Monday, December 25, 2017

A Train Journey Through the Mountains of Ecuador

When the option to take a train ride in Ecuador presented itself I voted yes. I have fond memories of the train I took from Cusco, Peru to Machu Picchu and I was hoping for some more of that magic. Tren Ecuador seemed touristy but it was also seemed aimed at domestic tourists which made the whole thing more fun.




Max the station dog must have been off duty.


When we checked in one of the ticket takers was our guide from the tour we left early a couple of days ago. Awkward.






The boarding process was idiot proof with large stickers showing which car you're on and a leader with a big matching sign walking you to your car.












The ride through the city turned into an impromptu "interesting graffiti of Quito" tour.


Our guide told us that Quito is a long city because it is hemmed in on all sides by mountains. 

There is a legend about a treasure hidden in the mountains. Francisco Pizarro took the Inca King Atahualpa captive and demanded a massive ransom for his release. As the Inca slowly delivered the ransom the Spanish decided to kill the king anyway. Furious, Inca General Ruminahui hid the approximately 750 tons of gold he was transporting in the Llanganatis Mountains. The legend says that the mountains gets shrouded with clouds whenever someone is up there looking for the gold.




The ride gave me time to admire Ecuador's "keep the hell out" technology. You got your basic iron fence with spikes, barb wire, broken glass bottles mortared on top a wall, metal spikey things. Then you can mix and match.














We got a seat next to the trash can but also by the bar. Such is life. It was one of those mechanical ones that flip when you put your foot on the pedal, and I snapped it at children as they walked past to hilarious effect.


The train passing through town was an event and a lot of people stood and waved, young and old. Some from the windows of their houses. And there was one middle finger. Train haters are out there, people.


I felt pretty popular until our car's guide told us that the worker's hand signals resemble waving so people are just waving back at him. Bubble is burst.




My hardcore adventurer credibility was boosted when they started celebrating a little girl's birthday on the train.




The birthday girl was unsupervised and proceeded to take over the train car.




She commandeered the microphone from our guide and sang a song. I finally had to tattle on her when she started playing with a fire extinguisher.


There was a stop for snacks.


We got an exotic corn on the cob. It was kind of spiney like a pineapple.












We made a desperate attempt to escape the wild children and reclaim adulthood with a visit to the dining car.






They had really good hot chocolate. It was barely sweet at all.


They must have given the group instructions on what to do next in Spanish because we had no idea where we were supposed to be. We saw a nature hike about to take place so we hijacked it. Show me the local flora and fauna and no one needs to die!


Ripoff Smokey Bear.






Our guide went on and on in Spanish about the healing powers of a particular plant. He encouraged everyone to rub it on their skin. One lady went nuts and took her shoes and socks off and rubbed her whole damn leg on the plants. Well the stuff was like super poison ivy, and minutes later the people had big red blister-looking bumps all over the exposed area. If that's what healing looks like I'll stay sick.


The plant with the red flowers he pointed out as wolf corn. In Ecuador, even the wolves love corn.






We saw a pack of... alpacas roaming around and doing their own alpaca thing.




I'm wondering if trains aren't very common in the area, or if people just can't be trusted to stop their cars for oncoming trains, but the train had a pack of guys on motorcycles whose job was to ride ahead and block intersections so that the train could pass.


We stopped in Machachi and were greeted with some fun music and dancing.








The train staff had a commendable level of work/life balance. Every time the train stopped they were playing volleyball, or cards, and then were singing and dancing in the dining car on the final stretch back to Quito. They seemed like they had life all figured out.




Lunch was served at Hosteria Granja La Estacion.


They were corn crazy over there. This was like corn nuts sprinkled on popcorn. They sat us at the foreigner's table, which I think is probably a step or two down in social standing from the children's table. The other two foreigners were a couple of duds. One was an old Swedish dude traveling by himself who was really rude, and the other was a college age American girl who was so socially ill-equipped that she had trouble telling us her name and where she lived. I did a lot of loud corn chomping in lieu of conversation.








After lunch we checked out the place's animals. It was like a cowboy themed sort of thing I think, so many of the animals were livestock.










We tried Ecuador's famous helado de paila, which is a fruit sorbet made in a big copper bowl. We saw it being made on the street a couple times in Quito.


They must feed these geese a lot because they would follow anyone wearing a poncho.


Back on the train they handed out little handmade farewell gifts. I thought that was classy.








Max was on watch back at the station.




We headed to the mall. We wanted to see if they had anything weird at Ecuadorian McDonald's and we wanted to do a little last minute shopping as well. We thought we would start buying a Christmas ornament in countries we visit but they don't seem to be that popular in some places. We finally found like a home store that sold a lot of trees and ornaments but they were all just generic and had nothing to do with Ecuador.




You can get cheddar and bacon on your fries in Ecuador! The learner has truly become the teacher.






We visited the supermarket and picked up whatever looked fun. I thought it was notable that the eggs were all unrefrigerated.


Grabbed some fun fruit for later.






I yelled for Lydia to watch out for the Monster Discounts behind her but it was too late.


Back at the ranch we gorged on all of the exotic fruits we'd been stockpiling. This video is so long that Youtube made me verify my phone number.


It seems that part of the way JetBlue keeps their fares low is by making you fly at torture:30 at night. Fine by me. To the airport!




You know we hit that free lounge at the airport.






May the Amazon/JetBlue promotional partnership reign a thousand years!


Before this trip I knew nothing about Ecuador but it's a really solid place to visit. We were comparing it to a more undiscovered version of Costa Rica. The benefit of going to every country is I don't have to rely on advertising or word of mouth to tell me which countries are worth visiting.