Riobamba Ramblings

October 22, 2016

We got stuck in Riobamba, and didn’t do much of anything. The truth is there is only one tale to tell. The story of a little girl who loves dogs and the dog that bit her.

We originally stopped in Riobamba to break up a very long bus journey from Incapirca to Banos.  We were also hoping that we might be able to organize a visit to the base of the tallest volcano in Ecuador – Chimborazo (6310 m). Lonely Planet states that this mountain top “is both the furthest point from the center of the earth and the closest terrestrial point to the stars”. However, besides the atrociously cold and cloudy weather, which concealed views of the peak and made us doubt the practicality of our wardrobe, a mini-tragedy struck and conspired against us.

We were staying in a quirky hostel of rock walls and outdoor kitchens, run by a friendly family with minimal english. They had a cute little fuzzy puppy attended by their equally cute and pudgy-faced three-year old granddaughter, who the kids befriended.  Dan and I were able to catch up on blogging, Internet news, and travel planning, while the children entertained themselves with games of hide and seek. Suddenly, Gabriel was running back to the room screaming that Stella had been hurt. She was trailing behind him in tears, with her hands over her face.

“The dog bit her on the nose!” said Gabriel.

I hadn’t even see her face yet, and my heart was pounding. I was scared to death of what I was going to discover under Stella’s hands. She was scared to show me her nose, perhaps panicked herself about how bad it could be. When I finally convinced her to lower her hands and I saw blood, I felt myself struggling not to freak out (which I failed at!). Thankfully, everything initially appeared intact, and the tip of her nose was untouched. However, the dog had done some damage. His bite had nipped through her nostril, partially slicing the middle part of her nose, between the tip and the flesh above her lip – a jagged tear.

It looked like a job for stitches. We ran to the front desk, where the owners had already been alerted of the bite. I was thinking about rabies and starting to get nervous. We had opted against the rabies vaccination for our trip, which would have cost approximately $500 a person. Instead, we decided that if any of us were bitten by a stray dog, monkey, etc., that we would be quick to get to a hospital, and then pay for the preventative rabies series. We also had several conversations with Stella and Gabriel about how they must steer clear of roadside animals.

In broken Spanish Dan and I asked about the puppy’s health. They immediately pulled out his veterinarian documents, which showed all the up-to-date inoculations the dog had, and it was confirmed that he was kept only in the house. This really was the case of an animal who thought he was being playful, and bit too hard in his youthful exuberance. Stella was not mad at the dog at all, defending the pup by saying that they were just playing. She had bent down to its level, putting her face in the dog’s face, and the bite had happened in an instant. Still concerned, I took a photo of the dogs records to show to the doctor and get a second opinion.

The owner drove us to the nearest modern clinic, and we were ushered into an emergency room without any wait. The doctor confirmed that the puppy had all necessary shots and that he was not concerned about rabies. The biggest concern was infection. For that reason, they would not be able to give stitches for several days, and even that might not be necessary. Instead, we had to come to the clinic every morning for three days, in order to have Stella’s nose tear meticulously washed and treated with antiseptics. Then they used a flesh-colored band-aid strip to seal the wound – (Stella would like it pointed out that she could hardly move her lip to eat, and she only ate mushy, coconut muffins). Of course, these cleaning sessions were no fun for Stella, but she was very brave, unlike Dan who would turn so green that he had to leave the room! All of our visits, pain medications, and doctor supplies amounted to less than $40 (which we still can’t seem to get reimbursement for from our $1600 travel insurance).

What this meant, is that we spent a helluva lot more time in Riobamba than we ever would have. It is not the most exciting city from the standpoint of a tourist, and involved a lot of aimless wandering in chilly weather. Riobamba has a strong indigenous presence, and seems very much a ‘working’ city. Besides admiring the string of parks, plazas and cathedrals along calle Veloz, we passed our days in anticipation of the next meal, and allowed ourselves to be bored.

The only effort we made, was an afternoon spent 8 km outside of Riobamba, in a small town called Guano. This place is supposedly a popular destination for families on the weekend, who come to eat treats and shop the crafts markets with their popular leather goods, and to ascend the touristy mirador, with its stellar views of the surrounding peaks. We weren’t there on a weekend, so much of the delight was lost on us, but it was another way to kill a day.

At our last doctor’s appointment, he confirmed that stitches were unnecessary (to Stella’s great relief), and we took no time getting to the bus station for our speedy exit.

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