It's been nice staying at the Posada del Maple because we actually look forward to our decent breakfast. I was having problems with my debit card and an email from my bank said that it had been shut off but my other one had too so they re-enabled them both. Problem was my personal card still wasn't working so I needed to call Enfact to get them to enable it. Armed with the number I headed out to find a place I could call. A few blocks from the hostel I found an Internet cafe and phone center. Calling home is always a problem from other countries. Contrary to popular belief a 1-800 number is not free in other countries so my bank gave me a collect number to call. Unfortunately I couldn't call a collect number from Ecuador either so I used Skype. I don't know how many times Skype bailed me out but it did it again. I just called the so called collect number via Internet phone and got an operator. They apologized for the inconvenience and asked me about a few transactions made in Peru. Seems they couldn't get a hold of me at home for some reason. Maybe it was because I was in Peru spending my hard earned money! They supposedly turned the cards back on and off I went to an ATM to get money. Of course I still couldn't use my personal card but I did take money out of my business account. Most of the expensive part of the trip was over so I wasn't too worried but I wouldn't mind having a little backup cash and it made me nervous to be relying on one card. I did have $1000 in a seperate account that can be sent to me via Western Union as a backup but still I brought two cards for a reason.
We checked out and grabbed a taxi to the Autobus terminal where the driver dropped us off an the traffic circle instead of at the main station. He motioned that we could just get on a bus and get out of town faster. I can't argue in Spanish so we paid our $2 cab fare and got out. Immediately we were approached by a man asking if we were going to Banos and we responded with Riobamba and he motioned us to a tomato colored bus. They put our bags on and we boarded without a ticket. I've seen people do this so I figured they'd come around eventually and want money which they did.
In the meantime the bus stopped at a miniscule stop and a few people got off. A second after the bus started again a tall white Argentinean started yelling in Spanish. The only thing we could make out was the word luggage. The bus stopped again and people ran outside. Everyone on the bus was in a chaos and jabbering about a million miles an hour in Spanish. The Argentinean was pacing up and down the aisle yelling at the ticket taker. The bus started again and the chaos continued for the next 20 minutes. We then stopped at what looked like a station and a bunch of people got off the bus. The chaos continued and words were exchanged and the Argentinean reboarded the bus with more words exchanged. The whole time were we didn't really have any idea what was happening but what I think happened at that first stop was someone nabbed his luggage and he noticed out the window and yelled for the bus to stop which it did but it was too late and the person was gone. I've heard that this happens a lot here. It's pretty easy for a thief to pick out the rich persons bag when most people either don't have bags or they're cardboard boxes. The Argentineans remind me of Italians because they like flash and to show off their wealth. Probably not the right attitude to have in one of South America's poorest countries. They also like to think their better than the Mestizo population since they tout themselves as being European and not watered down by indigenous blood. Another attitude that I don't think goes very far here.
This path down the Pan American highway is called the Avenue of the Volcanoes and when planning this trip I was torn between taking the road over the Andes into the Amazon basin or the Avenue of the Volcanoes to go south. Since we'd already taken the pass over the Amazon to Tena we didn't have to worry about it anymore. Well, in comparison the Avenue of the Volcanoes is quite bland and boring. We saw one volcano covered in clouds the whole trip and the scenery while nice couldn't hold a candle to the Amazon. Of course the road itself was nicer though. We arrived in Riobamba an hour ahead of what the guidebook said we would which was ok by me.
This was New Year's eve so we didn't know if we could get a hotel but the first place we stopped had rooms. The Let's Go guide didn't have any thumbs up recommendations for any hotels or hostels in Riobamba so we just went for one that looked like it was in a convenient location near the train station. The Riobamba Inn looked like a bit of a classy place and we paid the same as a hostel so it was ok. The room had one double bed and three singles so we had extras which was good because half the beds were really bad. One had a huge bulge in the middle which made it unusable and the bed I chose was rock hard. Note that I didn't say it was firm it really was rock hard. I had to peel the sheets back to make sure there was a mattress there as it was as hard as the floor. That's fine by me because I sleep on the floor
As usual we were hungry so we ventured out to find food. Since it was New Year's Eve everything was closed outside of some really shady looking chicken joints. We went to each one and looked at the menu and they all said the same thing – chicken, potatoes and soda. One had shrimp and rice too so we ate there and had chicken and rice. It would be really nice if they took out the parts of the chicken that you don't want to eat before they cooked it but I guess the price would go up another dime to cover the labor involved. Most of the chicken joints smell like week old frying grease that's far past it's prime. This one by American standards was not sanitary but by Ecuadorian standards was so clean the muck shined. So we settled for the best of the worst and ate chicken. We were just glad we got to eat and prayed that it wouldn't make us sick. We returned to our hotel and wrote in our journals. At about 10 pm a flood of people started heading for the main squares and we thought about following but we were tired and sometimes it's best not to get involved with other cultures holidays so we hit the hay. None of us heard the fireworks because we were so tired.