Sketches of Ecuador

Katie Patch kept a sketchbook as our team advanced up the old G&Q Railway line last September. Katie trained in art at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She studied photography in Paris, and spent a European Honors semester studying art and art history in Rome. Here are a few of her delightful sketches from Ecuador.

You can see more of Katie’s artwork at her webpage:

Or on her flickr page:

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The Train of Dreams (El Tren de los Sueños)

We are really excited to announce a premiere event – El Tren de los Sueños (The Train of Dreams) - in Quito, Ecuador on January 26, 2011!

It’s an animated musical short film based on a letter written by General Eloy Alfaro, produced by Raúl Almendáriz. The film honors the memory of Eloy Alfaro, who died 100 years ago, and features Archer Harman, a trusted friend of Alfaro and his family who, along with his brother, Major John Harman, built the Guayaquil & Quito Railway. Also included in the film are Sir James Sivewright, who helped finance the G&Q, and Alfaro’s lovely daughter, America Alfaro.

Alfaro’s death 100 years ago was awful and gruesome, including betrayal, greed, a final train ride from Guayaquil to Quito on the railroad that he built, incarceration, mob scenes, guns, dragging through the streets, dismembering, and then a wretched fire scene in the El Ejido park… but this movie isn’t about the awfulness, it’s about… the train!

A trailer for the movie has been posted to YouTube:

Date: Wednesday, 26 January, 2011
Time: 19h00
Place: TEATRO MEXICO (next to South Train Station CHIMBACALLE)

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Calamity and Despair: G&Q Railway Photos from the Harman Collection

When my grandmother, Lillien Harman, died ten years ago, she left behind a colossal treasure trove in her Massachusetts attic — old Guayaquil & Quito Railway books, documents, financial accountings, letters, memos, cables in secret code, journals, diaries, personal photos and professional photo albums of the railroad in Ecuador. Tucked away for 100 years, the collection told the secrets and the missing story of the harrowing years of Ecuador’s G&Q Railway construction from 1897-1908, and of the years of my grandfather  — Archer Harman –  in Ecuador as President of the G&Q in the 1920s, before he sold the railway stock to the government of Ecuador.

Here are a few calamitous photos from the early 1920s.

For more information or for use of these photos, please contact Katharine Brainard.

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Home again… but not for long!

Well, we are all home – Brooklyn, NY; Bethesda, MD; and Santa Monica, CA – but not for long! We already have plans to return to Ecuador.

But first comes the sorting of digital video, development/scanning of large- and medium-format photos, transcription of notes, and writing of follow-up emails.

We would like to take a moment to thank all the wonderful folks who helped make this expedition possible on the ground – especially team member Rodrigo Donoso, driver Juan Santos, and Rodrigo’s staff, Fabian, Delfin and Angel.

We met so many wonderful folks (like our double-trouble twins from Huigra in the top photo) who helped us along our way. Here are just a few…

Thank you, thank you, thank you all! We’ll see you again soon!

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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!

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