December 25-26: Riobamba and a day trip to Colta

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Riobamba is located in Ecuador’s central highlands. With approximately 150,000 inhabitants it ranks among the country’ twelve largest cities. I came across this post-Christmas wedding while spending an afternoon exploring some of the neighborhoods on foot.

 

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For December 26 I booked a short train ride to nearby Colta. I arrived at the train station half an hour early…

 

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… and witnessed passengers of an earlier trip disembark from the, well, train — a hybrid between the undercarriage of a small diesel locomotive and the hull of a scrapped Freightliner tour bus.

 

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During the first twenty minutes of our trip, we were accompanied by three private security guards on motocross bikes whose main job was to stop road traffic at unmarked crossings so that our funny-looking train could pass.

 

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I couldn’t help but chuckle when I realized that these guys reminded me of the villains in a 1970s James Bond movie (and to some extent also of Skyfall‘s opening scene), not least because of their puffy and hilariously out-of-style balloon silk suits.

 

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The landscape we went past surprised me: where I had expected sparse cultivation and more ruggedness, we instead saw a lot of agricultural production.

 

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I had already heard from other travelers that the welcome they’d received in Ecuador had been particularly friendly. People were smiling and waving everywhere as our makeshift train drove past them.

 

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In Colta we visited the church of Balbanera, Ecuador’s oldest Catholic place of worship. Built in 1534 by locals under newly established Spanish colonial rule…

 

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… it boasts a beautiful stone facade and putti with native facial features.

 

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Right outside the church vendors offered local handicrafts. I bought a woolen wristband that I am going to wear as a lucky charm until Harry and I are back on the road with la bestia (the vessel that she’s on is currently moored in Panama).

 

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Following a simple but tasty lunch, our group–mainly Ecuadorians from Quito spending Christmas in the sierra–visited a community center for traditional medicine where we went on a barefoot tour and sampled herbs.

 

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Afterwards we walked over to Colta lagoon where I was able to spot avian wildlife with my binoculars.

 

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This Andean Coot couple practiced teamwork: one was diving for hydrophytes while the other was weaving them into a floating nest.

 

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I was thrilled to also see the first llama of this trip — I have a soft spot for these animals ever since 2000 when my friend Jose in Jujuy (northern Argentina) introduced me to Bernardo, an orphaned llama that his family raised mainly on Coca-Cola.

 

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A delicious cheese fondue rounded off an eventful day.

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