountry camping, we’d been forced to head to Baños to soak in its thermal pools while re-thinking our strategy. It sure would have been easy to forego Chimborazo altogether after losing our precious acclimatization but we had ample time and it was after all on the way to Cuenca, out next port of call.

    The bus trip had been problematic and that in itself was unusual in Ecuador, which had proven to be the most carefree of South American countries when it came to mass transportation. After taking forever to get a bus from Riombamba that agreed to drop us off on this God forsaken dirt road, it would have been very easy to stay onboard and head to the creature comforts of Cuenca. But we had enough fuel and food to do a week in the backcountry and I would have always looked back with regret and surely wondered "what if" had I bypassed the road, and thus opportunity. (continued below in Fondest Memory)

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