There’s a little town in Ecuador who’s sole tourism purpose is a high-risk train named La Nariz Del Diablo, or The Devils Nose.
The train runs passengers namely to and from Quito, or as a tourist, you can hop on and risk your life a bit as this thing cuts mind-bending switchbacks up and down the mountainside.
It didn’t interest me enough to spend the $33USD as a side trip on the way by, instead I opted for a night of camping just outside of town overlooking the city, where one could supposedly see this thing in action. Well if one had to say researched its times of arrival or departure, they might see it.
After a glamour’s night camping under cell phone towers on a hillside, I opted to roll into town after breakfast to buy some bread and snacks for the days travel. Patronizing the same bakery two days in a row didn’t get me any more special attention than the first time. The same miserable woman who looked like she hated all things tourist reluctantly sold me some pastries. I very dramatically and over-enthusiastically thanked her in the hopes of garnering a smile. Instead, I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m crazy.
All would change just a block away, as I was slowly cruising the main street on the bike looking for an open wifi signal, not so different from a heroin addict searching for their next fix. Some nice person at the local hardware store had never locked their wifi and boom, FaceBook status updating gold!
My head down lost in thumb scrolling, a shorter man in looking as though he was in his late 50’s with a bigger belly an even bigger smile came in close enough that I can feel him in my space. He asks loud enough to get my attention, in Spanish, where I am from and that he likes my bike. I answer and he follows up with more questions in English. With the English, he’s now got me and I put down my FaceBook fix for some pleasant chit-chat.
Maybe he could smell my three-day worn camping clothes, maybe he understood the traveler, I’ll never know. However, two minutes later and he asks if I want to come to his house for a coffee and to use his shower. What? Coffee, conversation and a shower. Is this guy the country’s ambassador? Never in my life have I been offered those two things in one breath.
I’m now learning to just say yes to overwhelmingly friendly offers as I travel, for they are rarely offered more than once. I slowly follow my new friend Vincent to his house just up the road, where he opens a large steel door to what used to be a restaurant and is now becomes private garage parking for my motorcycle. Good to his word, he puts on some coffee and pulls out a variety of snacks, including some freshly baked cookies from a popular American grocery franchise dated only a week ago. Turns out Vincent lives part-time in the USA as does some of his children and he has a little stockpile of American goods including cookies from recent travels.
From here the hospitality ramped up so fast I could barely keep up; he had sent some photos of him and me to all of his children and their spouses in America via WhatsApp. I think the first reply was “Dad, who is that gringo and why is he in our house?” From here he called a daughter at work and had her explain to me all about the area and why they lived in the USA. Next, he rang a son-in-law to chat me up as he knew several languages and enjoyed traveling too. Then he showed me the shower, I cleaned up and before I knew what was going on I had this guy on the back of my bike without a helmet cruising out into the countryside to see his farmhouse. A beautiful place with natural hot springs, where I’d meet his brother and have lunch with the wife and some family. Seriously, this was now only about two hours since I’d been searching for open wifi and eating pastries.
For about the last three months of driving I’d been having issues with my rear brake, it went from working shitty to working more shitty and one time on a steep mountain road in Colombia it just stopped working all together only to go back to working shitty again the next day. Well, holy hell if up and down the curvy country roads, two up with a little old man and no helmet on, the brake didn’t fail again. I was sweating and spent the remaining miles overcompensating with the front and gearing down as much as possible to keep up with going over the edge of the cliff. I didn’t want to give this man the heart attack I was feeling so I never said a word about it and I’m sure he just thought I was a piss poor driver. En-route I made a mental note to check it before we later departed the farm.
At the farmhouse, I first met his brother, a shorter skinny guy who looked like he was likely pretty fit back in his day. I placed him in his early fifties, turned out he was closer to his seventies. While we all chatted in the living room I suddenly heard a quiet little request from a back room asking for help. Both the boys sprung up and took me back to greet their mother. Grandma Nati sat straight up, however, she was unable to see and pretty hard of hearing, despite this she was quite chatty. She’d ask about me and the boys and all kinds of questions, we’d yell back the answers and she would occasionally nod off then wake back up and keep chatting. Turns out she was 97! I asked the boys how she looked so good, they said a lifetime of fresh mountain air was the secret. Wasn’t the lifetime of whiskey cigarettes answer I was hoping for.
Vincent’s brother Victor had lived in the USA for a good part of his life and spoke English bang on, an interesting guy with lots to chat about and helped bridge some of the lost communication from Vincent and I. Victor had this stack of various religious books on the couch next to me, turns out he’s a bit of a religion buff and gave me a quick lesson on some of the similarities and some of the differences on what each was preaching. Then with two hands and a bit of back muscles he pulled out this massive, and by massive I mean Looney Tunes sized, biggest book I’d ever seen on Indian religion, Hindu maybe? I forgot as I was too busy laughing my ass off due to the enormity of the book in my lap. Vincent said he liked the book so much it was a main part of his luggage upon returning to Ecuador.
Before parting ways Victor had put an eagles feather in a little space between my windscreen and the bracket that holds it on the bike. He said it was for luck and we parted ways. Then Vincent and I headed up the road on the same property to his farm for lunch with his wife and some other family. They were all very nice, however the one guy I’m not sure if he hadn’t see a white dude on a bike big before, however he could not stop staring at me like a goldfish. He needed to be reminded to shake my hand when we met, I even asked him some questions and Vincent reminded him to respond, haha. Half way through lunch he seemed to settle a bit and finally asked me a few things. Made for an interesting lunch.
Mother, brother, family, hot spring then waterfall tour, it seemed I’d seen it all and we headed back to town. About ten minutes into our forty-five minute return through the twisty mountain roads it dawned on me I’d never checked the brake issue. I glanced down at the feather and hoped it was holding the good luck we needed. Five minutes later I checked again and noticed it had blown off the windscreen forever lost on the road someplace. Damnit, I had placed a lot of faith in that lucky feather.
Give or take thirty minutes later we were close to town and Vincent suggested we take a different route so he could show me a missive religious stature that overlooked the city. Seemed we had gotten lucky indeed, as there were no brake dramas or any other issues on our route back. As for the statue, If I knew as much about religion as his brother I could probably tell you who that statue was of. We arrived, took some photos and headed back to his house where he’d now invited me to spend the night.
Before mounting the bike I glanced down to see the foot peg as I often mounted from the right to offset some of the bikes weight. Well, I almost fell backwards and tripped over my chin that was hanging from my jaw. I shit you not, the lucky feather that had been placed in the bracket of the windscreen had, while driving down the twisty gravel road, managed to blow out of the windscreen bracket, in-between my leg and the bike, then stuck itself perfectly into the brake pedal !
An implausible task of incredible precision that I found quite frankly shocking . Be it the religious books I had explained to me over lunch, the good luck wished as we parted ways or just the way the wind blew that day. I can honestly say that all the hairs on my body stood up in unison. No amount of mismatched English or Spanish would have explained this event to Vincent, so I kept it to myself as we mounted the bike.
Back at the house, we shared some cookies, conversation and a laugh. He made room for me in a spare bedroom and we would part ways in the morning after a coffee and baked goods.
A guy and an event I will not soon forget. As for the feather, it’s whereabouts was nowhere to be found the next morning in the locked garage . Perhaps someone on the train bound for the Devils Nose needed it more than I did that day.