Return to Urbina

It’s good to be back in Urbina. The air is thin and cool, the population is sparse, and the call of the donkeys rings like a reliable alarm clock early in the morning. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the llamas, alpacas, and those in between. We are staying at Rodrigo’s house that, at 3,600 meters (about 12,000 feet), sits at the highest point of the railroad. When the sky is clear, you can see Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador, sitting as a backdrop behind the farms that cover the land.

Llamas outside Rodrigo's house in Urbina.

Llamas outside Rodrigo's house in Urbina.

Unlike the standoffish llamas, the donkeys are quite social and friendly. I try to visit them in the morning and evening to greet them and rub their ears. As I approach, they know what is coming and prepare a stance accordingly.

A donkey bows to have his ears rubbed.

A donkey bows to have his ears rubbed.

Rodrigo always has many projects that he is juggling. It’s amazing that he even finds time to sleep. Here he is standing in front of a hut on which he is installing a new thatch roof. This hut will be a home once it is complete.

Rodrigo in front of his new hut.

Rodrigo in front of his new hut.

Inside Rodrigo's new hut.

Inside Rodrigo's new hut.

His goal is to always build as ecologically as possible. This roof is made from a quick-growing plant called paga that is cut only a stones throw away.

The roof is made from local, sustainable materials.

The roof is made from local, sustainable materials.

It only took one more day of work to finish. Upon completion, Rodrigo’s workers celebrated with a loud blow of a horn.

Fabian and Angel on top of the new roof.

Fabian and Angel on top of the new roof.

A celebratory blow of the horn upon completion.

A celebratory blow of the horn upon completion.

I tried to celebrate as well, but ended up with only tepid squeaks and a horn full of spit.

A failed attempt at blowing the horn.

A failed attempt at blowing the horn.

posted by Sandy in Uncategorized and have Comments (588)

Urbina Station… and beyond!

Set on the slopes of the colossal Chimborazo Mountain – King of the Andes – Urbina Station is the highest point of the old G&Q Railway, at 11,800 ft. (3,640 m). Urbina, which is also used as an acclimatization station for mountain climbers, is under the management and care of our team member, Rodrigo Donoso.

When we arrived, Rodrigo’s llamas and alpacas were hanging out along the old railroad tracks in front, munching on a late-afternoon snack of grass. Maximilliano Donoso the Dog leapt off the front porch to greet us with a frenzied welcome. Rodrigo’s adorable daughter, Ariana, showed us how she rides a fuzzy alpaca; the most important part is to hold on tight and have a good time.

Rodrigo also raises guinea pigs (cuy), of which he currently has about a dozen. The boy cuy have it the worst – they get eaten – while the girls stay alive to have babies. Cuy are peppy little furry balls of speed that make squeaky noises that sound like “Cuy! Cuy! Cuy!” Katie fell in love with a baby cuy.

The main room of Urbina is warm and friendly, with a fire going in the wood stove. The seats are padded with colorful hand-woven cushions. The wooden walls are adorned with artwork of Ecuador’s mountains, Edward Whymper illustrations, Simon Bolivar’s lover – Manuela Zaens, and Che Guevara portraits. The floors are all wooden; Rodrigo’s workers have an interesting technique for scrubbing the floors – they move steel wool about with their boots to scrub the wood.

The food served at Urbina Station is incredible, starting out with what Araby called “Frog Butter” – squashed avocadoes – on bread. The soups – quinoa, cauliflower, and potato with fava beans – were awesome. Sliced bread to accompany the soups is toasted on a black slice of volcanic rock on top of the wood stove. We ate mellocos – which look like little baby potatoes, but are not – as well as lupin beans, plantains, babako and melons.

Chimborazo is a mountain of many moods, and the source of many legends. For example, if a thunderstorm arrives and a woman doesn’t hurry from the field and into the house, rumor is that she gets pregnant from Chimborazo. The resulting baby – Chimborazo’s child – is an albino. The nickname for the albino babies is “Chimborazo.” In fact, a number of albinos do live on the slopes of Chimborazo. Sandy and Rodrigo ventured out early in the cold mornings for photo shoots, and managed to get two excellent days of Chimborazo shots. The snow-topped mountain is usually obscured by clouds and fog, and sometimes the mountain doesn’t appear for 10-12 days.

While at Ubrina, 17 new FEEP railroad guides-in-training arrived for a presentation on the construction of the G&Q Railway, now called FEEP. You’d think a two-hour talk/PowerPoint would put them all to sleep, but they seemed very interested in the history, and glad to be there. Here is a photo of us with the guides, in front of the Urbina Station.

Want to visit Urbina Station? Click these links for more information on hiring Rodrigo Donoso as your guide, or staying at Urbina Station. We hope you have as much fun as we did!

posted by Katharine in Uncategorized and have Comments (438)