Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ecuador Train Riding 2 ....

Riobamba, the third largest city in Ecuador and the gateway to Chimborazo, Ecuador's highest mountain (at 20,5000 ft) was our next stop. When looking through the tourist books all one finds is reference to the Nariz del Diablo train ride, not the one going up to Urbino, the highest point of the Ecuador train system, at 11,841 feet, which is the train that we are taking next. Urbina train station is the meeting points of trains coming both from the south and from the north, starting in Ambato. When we went in to buy our tickets, I tried to buy a ticket for both trains, connecting in Urbina. Seemed pretty straight forward to me, as I was buying full fare tickets for both. NOT! So instead, we ended up first taking the Sendero de los Ancestros one day and the next day taking the Tren del Hielo. Ambato will have to wait. The ticket agent also tried to sell us the 4 day tourist ride, which we had wanted to take. Unfortunately she couldn't get us a ticket until Dec 8th, just as I had found earlier online. Next time.

The train system in Ecuador is newly renovated and not all parts are up and running efficiently. The President is trying to resurrect the line from Guayaquil to Quito as it ran in the early part of the 20th century as a hot tourist commodity. The complete distance has been refurbished and now a purely touristy, upper end train runs the complete route in 4 days of travel. For independent travel at a more reasonable price, only parts of the route have been opened. These routes are all small 4 hour or less routes and very reasonably priced. They run through the most beautiful parts or most interesting pats of the train line although I would have to interject that each area, as elsewhere in the world, has it's own unique beauty. These short routes are very popular with locals for a weekend outing. Ticketing availability however, competes with the big tour companies out of Quito and Cuenca, and I am sure Quayaquil who will, at times, book the whole train.

The station was also a modern station, a block building with lots of glass. A few items in the courtyard were of interest however: Danny was intrigued with this.
 This was impressive and brilliant-color painted

El Tren Sendero de los Ancestros:
 Another refurbished train, along the lines of the Goose. Danny, being Danny found out all the stats of it but I do not remember them. As you can see, the front looks very much like a long haul truck, which indeed it is, somewhat.  even has a cow catcher


  As I scurried around taking photos of the train and Danny doing his thing, I was also the focus of some ...
so I reciprocated and we had a good laugh about it. A great ice breaker and way to pass the waiting time.

All aboard ...

This train ride took us back south, in fact we had seen it the day before in the southern station on our way into Riobamba. The terminus, at Cajabamba, while watching a presentation of local culture, allowed us to experience a New Age return to the basics of the ancient Kichwa culture and their beliefs as well as visiting the oldest church found in Ecuador. 
Lunch was served before we started our tour... My lunch versus Danny's lunch ... 

Local color and cultural presentation ... 

New Age retreat labeled a Kechwa University that is resurrecting the ancient ways and beliefs. There is a lot to be said to living in harmony with nature and knowing the ancient medicine. The trick is to find that equal balance between the old and the new. 
 sweat lodge and birthing center (as indicated on the relief)

Iglesia de Balbanera is the first stone church built in Ecuador by the Spanish in 1524. When contrasted with the normal Spanish built churches, this one has rough stone walls, simple adornments and a crude bell tower.  

a mix of the Spanish religious motifs and the ancient indigenous motifs adorn the outer walls.

The end of our touring found a wonderful example of "intercambio". Here a woman from German was wearing a great little travel sweater and the indigenous knitters were looking it over very closely. One of the women asked if she could have the sweater but the tourist refused. I see a future with this style of sweater hitting the local market, made out of alpaca  LOL.

Tren del Hielo:
The next day we found our way to an early morning departure on the the Tren del Hielo. From Riobamba we headed on a long haul uphill to Urbina, hoping that the overcast skies would clear to give us a view of the snow-capped Chimborazo Mountain. 
As with most high mountains, this one also was making it's own weather and the top half of the mountain was enshrouded in clouds. A bit of trivia, the top of this mountain is the closest point to the sun, even closer than Mt. Everest. This occurs because of the bulging of the earth at the equator.
(We got a 5 minute glimpse of the top, just enough to try for a photo)

The upward triptook us through mainly agriculture lands, with each separate region specific to the altitude. They produce a lot of the root vegetables in this area.  

I am sure that this is the only train route in the world that still uses human road crossing flagmen. These guys ride their motorbikes and follow the train, 
 stopping at each crossing and stopping the vehicular traffic allowing for the train to go through without stopping. 

Urbina, the highest point on the Ecuador rail system and the oldest train station as well, our terminus for this trip. 

Here we happened upon the owner o the home across the tracks. He used to have possession of the train station but Ecuador reclaimed it and renovated it. Now he has a tourist shop, home and orchid forest across the way. His home doubles as a training center, retreat and jump off point for climbers of Chimborazo.
Isn't this the cutest looking (dejected looking) burro you have ever seen? His coat is so soft and silky and I guess, very warm for him. 

What do you get when you cross an alpaca  (S. American's sheep - face of a sheep) 
with a llama (S. American's camel )

 doesn't his face look like a camel?
Why, you get a huarizo, with wonderful wool and a very gentle disposition... 

I always thought that orchids were a tropical-type plant, which also means a low altitude plant. Wrong, Shirley - they even grow above the tree line. These are the smallest orchids to be found according the our friend across the tracks in his garden. 

In the train station we were introduced to the last of a dying breed - the ice merchant. Baltazar Ushca, 68 years of age, climbs Mt. Chimborazo to harvest ice from the fast disappearing glacier, and has done so for the past 53 years. Here he is with a piece of this ice, along with his daughter ... 

His brother offers ice cream made from the ice 

and Danny loves to eat it ... LOL

Waiting for our train back, in comes the one that I also wanted to take. It is the last "Goose" that allowed people to ride on the top of the roof. (It is no longer permitted due to an unfortunate occurrence a few years ago)

And shopping was a must ... 

All good things must come to an end, and so does our last train ride in ecuador. We leave with a few more rides still to go, all for a next trip...