QUITO, Ecuador, Aug. 14, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Posicionarte, a travel media agency, was invited to discover the brand new Ecuador's cruise train trip 4 days 3 nights from the Andes to Coast, it's travel editor Andrew Taylor takes great pride in the country that he lives in, and its accomplishments in the face of adversity.
In our "western" worlds, of social mobility (gone pear-shaped), growth economies (taken a dive) and everyday comforts (becoming unaffordable) we still remain within a structure of abundance, despite its decline.
In Ecuador, most people survive on (or below) the minimum wage and it has much to teach us about the relativity of wealth. Conquered by the Spanish, and previously by the Incan´s, Ecuadorian's largely haven´t had much opportunity to capitalise. Rural communities across the Andes survive at a meagre level, but are relatively self sufficient. Indigenous people produce 70% of the nation´s basic foods, but still largely live in absolute poverty.
Back in the day, when Ecuador received its name and independence, it also inherited a huge infrastructure problem. Ecuador is made up of Amazonian rainforest, the highlands of the Andes and a wonderful stretch of Pacific Coast. In 1842, there was only a path between the coast and highlands, so if you wanted to trade your wares, you needed a donkey and you needed to write a will. If you survived malaria, snake bites and bandits, it was a 3 week trek.
The train line faced many challenges, afforded previously unattainable triumphs and was in constant process of repair and maintenance. Crossing The Devil´s Nose, a 45 degree precipice was an achievement of unprecedented engineering, and still today, is an impressive accomplishment. By 1908 the line was constructed and it became the Pride of the Nation bringing a network of trade. Most importantly, glacial ice was carried to the coast which increased the deliverability and store life of fresh produce. Fish, fruit and salt were brought to the highlands. Perhaps more importantly, the train brought a sense of hope and achievement to a nation made up of tiny communities.
The line survived numerous disasters. The Chanchán river overflowed in 1925 and took 20 km of rails with it, and a hundred maintenance workers lost their lives. In 1931 a landslide killed another 150 people. During the war, in 1941 Peru bombed the line to stop Ecuadorian troops getting to the frontier. The Pride of Ecuador is a symbol of tenacity in the face of adversity.
On the second day of our scenic train ride, we arrive at an isolated rural station on the Nevada at the base of the volcano Chimborazo. We meet the last Ice miner, Balthazar Ushca Tenesa, 79. He is a National Hero, because he still climbs the volcano twice a week, with his donkey to collect glacial ice. Although only two markets will now buy the ice, he sticks to the tradition of his life´s work. After a four hour climb uphill (and a four hour climb down) he sells his load for a meagre $10. The ice used to be at the bottom of the mountain where Balthazar and his family live. Now it takes a climb of a thousand metres.
Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador, peaking at an elevation of 6,268 metres. To give you a sense of its remoteness, in 1976, SAETA Flight 232 disappeared on route between Quito and Cuenca, carrying 59 passengers. The wreck was found twenty six years later, at 5,400m, suffice to say, there were no survivors.
Ferrocarriles Train Cruise is an educational excursion that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the country. You quite literally experience the incongruence of a world where the rich get richer and the poor stay poor.
"I have to confess, I did at first wonder with suspicion at this tourist product" says Andrew. "A luxury cruise train through the impoverished Andes? Surely, there must be better things to spend money on? Having taken the trip, my mind has changed. It´s an investment in education, and it really opens your mind to the Nation´s struggles and achievements."
The team of guides on the train pull this together with the utmost dignity and they are a really friendly bunch of folk. On the trip you stay in colonial comfort in hacienda www.hosterialacienega.com (34 rooms). It's a colonial family home with a cloistered courtyard garden and its own chapel. Ask the staff about the history of the place, they are mostly all direct descendents of the previous servants. The modern rustic hotel Abraspungo (42 rooms) provides a level of modern comfort with grand but cosy rooms and beds so divinely comfortable, we all retired early. The late night occurred at a good old colonial cowboy ranch Eterna Primavera (37 rooms) where Andrew and team had the last supper around the pool (feeling like they were at a wedding), and danced the night away under the stars.
The first class accommodation is very incongruent with the lives of the people you meet on the journey. But that is the wonderful thing about this trip. It gives access to a very colourful indigenous world to people who wouldn´t necessarily have thought doing it otherwise, because of the discomfort. The train itself provides an ambience of romance, fun and fascination. It´s exciting, riding on a restored train. It´s much more exciting when it's going through the Andes. The trip includes a visit to Guamote indigenous farmers market and a Shuar community. The Shuar usually live deep in the Amazon and are the tribe famous for shrinking heads. It's an absolute privilege to visit them and talk with them about their values and beliefs.
The Tren Crucero 4 day trip costs $990 all inclusive. Do it with your friends, your spouse or your family. It will open your eyes as a group and be an experience that you will never, ever forget. I can only wish that Ferrocarriles put on a lottery for a place on the train, so that, once in a blue moon, a modest-living national gets to ride their own Pride!
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