Bikes & Buses & Trains (Week 11)

This weekend I got to take my 3 favorite types of public transportation: bikes, buses, and trains (in case you didn’t guess from the title).  While I’m a huge fan of really any form of travel, there’s just something so great about being on the ground, connected to the land on which you travel, observing the people and the sites.

A smaller group of us traveled south, to the small town of Alausí in the province of Chimborazo.  There isn’t a ton to do in Alausí, but it is the location of a beloved train ride known as La Nariz del Diablo.  This train ride was one of the first Ecuador-related things I found on Pinterest back in September, and I was incredibly excited to check it out.

After arriving on Friday, we spent the evening exploring Alausí: this included a walk up to a huge statue of San Pedro, sitting in on a fútbol game at the local community center, finding the train station, and grabbing dinner.  A highlight included watching Locked Up Abroad together before bed.  This is a dramatized show about the true stories of foreigners who get put into prison abroad (usually for doing really dumb things).  We watched the episodes from Peru and Thailand and I loved it, but I’m still hesitant to watch the Ecuador episodes.  Maybe a little too close to home right now??

On Saturday we headed to the train station bright and early to catch the 8am train from Alausí to Sibambe and to conquer the notorious mountain, Nariz del Diablo.  This was an absolutely beautiful train ride.  The train was old style and the inside felt somewhat like the Polar Express.  We carved through valleys, past rushing rivers and colorful little houses, and eventually experienced the switchbacks as we went down the mountain.  Arriving at Sibambe, we were greeted by local musicians and colorful dancers and bought hot chocolate.  The sights of this ride were amazing and it was great to enjoy the scenery while chilling in an almost empty train car with my amigos.

A classic Ecuador thing that happened: after the train ride, we all wanted pizza for lunch (naturally).  We had the card of the only pizza restaurant in town and trekked around until we found it.  It was closed.  Just imagine our devastation- all we wanted was pizza and the only pizza place was locked.  However, there were some people on the street who just told us to knock on the door really loudly, because the owner lived upstairs.  We knocked a bunch of times before Becca (our designated phone-talker) decided to call the number on the card.  “Hola.  Estás abierto?  Estamos afuera!” (Hi- are you open? We’re outside!) was how the conversation went, and before we knew it the owner had come downstairs, opened up the restaurant and fired up the ovens to make us pizza!

After lunch, we caught a bus to take us back to Quito.  It’s here that I had one of these surreal moments where I truly cannot believe that this is my life.  Sitting on the bus with friends that I didn’t know existed 2.5 months ago, but who have since become some of my favorite people, listening to good music, reading witty words by Mindy Kaling, staring out at the most incredible scenery, and I just felt so free and thankful and alive.

Here are some good jams that I 10/10 recommend for a bus trip through the mountains (or really any sort of travel adventure):

-My Girls by Animal Collective

-On Hold by The xx

-Cold by Mating Ritual

-Intro by M83

-Hoppípolla by Sigur Rós

Returning to Quito, we headed to the jazz club, El Pobre Diablo, for a night of chill music, good conversation, and groovy vibes.  Honestly, going to a jazz club seems like a very adult thing to do, and I’ve really enjoyed both times we’ve been there.

On Sunday mornings, the city of Quito closes down one of its biggest streets for Ciclopaseo.  Ciclopaseo mainly consists of bikers, but also roller bladers, walkers, and runners who take to the streets of Quito.  The crowd consists of both locals and tourists who are eager to get active while exploring Quito.  I absolutely love city biking (thanks, Slow Roll Detroit!) and this event had some serious Slow Roll vibes.  The idea of getting to know a city via the seat of a bike is one of the coolest concepts to me.  Like Slow Roll, Ciclopaseo provides the opportunity to explore a major urban area in a safe way.  However, Ciclopaseo is a lot less structured: you can start anywhere along the closed down road and ride for any given amount of time.  For this reason, the streets weren’t too crowded at all, which allowed for some fast paced riding!  We rode from Parque La Carolina, south to the Historic Center, and then all the way north past my beloved neighborhood of El Inca.  Overall, around 14 miles on the streets.  What a hype way to spend the morning!

I’m loving all of the unique ways I’m getting to explore this country- buses, boats, trains, bikes, hiking trails etc.  I truly believe that each form of transportation provides a new and eye-opening way to observe life here.

In an attempt to be fully honest about the complete study abroad experience, the low of my week was throwing up for the first time since my junior year of high school.  Honestly, throwing up is one of my worst fears and least favorite things ever.  However, the chances that I could live in a foreign country for 5 months and not throw up were extremely low, so I started preparing myself for the fact that this would probably happen when I got accepted into the program in November.  So yeah.  That happened, and while it was a low point, my fear is definitely a little smaller than it was a week ago.  Super thankful for the care and kindness of my host mom and sister.

Also a quick note on Spanish: my Spanish is improving for sure.  It feels really slow at times, but my comprehension has improved so much and sometimes it doesn’t even sound like I’m fake-rolling my R’s anymore!  However, there are always dumb mistakes to be made on the daily.  Today I was talking to my host aunt on the phone and said muy gracias instead of muchas gracias before I hung up.  When I realized my mistake, I didn’t know if I should laugh or be really disgusted with myself.  This is one of the most common phrases and something you learn within a week of starting Spanish classes.  Major Key: Laughter is always the answer.  You can beat yourself up for your mistakes, or you can laugh with yourself and then learn to do better.  If you are living in a new culture and cannot laugh at yourself for occasional mistakes, you have lost.  In my mind, laughter is essential for keeping a positive attitude and for staying encouraged and lighthearted.

Thankful for 11 weeks of laughter, adventure, and the occasional mess up.  Ama la vida.

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