Sunday, March 15, 2015

Choo Choo Charlies

The first thing we did in the morning was head to the train station to buy our tickets. This turned into our first major mistake, waiting to get to Alausí before buying the tickets. No one was wandering about town except for those who appeared to be locals, so we thought we were sitting pretty. When I requested two tickets for the next morning’s 11am train, we were told they were sold out. I tried the 8am train with the same results, and it continued for the 3pm train. Where are all these people that presumably will fill up the train? 

With very long faces and the remorseful response that we came here specifically for the train and was only here for two nights, the manger stepped forward. He said he could offer us two tickets on the 11am train, but we would be in separate cars. Ron asked if it were possible for the conductor to see if anyone was single and willing to move cars, but the answer
was no chance. Deciding not to press our luck, we grabbed them. This country is document happy, so we had to show our passports to buy the tickets. With a sly mile, the manager said, “The ticket for you is $25, but for you”, pointing to Ron, “it is $14.50. Since you are over 65, you get a discount.” That was a nice treat. 

By 8am, we were out and about looking for the one restaurant in the town that has espresso coffee. It was extremely foggy; making us hope to be grateful, we were able to get the 11am train. 

At the suggested restaurant, we had their breakfast special for
$4 each. Hot milk with coffee, two eggs cooked to our choosing, a plate each of fresh fruit (it was cantaloupe and banana sliced), rolls, two jams, a thick slice of cheese each, and a large glass of juice. 

When it was time for the train, we had to go to Pre-Boarding, have our tickets checked and stamped again. Then we lined up depending on our car number. I said good-bye to Ron. The inside of the cars were lovely. On one side, there were single lush seats in twos: one facing the other. On the other side of the aisle, it was two lush seats facing two more. The windows were narrow, but enough to fit a camera through. The man across from me was from Germany as was the family of four directly across from us. 

A guide described everything we were passing in Spanish and then in English. I found out when we stopped in Simambe that Ron was the only English speaker in his train car; the male guide in the car gave the tour information in Spanish over the PA system and then personally repeated to my spouse. What excellent service. The ride was delightful. The mountains are magnificent and are quite comparable with those in New Zealand for shades of green. 

Along with the train ticket, we received a coupon for $2 usable at the Tren Cafe in Simambe. We stayed there for
about an hour, where you are able to see the mountain called Nariz de la Diablo or Devil’s Nose. One needs some imagination to consider how anyone would know what the devil’s nose looks like to begin with.  

To entertain us during our layover, folkloric dancers performed many native dances. The
alternative or addition to is to climb many stairs to the Interpretive Centre to learn the history of the railway. There were 2,500 lives lost in building this route from dynamite blasts cause rock avalanches; many were workers from Jamaica. The guides stated this is one of the most difficult railroad routes to have been built in the world. Due to the dynamite, the area once replete with condors is now barren. 

On the unused train tracks, there is a family with their adult llama, baby llama, and a horse. To have your picture taken with each of the llamas will cost you $1. A horse ride up and
down the tracks is more. After a couple of rides, the horse acted more like a mule. It was resistant to continue being the beast of burden.

When we returned the fog was coming in again, so we had concerns for those on the 3pm train. Seeing a number of tour buses, we realized that train tickets were sold to tour groups, not necessarily those staying in town.

Walking around the town, we delighted in its quaintness. The tourism office was open, so we stopped in for the heck of it. Finding the young woman spoke excellent English, we asked where she learned it. Her reply, "I was born and raised in New Jersey, but my parents are from here." That gave us a laugh.

At the far end of town opposite the train station, is a park. The walls beyond the park are decorated with humongous mosaic murals commemorating the train in the town. Beyond this are stairs that go on forever, too many to count. We watched people come up and down them; even the young looked exhausted. Some had school uniforms on, so the thought of having to make that up and down journey five times a week would make me reconsider an education. 

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