The promised volcanos of Ecuador were elusive, lost in the clouds and mist along the route. Cayambe, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Chimborazo. Instead, the changing panoramas of villages and farmlands, forests and rivers moved sedately past our windows as Tren Ecuador took us on a leisurely journey from the mountains to the coast.
Encounters with artisans, musicians, crafts men and women and other producers were arranged at each of the many stops.
One of these, San Antonio de Ibarra, is internationally recognised for its wood carvers, great artists and sculptors who have given continuity to the XVth century-born Quito School of Art.
Many along the Tren Crucera route would rely on the patronage of travellers to supplement their incomes and revitalise the village economies.
The knowledgeable guides, Sixto and Adeline, gave so much interesting information about this land and the culture of its people. The itinerary had been designed to give a variety of opportunities to understand Ecuador’s history as well as the geography, geology and economy.
The service staff in the train’s cafeteria/bar, the suppliers of fresh fruit and snacks on board, the accompanying outriders on motor bikes, the security guards staff and stall holders at the stations, and of course, the crews of the steam and diesel locomotives, all had jobs dependant on the successful operation of this venture of Tren Ecuador.
Large international companies like Nevado Roses put out the welcome mat for Tren Crucero and provided guides for tours. Rose production makes a significant contribution to the economy of this region in Ecuador.
Haciendas and restaurants were obviously delighted to make Tren Crucero welcome for our overnight stays and lunchtime repasts.
Colourful market stalls were everywhere, proudly displaying colourful Andean handcrafted items in wood, ceramics, beads, wool and other textiles. Market day in Guamote was a special stop. This was a day for local people to trade and although our patronage was welcome, the focus was not on us, but on a busy, family day out.
There is one section of this train track which deserves a special mention – Devil’s Nose – an incredible feat of engineering. (This near-vertical wall of rock was an obstacle to overcome when the rail line was first built to link Guayaquil and Quito (1899-1908). A series of tight zig-zags were carved out of the rock which allowed the train to climb 800m at a gradient of 1-in-18 by going forwards then backwards up the tracks).
A special highlight for everyone on this trip followed a tour and information session at a cocoa plantation. Producers are very proud of this industry which provides the resource for another industry – chocolate! And then…. LUNCH! At the stunning Hacienda La Danesa.
But of course, nothing can surpass the excitement of a steam engine, with all the noise and fuss when it is shunted in to replace the diesel locomotive for the last part of the journey – from Yahuaci to Duran.
What a journey Tren Ecuador! Ama la vida!
Tren Ecuador can be very proud of its faithfully restored steam engines, rebuilt railway tracks, gracious carriages and immaculate stations. The Tren Crucero route opened our eyes to the country and its people.