Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day 12: My 1st train ride

We left Baños Ecuador this morning under cloudy skies and with the air feeling quite chilly. After about half an hour, Jordan realized he must have missed a turn and was re-directed back to almost Baños. He found the turnoff (not marked by any sign) and we proceeded onto a rocky, hard-packed dirt road. It was more of a shortcut road to the next main town, off the beaten track.

This road is used as an evacuation route for when the active Volcano Tungurahua erupts. It sure didn't seem to be a very good road for quick evacuation. It was very winding (with a posted 50-km speed limit which means nothing) and in some areas was loose powdery dirt that I think would become a mud trap in rainy weather. The entire area was coated in gray volcanic ash, but yet families were living here.

After climbing in elevation, we were once again on paved roads and came to a town called Penipe. We rode through this small village and were surprised to see how derelict it appeared to be.

Jordan checking the map in Penipe

Funny though how people with obviously nothing still seem to be contented with their life and people with everything usually seem to want more or better. Hmmm...

After Penipe, we came to the large city of Riobamba where we had a hard time finding an open restaurant on a Sunday. A large city that didn't impress us too much but we were only passing through.

We climbed in elevation to a high plateau, around 3,500 metres, where it was real cold then descended to Alausí by 14:45. Our first plans here were to take a 3 hour train ride that we heard was through some treacherous terrain. Well the train was leaving at 15:00, so they were quickly ushering us on after a hasty locking up of Ruby.

The track was part of an extensive Ecuadorian railway that over the years fell into disrepair and abandonment. The Government has on embarked on a complete reconstruction and repair of it and this section was finished its rehab only a short time ago. This was the most treacherous section originally built about 100 years ago. The track at times clung to the shear vertical faces of the canyon, snaking and zig zagging down to the bottom. So constricted for space at places, the track's construction couldn't even follow a tight radius turn - so the answer was to stop, change travel to the opposite direction.

Once at the bottom, we looked up to see the multi-tiered tracks that we just travelled, over the original built-up rock rampart that filled the ominous gaps of the mountain. The ridge on the face of the mountain here was called the Devil's nose (Nariz del Diablo) which the conductor pointed out the natural image. Its name fitted the history as it is said that the devil allowed the railway to be built here but 2,000 of the 6,000 workers' lives would be taken. The railway contractor garnered the labour force largely from an agreement with Jamaica to take amenable convicts out of their prisons, and in exchange for their working till the completion (about 6 years), they would be given freedom. Of course many paid the ultimate price without the final reward.

Tracks above & below the train station, cafe, & dance stage

After we were provided a light lunch at the newly rebuilt station and a dance show by the local indigenous people, we made the return trip arriving just before sunset. We checked into a comfy hotel and finished the intrepid day with pizza take-out.

Total motorcycle kilometres today were 182.

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