Purple Travel

[February 4 2015]

A trip to Riobamba, Ecuador

We left for Riobamba early in the morning, just as the heat was beginning to rise from the earth in the city of Guayaquil where our journey began. The road to Riobamba is fickle. It turns every which way, from one side, then to the other, as if trying to keep itself straight like an old man sleeping in a chair. The roads are narrow and the fellow drivers unforgiving, eager to get to their destination, with a truck full of bananas, people or cattle. I found myself focused on the edges of the road; the guardrails hypnotized me, moving closer and father, then disappearing only to reappear a few seconds later.

When, 5 hours late, we finally emerged from the steep, verdant shoulders of those hills, Riobamba was upon us. And so was the familiar hustle of yet another city. Riobamba is one of those places whose transformation from past to present remains stalled, sputtering and quivering as it tries to reconcile the two. Next to a woman dressed in traditional Andes clothing (stiff, masculine hat perched on a deeply tanned face, brightly colored wool shawl draped over the shoulders to create a kind of a shape), there would be a young teenager wearing tight, acid washed jeans and brightly colored sneakers. The stark difference between the richness of the traditionally dressed people, and those who dress like most of the modern world – in new, mass produced, generic clothing – was hard to accept and I found myself drawn to those who dressed traditionally.

The markets of Riobamba are small and scattered. Stall after stall fills an empty parking lot where children can be found running through the isles, making up games to pass the time as their parents work. The colors of the textiles are extraordinary, not for the multiplicity, but for the richness and over saturation of the tones. Stacked high like towers of color, textiles are one of the main pillars of their mini economy.

We also visited a food market. Being tall and pale, we both stood out in Riobamaba, especially in this market. Vicente is Ecuadorian – and to visit his home country was the main purpose of this tip to Ecuador – but he does not carry many of his country’s physical traits and was regarding with as much curiosity as I. Children take the most interest in foreigners, staring wide-eyed and with a gentle curiosity that only youth can genuinely posses. They would smile after a moment of staring, and then return their gaze to more familiar surroundings, only to steal another look once we passed.

We spent four days in Riobamba, walking the streets and climbing Chimborazo. I will remember the city with great fondness – it is truly a civilization in the clouds and anyone who dares to travel the roads that lead to it must be driven by something inexplicable.

Text and photo Audrey Rose Smith and Vicente Munoz

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