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We asked yesterday at the hotel for information about buses to Riobamba and were told they are mainly night buses but that one company also has buses early in the morning. We both thought that was odd as Riobamba is on the main PanAm towards Quito. We decided to have a slow start and to spend and extra day in Cuenca planning the rest of our stay in Ecuador. The hotel confirmed the room was still available but Stef asked again anyway about buses. The very friendly and helpful lady at reception told us that buses run regularly through the day and she phoned to check times for us. There was one in an hour so we checked out and headed north.

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Behold, the Express Sucre (psst, Stef, the other way...!)

We encountered a new "tax" at Cuenca bus station. You had to pay 10 cents to get through the turnstile from the bus depot to the bus! This trip was with Sucre Express and even Stef had enough legroom (although by the end of the trip he now has a very stiff back). We headed out of Cuenca and on to Azogues, the first and only terminal stop before Riobamba. Our bus and one from another company were racing each other out of the terminal - do not really know why but the other bus won. We followed it up the hill and a few minutes later our driver slammed on the brakes. The bus in front had slowed down to turn into a petrol station and we had almost hit it. We could not see whether it had indicated or not.

The few minutes were quite amusing. Our driver and conductor both got off the bus, leaving the engine running (they like to do this when they fill up with petrol too!) and went over to the other bus. Their conductor was out and there was a heated exchange. Then their driver appeared. Next thing we knew the two drivers were both shouting and taunting each other and, despite the efforts of the petrol station staff and passengers from the other bus, they were soon throwing punches and rolling around on the floor fighting. Our first sight of road rage, which is good for two months of traveling. The downside? Do you really want a fired up, testosterone charged man driving you up winding roads through mountains and valleys for a few hours!

What was meant to be a five hour journey actually turned out to be six. We drove through spectacular scenery, long winding valleys edged by high mountains. Initially the scenery was very reminiscent of mountain countryside in Europe. As we climbed it changed to pampas with hardy grasses and palms. We were spared the usual film fare but the alternatives were pretty trashy. The second one was about a big dog that turned violent and mauled people to death - still pretty horrific. The secondary entertainment (!) was two small children next to us. For most of the journey they were either fighting, whinging or screeching at each other and their mother, who did nothing to keep them quiet. I reckon people with small children must be used to blocking out the noise!

The usual collection of people got on and off the bus. The typical dress of the women changes with the villages but the style is the same in most - knee length pleated skirts (like the ones girls wear to school), knee length socks in a matching colour, blouse, jumper or shawl pinned together with a huge pin (like a big hat pin). Their shawls are multi purpose and are used for carrying shopping or children on their backs as well as for keeping warm. They are adept at sitting on a bus, child strapped to their back without squashing the child.

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Driving through central Ecuador

The stretch from here up to Quito has half the country's population. As yet, the towns and villages here are a long way off merging into a huge urban sprawl but the population density is visibly higher than further south. Its prime agricultural land and fields stretch up the sides of high altitude mountains. Colourful spots in the fields turn out to be women and children planting and reaping their crops. Its all manual labour, not a machine in sight. These are sturdy, robust people.

For the last two hours of the journey we were both bored and twitchy. We finally got to Riobamba a but before 5pm. We had called our preferred hotel, Monte Carlo, this morning. Despite them saying they were fully booked we headed there anyway just in case. They do have a room, but its through the hotel and at the back of a small garden where they dry the laundry. It will certainly do for tonight and they have said we change change room tomorrow. The hotel is a converted old colonial house with a central courtyard. Again, very friendly staff who gave us information about getting up to Volcán Chimborazo tomorrow. It will be just us and a guide and we will take in a local village market too.

We need to think about what else we want to do in Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands looks like its probably not going to happen. We may look again in Quito, if not it will get added in to our next South America trip at some stage in the future.