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Monday, August 5, 2013

Ecuador’s Tropic Journeys in Nature Offers Visitors Four-Day Train Journey On Newly Launched Tren Crucero (Cruise Train)

Ecuador’s award-winning ecotourism company, Tropic Journeys in Nature, since 1994 has led tours through the country’s most engaging landscapes.

Now it is featuring four-day/three-night journeys on Ecuador’s Tren Crucero (cruise train) that launched in early summer 2013.
Already Tren Crucero is being singled out to join a pantheon of the world’s top train journeys. Guests experience Ecuador’s stunning landscape using vintage transportation, enroute enjoying accommodations at hand-selected haciendas and colonial lodgings that immerse them in regional cultures glimpsed from train windows.

The per person rate is $1,270 inclusive of a bilingual naturalist guide, daily train and bus excursions, three 
nights lodging and all meals. While on the train guests can enjoy drinks and tapas while seated comfortably or reviewing the landscape from an open-air car. An on-train safe is available for storing valuables. Departures are from June through early September and from December through February.
The luxury journey begins in Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Andes crowned by majestic Cotopaxi Volcano, and ends in Guayaquil on the Pacific. Traversing 450 kilometers along the Avenue of Volcanoes, an early 20th century steam-engine locomotive pulls passengers to heights of 3,600 meters and down to sea level.

Tren Crucero rolls out of Quito’s Chimbacalle station at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, stopping at El Boliche where a modern coach ferries guests to a hike near Limpiopungo, a glacial lake in Cotopaxi National Park that shelters a variety of Andean wildlife: Andean gulls, Andean dear, wolves, the unique bear of South America, and the magnificent Andean Condor. Overall rising 6,000 meters above sea level is Cotopaxi volcano. After an hacienda lunch, guests view a dance festival at Lasso train station and overnight with dinner at La Cienega Hacienda once lodged Simon Bolivar who led four countries to independence from Spain.

On Wednesday from Latacunga train station guests travel southward to explore a rose plantation and learn the history of Ecuadorian roses, a major contributor to the country’s gross domestic product. Lunch follows later at Roka Plaza hotel, an ancient colonial house, in Ambato. Conditions permitting, there will be views from a safe distance of the very active Ttungurahua volcano that is currently spewing ash and gas daily. The afternoon presents Urbina at 11,840 feet above sea level, the highest train station in the country. Here an ice trader will explain his daily craft of digging ice from a glacier on the Chimborazo volcano. Overnight and dinner are at Abraspungo Inn.

Riobamba was once Ecuador´s capital. Thursday’s departure from here is via an impressive restored steam locomotive pulling guests across fascinating Andean landscapes to the Colta community. There’s a short stop at Balbanera church, the first Christian landmark made here some 500 years ago. The destination is Guamote’s indigenous market, one of the last authentic markets in the Andes, with traders exchanging products as they did 4,000 years ago. Impressive geological formations begin in Alausi as the train zigzags 535 meters in altitude over 12 kilometers down Devil’s Nose, the track itself an engineering feat hailed as the most difficult in the world. The overnight in Huigra. a small village between the Andes and the coast is at Eterna Primavera lodge.

Friday transitions from the Andes to the coast along the Chanchan riverbed, stopping in Bucay to visit the Shuar community that migrated many years ago from the Amazon basin. The journey continues to Durán, passing through banana, sugar and rice plantations. The final destination is Guayaquil near the coast.
A History (short) of Ecuador’s Railroads
The original Guayaquil and Quito Railways Company was created in 1897 with an expenditure of $12 million to link the two cities. As the track advanced, so did the telegraph. Posts along the route are the only remains of the telegraph used to send messages in Morse code.

Humble workers each with pick and spade advanced to the highlands through virgin land faced bad weather, plagues and diseases, snakebites and wild animals. Attrition forced the G&Q Company to sign an agreement with a British contractor located in the Antilles which provided additional workers -- more than 4,000 workers from Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados and Puerto Rico.

The most challenging aspect enroute was Devil´s Nose (Nariz del Diablo), a mountain whose gradient precluded running track up or down. Trains worldwide are designed to travel on 2 or maximum 4 percent gradients. This train track arrived at a 6 percent grade utilizing a zigzag method that then was the best way to gain altitude in a few kilometers.  Difficult technical conditions, geography, a limited budget and deaths led to this railway being known as “the most difficult railway in the world” of beginning of the 20th century.

Around 1874 the first locomotive came to Ecuador, eventually growing to 40 steam locomotives pulling trains between Guayaquil and Quito and Sibambe to Cuenca. Most of them disappeared due to lack of maintenance and use. Since 2008 two have been brought back to life. Initially wood fueled the engines and later bunker, an oil derivative. Today the fuel of choice is diesel.

The construction of the rail line in 1904 impacted local populations, mostly indigenous. In 1895 the first screening of a film, “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station,” terrified spectators who thought a train was coming up over them. Indigenous people, for thousands of years used to carrying their goods on their shoulders or on an animal, could now see that this enormous black monster could be of service to them, arriving from the mountains with straw to fee the black monster that they thought was hungry when they heard its whistle blow.

After decades of neglect, in 2008 Ecuador’s National Institute of Cultural Heritage officially declared the Railway Network in Ecuador as property belonging to the state’s cultural heritage and work began to begin restoring portions of the rail network. On April 30, 2013, Tren Crucero made its maiden voyage between Latacunga and Durán.

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