Arrived in Ecuador!

I have landed in Ecuador!  As we flew over the Gulf of Mexico, a storm was brewing towards Cuba.  At times, I couldn’t count to five without bolts of electricity lighting up the sky. Here is a video of the lightning beneath us.

Tonight I will attend the premier of El Tren de los Sueños and then spend the rest of the week here before heading to Urbina to spend a week with the llamas and the mountains. It’s good to be back.

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Hello, Quito.

Tomorrow morning I will depart New York City en route to Quito. It’s been a whirlwind couple weeks trying to get everything ready, but my film bag is packed, my cameras are cleaned and I just picked up the last round of test slides (no more light leaks!).

Here is a picture that I return to a lot as I try to imagine what life will be like in Quito. I took this on our last day there in September, from the top of Basílica del Voto Nacional. We had to climb all the way up on stairs and then ladders, but the unobstructed view in all directions was worth it.

I’ll be updating this blog more frequently now, as I pick up where we left off on our projects. See you in Ecuador!

El Panecillo from the top of Basílica del Voto Nacional.

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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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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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Breakfast in Ecuador

Two of our team members are vegan and we are more than happy to report that it is as easy to keep our diets here as it is anywhere else. The meals are so great, in fact, that our fearless guide Rodrigo has started eating vegetarian along with us!

Our day begins at our new favorite establishment in Huigra, Mirabel.

First to the table are full plates of grapes and pepino. Pepino grows locally and has a gentle taste between cucumber and honeydew.

And no breakfast is complete without fresh papaya. We find it best with a squeeze of lime.

Leftovers from previous nights are often incorporated into breakfast. In this case, we had some leftover corn, which was fried and served warm with the rest of our fruits. On this plate we also have pineapple, red banana and a tangerine.

Last on the menu is a plate of fried plantains. This is the most filling part of the meal, but also one of the best. With a quick sprinkle of salt, these disappear faster than any other dish on the table.

And to wash it all down, we have a full pitcher of cold, frothy cantaloupe juice.

¡Buen apetito!

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