Riobamba: 10 de Agosto in the heart of Ecuador

It’s no secret that I have a great appreciation for the sierra (mountains) and in particular the cool weather throughout the year. After months of living in the heat of the coast and sweating every single day it was almost surreal to go back to the weather of the sierra that many other volunteers were lucky enough to be placed in.

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Sierra city of Guano, near Riobamba

El 10 de agosto celebrates the first struggle for independence that erupted in 1809 as a protest against the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. In Ecuador this day is marked by celebrations though it is primarily celebrated in the sierra due to being more associated with Quito than the coast. In effect there is no one single independence day for the whole country; every province seemingly celebrates their own independence rather than a unified one. On the long weekend of the 10th of August celebrations I decided to visit Riobamba due in part to its role as the place where the first constitution of Ecuador was signed.

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Colegio Maldonado, site of signing of the first Ecuadorian constitution

As the bus climbed ever higher up the Andes corridor on the way from Guayaquil to Riobamba, the landscape changed little by little and soon the rolling greenery of hills, mountains and cliffs became ever more pronounced. By the time the bus reached the capital of Chimborazo province the chilly wind that is characteristic of the mountains of Ecuador could be felt. In the distance, the silhouette of the Chimborazo volcano towered over the city.

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Cathedral of Riobamba

 

Riobamba is known as the heart of Ecuador because of its geographic position in the center of the country. It is primarily known for being the starting point of the famous Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) Train which is also lovingly called “the most difficult train in the world” due to the sharp drops and breathtaking landscapes visible as the train hugs cliffs and passes by valleys. Once part of an extensive railway network built under President Eloy Alfaro in the early 20th century, the rail lines went several decades of neglect until being revitalized by President Rafael Correa in 2008 but to a much more limited extent.

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Riobamba Station and the starting point of the Devil’s Nose train

While it is not the biggest or most touristic city, it nevertheless has a lot of charm and cultural traditions among them being the many festivals hosted throughout the year. Despite not being the city’s independence day, 10 de agosto is still celebrated in the form of dances, food and music that culminates in a parade where members of both the indigenous community and mestizos come together to promote the diversity of the city. The vibrancy of the traditional clothing worn by dancers in the parade combined with the rhythmic flutes of Andean music to provide a fantastic cultural experience.

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Traditional clothing and dancing on 10 de agosto street

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