Thus far, this trip has been painfully devoid of trains. Trains are my preferred method of travel, by a significant degree, and this is an attitude shared by many of my fellow backpackers. We tolerate buses ((Proudly, almost arrogantly – “16 hours, 2 flat tires, but whatever, I’ve had worse”)), avoid flights (("Flying is cheating")), appreciate boat trips ((But only occasional ones with a defined purpose like whale watching or island hopping. The standard backpacker can’t stand more than a few days on the high seas; they get stir crazy and experience a painful withdrawal from the constant stream of the new views and people that they’re used to. The nautical backpacker however is an entirely different breed, rarely seen and only in the port cities like Cartagena or Cape Town, looking as uncomfortable in a crowded club as the standard backpacker looks on the deck of a ship.)), but what we really want is a train. Sadly, the golden age of the rail has come and gone. There are still great train trips to be had, and I plan to seek them out, but a long journey composed entirely of train travel simply isn't feasible any more ((The Trans-Siberian Railroad notwithstanding)). In The Old Patagonia Express Paul Theroux travels from Boston to Patagonia almost entirely by rail. The large majority of the routes he took have fallen into disrepair, never to be ridden again.
And yet, for all my despair, I have found a great train ride! A relic of that past railroad age, originally built for transport, now preserved and restored for the tourists. It delivers you nowhere, you begin and end in the same place, but the ride itself grants views that make you jealously angry there’s not more rails running through this beautiful country. It’s like being served a delicious appetizer, only to be told the restaurant has closed forever before the entree could be served.
La Nariz del Diablo (“The Nose of the Devil”) is a leftover piece of the Guayaquil-Quito line completed around the turn of the 20th century. It’s a feat of engineering that was only possible in the old days of large scale projects, when the lives of the poor or criminal were considered expendable in pursuit of technical accomplishment. Thousands died in it’s construction, which is partly the reason for it’s evil-sounding name, along with the fact that, according to local legend, a section of mountain looks suspiciously like the devil’s nose. It’s a short trip, highlighted by a series of incredibly steep switchbacks, but almost every view is one of stunning beauty. And as pleasant as it is, there’s a bittersweet feeling to it all. I disembarked back in Alusi and a few hours later boarded a bus for the coast. I was headed to a new place and that’s always an undeniable thrill. But some part of me wished I was back on a train, even if it wasn't taking me anywhere.
Train at the station
A typical view out the window
A picture of the "nose" and "eye" of the devil in a museum (I have outlined the features for clarity)