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train ride down the devil´s nose

(April 2006)

I had heard that the train ride down the Nariz del Diablo was one of highlights of a trip to Ecuador and so it was something I wanted to experience when I came to live here. One weekend in 2006 we took the bus from Guayaquil to Riobamba with my brother-in-law Salvador and his family. In Riobamba we found the train station and within that the ticket office. There were no signs, no information and it felt like we might be the only ones on the train the next day. We then went to visit Guano for the afternoon where my young nephews forced me to buy some gloves.

When we got up at 5.30 the next day was freezing cold and I was very grateful to them. The train station was now full of life and we joined a crowd of 90% foreigners on the roof of the train, trying to huddle together and urging the train to leave. Finally it did, chugging slowly north then west out of the city. Sitting on the roof gives you unrivalled views of the Ecuadorian countryside and glimpses of rural life (albeit altered by people’s hope that the passing train will be a source of presents). It’s a wonderful journey, especially when the sun comes out.

The train pauses at Guamote where there is time to grab a quick coffee or even breakfast though you have to be quite brave with some of the food on offer. I settled for caldo de gallina (chicken soup). We bought some sweets and while we were sharing them with other passengers the train started to move without warning. The sweets went everywhere, so did our coffees. We gulped the final bits of our chicken and ran after the train which fortunately was going slow enough to catch and climb up on the roof again.

The train then continued to Alausi, arriving 4 hours after leaving Riobamba. Here it paused while lots of additional tourists boarded the train and somehow managed to find space on the roof. Then we started to descend until we reached a precipice where the line seemed to terminate. The train stopped, shuddered and lurched back in the other direction. It continued to zig/zag down "La Nariz del Diablo" to the lowlands below. Incredible engineering and incredible views.

When we got to the bottom (Sibambe) I thought what a shame it was that we couldn’t continue to Duran / Guayaquil (the line was destroyed in the 1998 El Niño. However we did get the added bonus of travelling back up to Alausi. From there another four hours back to Riobamba seemed unnecessary when there was a bus which could do it in half the time.


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