What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

For me this is one of the most powerful sentences I have ever read. (In “Who moved my cheese” – see Helpful practical stuff) In my case it’s a simple question to ask myself when I’m trying to decide whether to do something different, or even just get out of bed to start the day! And for me it’s more about small fear than big fear. For me ‘something different’ really doesn’t involve adrenaline-fuelled stuff. (‘You HAVE to go bungee-jumping!’; ‘Let’s go rafting! Whoo-hoo!’)

No.

I CHOOSE to not do those things, not because I’m afraid but because I don’t feel the need to do that, I can’t see how it will add anything to my life. For some people, they want to do it and it will add something to their life so I say they should ask themselves the question and do it!

But for me it’s all about questioning what invisible rules are holding me back in new situations. I’ve spent the last few days in some relatively remote towns in the Sierra, where sometimes I was literally the only tourist. I had planned to go to Baños: Adventure Capital of Ecuador slash Beautiful Setting for a Town. But something was telling me I wanted to do something different. I fancied a few days’ peace and quiet, and to challenge myself in a different way. In the end, I wasn’t afraid at all despite a few challenges!

Patate
Bus with no tourists from Latacunga bus terminal to Ambato terminal, quick lunch, taxi to the other terminal, wait for 10 mins not realising that I ideally needed to be in the queue but all worked out fine. Patate is a cute little town on the road to Baños, with some friendly people, no other foreign tourists and, on a rare clear day, views of Tungurahua and Chimborazo. I didn’t have the luck to see those but spent some relaxing hours in a clean and pretty place newly-added to Lonely Planet: Hosteria Casta. They were so accommodating! Gave me clear bus instructions for in Ambato on the way there from Latacunga; picked me up from the bus stop in town; arranged to cook a delicious fish supper for me even though really the restaurant is closed in the evenings; quickly checked on me and gave me candles when the electricity cut out (they have a backup generator when needed). And drove me back at the right bus stop to get back to Ambato after breakfast.

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No sight of Tungurahua but spot the avocados

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The only gringa in Guaranda
I decided not to stay in Ambato (big city) but to continue on to Guaranda, which I wanted to use as a base for getting to Salinas. Also the drive there takes you right past the peak of Chimborazo, further from the centre of the earth than Everest (and everywhere else!) owing to its proximity to the equator and the highest volcano/mountain in Ecuador. Had a very different feel to it than when I was at Everest!

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After a couple of hours of the usual winding roads and no civilisation, I saw a sign saying ‘welcome to Guaranda’… and then the bus turned left away from the built-up area and back out into countryside for half an hour. Just told myself that wherever I ended up was where I would sleep that night. Had to sit tight and hope I hadn’t missed the stop but that we were instead going a long-winded way to the bus terminal…phew!

Me: “Hostal de las Flores, Pichincha, cerca de Parque Simon Bolívar por favor”
Taxi driver: “Hostal de las Flores?”
Me: “Si gracias, conoces?” [Do you know it?]
Driver: “Si!”
Three minutes later, pull up outside Casa de las Rosadas.
Driver: “Aqui” [Here]
Me: “Donde…?” [Where…?]
You get the picture. I get him to drive me to the correct location, flowers not roses, and get out…only to find the hostel has been closed down! Walk with all my bags up to a different hostel I’d seen, but check in the lonely planet for their other recommendation and walk back there instead…one street away from the first place! But pleasant enough so worth it in the end!
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Salinas de Guaranda
I took a cheerful pick-up-taxi ride here before breakfast with 5 women, 3 men, 4 children, a puppy and various manual-work tools and containers: they were all on their way to work in the fields. So-named because there’s another Salinas by the coast. This one looked like this as recently as 1980:

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In the ’70s an Italian missionary found the town and helped them set up a credit co-operative, establishing various enterprises and now community-based tourism. Turns out I arrived on (maybe) the wrong day; on Tuesdays and weekends there’s a market and therefore more vistors, but today it was just me! It cost me $10 to have a solitary guided tour of the little businesses (not the $3 L.P. says) from Cesar, 19, who has 9 brothers and sisters and loves being a part of the community of Salinas. This is the last remaining mud hut I think.

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Natural medicines

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One of around 20 queseras (cheese)

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CHOCOLATE! They make over 60 varieties! Did I try some, you ask…? 🙂

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Salt-water springs, whence the name!

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At 3,550m that path was difficult to get up, not just for me but for my guide too – made me feel better about acclimatising to the altitude!

Wool factory – spinning and dyeing. This made me feel a bit sad because of how old-fashioned it looks!

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Textiles – using the wool from up the road, it can take a week to make one jumper.
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Nariz del Diablo – the Devil’s Nose
After a brief overnight stop in Riobamba, Alausi was my next destination for an expensive busy little train ride – very touristy but all friendly Ecuadorians, plus two Dutch couples.

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To get to where they wanted the track to go, they devised a way to get around the Nariz del Diablo by having the track zig-zag back and forth, pull and push, in order to get down to the valley floor. An English company initiated the work in 1901.
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To me the most interesting bit was the traditional dancers in Sibambe, the stop at the bottom of the hill. They didn’t seem enthused, and even seemed a bit embarrassed given that most of the tourists were Ecuadorian and therefore knew this was a contrived show for the tourist dollar! Some people went up and danced with them eventually and everyone seemed to enjoy it, enough to get their wallets out afterwards, but what price a smile?!
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Posted in Alausí, Ambato, Ecuador, Nariz del Diablo, Patate, Riobamba, Salinas de Guaranda

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