This morning, bright and early, Rodrigo and I begin our latest adventure: walking the entire line of the old narrow-gauge Guayaquil & Quito (G&Q) Railway, a 466 km (290 mile) hike. The trek, from the lowlands of Guayaquil, the coastal port and largest city in Ecuador, to Quito, the capital city high in the Andes, will bring us from sea-level to over 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) in altitude at its highest point.
Why are we doing this, you might ask? Why would anyone spend three weeks climbing from the sea level to the sky via old railroad tracks?
A. Because it’s there.
B. To bring attention to the rehabilitation of the railroad.
C. To raise awareness of the railroad’s history, so that it will not be lost.
D. And, of course, we both like adventure and being outdoors!
Our hope is that an American and an Ecuadorian walking together will celebrate the partnership, commitment and sacrifices that people from two different countries on different continents – North America and South America – made over one hundred years ago when they came together to complete what has been called “the most difficult railroad in the world.”
Before the G&Q Railway was built, it took up to 30 days to travel from Guayaquil to Quito – and it could only be done six months out of the year because of rains and flooding. Travelers generally started out by steamboat from the swamps of Guayaquil, steaming up an alligator-infested river, then continued on by horse or mule or Indian back picking along sheer cliff paths up into the mountains, and then finally by coach over the highlands to Quito. Everything and everyone traveling between Guayaquil and Quito took these routes. If someone in Quito wanted a piano? Up it went on the backs of Indians. Furniture? Food? Liquor? Coffee? Cacao? Same thing.
The railway effectively shortened the length of the trip to two days, with trains usually stopping in Riobamba for the night.
When we depart from Guayaquil this morning, we plan on about 15 days of hiking to reach Chimbacalle Station in Quito. During that time, we’ll be walking by foot and following the tracks. We’ll be meeting lots of local folks, and learning about the places and people as we pass. Check the blog often to see where we are and to read about the history of the railroad and the towns along the old G&Q Railway route.