Riding the Ecuadorean Railway while sitting atop the passenger cars is an oft-told travel adventure – alas not any longer. Apparently, a severe accident occurred, so riding on top of the cars is no longer allowed. However, we decided to take the train anyway, even if we had to sit inside (well, we probably aren’t good candidates for sitting on the top of a train car anyway). We went with friends Gil and Deborah to see the fabled Devil’s Nose where the rails make a major ascent into the Andes from the lowlands of Guayaquil along a canyon wall. So off we went on the Pan-American highway to the north of Cuenca to the town of Alausi where this tourist train departs to the bottom of the mountain and then returns.
The mountain side does not allow room for the train to make a “U-turn,” so the construction engineers built two switch-backs where the train reverses direction by going into a “dead end” and then “backing out” and continuing in the desired direction by having the train going “backwards.” The route along the mountain side is a cliff looking downwards and a cliff looking upwards (both directions are scary!). Clearly, the initial effort to make this route was monumental, and the guide told about the enormous loss of life (mostly Jamaican laborers) in doing so – 4000 workers apparently.
The railroad eventually reached Quito in 1908. El Niño in 1997 and 1998 extensively damaged the Ecuadorean railroad network along with overall neglect, so the network is only utilized in pieces such as the tourist ride out of Alausi, which happily has just been refurbished. A long-range effort is in place to refurbish the entire network. Obviously, the railroad does not have the economic impact that it once did for Ecuador as good roads and airports are now the conduits for people and freight; however, the trip highlighted the audacious effort needed to make life better.
We enjoyed the trip to Alausi (scenic Andean views), enjoyed Alausi (we toured the market and plaza – Harold almost bought a hat, but his head is too big), and enjoyed the train ride (amazing what people can and will do).
|The edge of the road is a good avenue for livestock|
|Even the hogs are well behaved on the road|
|A view driving into Alausi|
|The fields are everywhere and at extreme slopes|
|Statue of Saint Peter (Alausi was founded on Saint Peter's holy day and the name of Alausi was first officially "San Pedro de Alausi")|
|Our railroad car - note the facilities on top of the car. The view from on top would have been exhilarating.|
|The diesel engine that could.|
|A view down into the river at the bottom of the canyon|
|The wall of the canyon|
|Our destination at Sibambe with the new train station|
|Dancers who entertained us - nonstop!|
|Space is a premium at the bottom of the canyon - and so there were a few steps to the interpretive center and snack bar.|
|We all made it back safely.|