After spending more than three weeks in the capital of Ecuador we turned south in the Andes Mountains to visit a string of mountain towns and volcanoes south of Quito. The towns were Latacunga, Ambato, Baños, Saquisili, Riobamba and Guapo. The volcanoes are called Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Altar and Tungurahua.
This article is part of a travelogue from of a five month journey in 1987-1988 to several countries in South America: Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile.
Monday 07.12.1987, Quito – Latacunga
This morning we left Quito and went south to Latacunga (2 hrs, 160 sucres = 0.5 USD). Before that we went over to the main office of the Academia Español de Quito (our language school for the last two weeks) and picked up two cassettes a teacher had recorded with folk and modern music from Ecuador. (City buses are by the way extremely cheap, only 10 sucres (3 cents US)).
On the school we had met an American woman working as a nutrition specialist. She provided us with a list of tips on various towns further south on the continent. That was nice of her.
Bo bought four new rolls of film, Fuji, at 660 sucres each (2.4 USD). I exchanged some more money atHotel Colón and we finally took our bags along to the post office finding to my big disappointment zero mail from home. Anyway, we sent each our parcel home. I paid 1700-1800 sucres (6.3 USD) to send home my Christmas gift, seven rolls of film, a souvenir stone, kaki-shorts I wouldn’t be needing and some nitty gritty. The weigh was about a kilo and a half.
At long last we took the minibus to Latacunga from the new bus terminal. It reminded me by the way of the Rodoviarias of Brazil with each company placed in its own booth and with destinations marked on signs. Good.
Town of Latacunga
The bus trip is not much to describe apart from us passing through green pastures in a mountain valley. In Latacunga we found the recommended hotel in our guidebook:
- Hotel Cotopaxi. It is situated on the central plaza, Parque Vicente Leon. A thousand sucres (3.5 dollars) per person was a bit stiff, but the twin bed room was good with private bath. There is hot water morning and evening, towels and toilet paper. (Appr. map location)
The 6,000 metres high Cotopaxi volcano should according to our South American Handbook be easily visible, but apparently not to us. Not even from a hill in town. Despite this the town looked nice, with pleasant litte parks (plazas) and narrow streets.
This afternoon we had a fantastic dinner in a Chilean restaurant beneath the hotel. The “parillada” was a barbeque with many different pieces of meat of various kinds, inside and around the animal body. We are looking forward to Chile.
A look back
We had a slight shock when we today realised we had been in Ecuador for four weeks. This was a country we had planned zero days, and upon arrival we said two weeks. On the other hand, we have no remorse. We are having a good time in Ecuador and the Spanish language course was a good investment in time and money.
In addition it was good two have two weeks break from the constant travelling. It is for certain that we now commence with a renewed desire to travel. To be correct, we were not tired of it either, but still. I guess we will stay in the country and the mountains for another week before returning back south to Peru. We will have to renounce on a beach holiday as we are determined not to spend Christmas in Lima.
The Thursday market in Saquisili is our only plan and we are still uncertain what we will do the next few days before and after. We’ll take it as it comes.
Tuesday 08.12.1987, Latacunga
We thought of changing hotel but the other Handbook-recommended hotel was full so we changed room instead for a view of the plaza. It was a good view, but a bit noisy.
There should have been a market in town today but we didn’t find it at once. Bo was weak healthwise and went home to bed for most of the day. I went for a walk in the streets, found the market (the largest of several) but it was not much to see. I took a couple of pictures.
Latacunga is not the most interesting place I have visited.
Wednesday 09.12.1987, Latacunga – Ambato – Baños
Town of Ambato
This was a fine, interesting and active day. We went on a daytrip to Ambato and Baños. The bus to Ambato went from the Pan-American Highway and brought us through a green, wide valley with ravines and mountains around. Pretty. (Half an hour, 60 sucres = 20 cents US)
We walked the two kilometres from the terminal into the centre. This is clearly a larger city (about a 100,000 inhabitants) with more plazas and shopping streets. The clothing shops that our guidebook mentions has obviously vanished and we found little of interest in the city.
The minibus to Baños (45 minutes, 65 sucres = 25 cents US) was fast but we did get to see the grand landscape all the same. There were deep, wide valleys with green fields and patches of grown land in both the valley and up the mighty mountain sides. We managed to see almost the entire top of the Tungurahua volcano – the rest was as usual covered by clouds. (We have still not seen the Cotopaxi volcano near Latacunga.)
Town of Baños
Baños is a small town in the middle of a narrow valley bordered by high mountains. The setting was really nice. The place has hot springs – hence the name – which not least is believed to have a supernatural healing effect on body and soul. The large, central church (for some reason called abasilica) has a number of signs put up by people who have been cured by the water thanks to a virgin or something like that.
The town is clearly usually (but not today) a tourist place. It is hard to cramp more hotels and restaurants into such a little place.
The bus from Ambato to Latacunga cost us 80, 20 more then the other way.
Bo’s condition has improved considerably.
Thursday 10.12.1987, Riobamba – Saquisili
It is market day in Saquisili. It was no less than fantastic and exciting to walk around in the streets of this town not far from Latacunga. I bought two semi-large tapestries for 25,000 sucres combined (89 dollars). Apart from that this was a market primarily for the indigenous population. Fortunately there were few tourists around.
There was shopping all around the town and we walked around watching colourful and exciting people, costumes and goods. It was no wonder that the South American Handbook stated this was the best market in Ecuador.
Back in Latacunga we picked up our bags from the hotel and took a minibus to Ambato first, then further south to Riobamba (2 hrs, about 140 sucres = half a dollar US).
The scenery was nice south of Ambato as well. First we saw green, wide valleys before wide moors took over right before we arrived in Riobamba at an altitude of 2,700 metres.
The town has excellent views to impressive volcanoes: The snowcapped Chimborazo in the north (6,300 metres) and the Altar crater and Tungurahua in the east. We went for a walk around town in the afternoon: Flat and with straight streets. Partly nice.
- Hotel Zeus. Excellent. Avenida Daniel Leon Borja 41-29 and Duchicela, down the alley from the bus station and a bit outside the centre. It has an okay restaurant. 1700 sucres (6 dollars) for a double bed, wall to wall carpet, TV, bath with 24h hot water, soap, towels (new every day). Clean and nice and with a marvellous view (room 27). Large room. A nice and helpful staff. (Map)
Friday 11.12.1987, Riobamba – Guano
A breakfast conversation
At the breakfast table we had a rewarding conversation with the son of the hotel owner, a BA-student around 20 years of age speaking English well. He had been on a student exchange trip to Canada and was hoping to improve himself enough to get a scholarship to go to Italy.
He told us that the Russians are eager to invite students to Moscow and a number of the less affluent accept the invitation. The richest would rather go the the US. Back in Ecuador from the USSR many get a job in the leftist dominated universities. Rodricio meant that many of the teachers there were Soviet educated. Schools in Ecuador offering higher education has a lot of student democracy in the sense that teachers and students share power equally. There are actually only two student organisations. The fight is between the Peking followers and the Moscow faithful. The moderates are supposedly busier studying to get on, student politics is very work and time demanding.
The universities have day and evening classes, with the day classes for the best and eager. According to Rodricio the quality of the day classes are higher even though they all get the same papers. In the course of a year the students are obliged to have a 70 % presence, but even though one formally will need a very good excuse for absence, the reality is different – especially for the evening classes.
Many strikes in public schools are harmful for students making private alternatives more attractive. Private schools have more options to fire a rebelling teacher.
The universities are self-govering entities with a “diplomatic immunity” against visits from the military and police. This has by some been misused in terms of crime.
Ecuador has as we knew of, a lot of corruption and we heard that all elected mayors of Guayaquil in the last 30 years have been forced to resign during their period due to misconduct of different kind. In the heat of future election campaigns the country will notice ever increasing accusations against the political parties for this or that dishonest conduct, true or untrue.
There is by the way a heavy election campaign going on in Ecuador right now, two months before the election. There is graffiti everywhere for the different lists, boards, cars with loudspeakers etc. A lot of money is being spent and the biggest donors can expect value for money if their candidate succeeds.
On the Election Day poor people in the periphery are often picked up by trucks, paid and driven to the polling station where easily recognisable lists with pictures, logos and list numbers are ready. On January 31st every position of what may be elected in this country, is being determined. The two most popular presidential candidates are sent to a second round. One may be president for one period only.
Town of Guano
We took a ten minute bus to a small town named Guano (15 sucres) and had a look at some not very interesting carpets. The plaza and scenery was nice, though.
The 24th of April Park on a hill in Riobamba is nice and has a good view, particularly at sunset.
Today we also bought a bus ticket to Huaquillas on the Peruvian border with a departure tomorrow evening at nine (600 sucres = about two dollars).
Saturday 12.12.1987, Riobamba
This was the market day in Riobamba. It stretched for a number of blocks and we only saw two other tourists. The rest of the large crowd were mestizos and Indians. The trading was lively and colourful, although not as much as Saquisili. But it was really exciting.
In a park we were stopped by some Jesus-missionaries. We had a little chat and they invited us to a cup of coffee later in the day. We did not go but relaxed at the hotel until the bus was about to leave. It was nice of the staff to letting us use the room.
The next chapter: Impressions from Ecuador: More than a month (33 days) in Ecuador was much more than we expected when we arrived here, not to talk of what we said before arriving in South America. But it was worth it!
Read the introduction to this journey
View a full screen map of the journey
Click to view my entry about Sangay National Park, the World Heritage Site