October 10-11, 2007
I took a bus north from Cuenca to Riobamba with the specific intention of buying a ticket for the train to the Nariz del Diablo ("Devil's Nose"), but unfortunately found out that there wouldn't be a train for another day. I say "unfortunately" because it took about half an hour before I had had enough of sightseeing in the town. I got a bit bored and went to nearby Ambato, which was supposed to be the "flowered city," but I saw not one piece of nature as I walked through its streets and discovered that the ironically-nicknamed city made even Riobamba look nice. The only thing these cities had going for them were that they afforded beautiful views of Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador at 6310 meters.
My other option while waiting for the train would have been to go to Chimborazo. It seemed like every time I talked to a local person, he told me he had a friend with a taxi who could take me there. When I asked for more info, I was told that they'd drive me to the second refuge at over 5000 meters and... that's it. I'm sure you'd get a great view of the area from that level, but driving to a mountain didn't seem too appealing after already having climbed a few of them. None of the locals understood this logic, and the offers kept rolling in.
The other thing that I realized in Riobamba was that Ecuador was the worst country in all of South America for receiving change. They use the US dollar here as their official currency, and whenever I take out money from an ATM, it spits out nothing but 20's. When I try to use one of those notes, I get a look that suggests that it might as well be a million dollars. My first trip after an ATM is always inside the bank to change my useless money for smaller bills, but last time the bank didn't even have anything small to give me. But that doesn't really matter because even when I have 5's and 10's, it can be hard to get change. It's a constant battle to get rid of big bills here.
I guess I can understand why someone wouldn't have change for a twenty dollar bill when I buy something for five. The real problem is when I only need to get a small amount of change back and the vendor doesn't have it. I rode a bus once costing $0.40 and paid with a fifty cent piece (which are actually common here), but the guy didn't even have a dime to give me in return. This morning I got a cup of coffee for $0.80 and tried paying with a fiver, but the lady just about had a heart attack. Some guy took my money and ran off with it. He returned a few minutes later with five $1 coins (another common denomination here) and used his good deed to offer me a ride in his friend's taxi to Chimborazo. No, gracias.