Ecuador’s railway is undergoing a $280 million restoration. You can literally see the investment needed at the infamous Devil’s Nose, a steep, snout-shaped mountain regarded as the toughest test for trains on the planet.
Zigzagging through switchbacks and skirting along track laid inches from the rocky precipice, it is easy to see how this route earned the bragging rights to such a title. Completed in 1902, a more fitting name for the railroad might have been the Devil’s Noose; of the 5,000 workers who built it, almost half were killed in the process.
A small museum at Sibambe station explains how disease and dynamite accidents sealed the fate of the workforce, most from Jamaica and Puerto Rico, recruited on account of their strength and resistance to heat. The railway first opened in the early 1900s but fell into neglect after the Pan-American highway was completed in the 1970s.
On the platform at Sibambe, the local community, resplendent in their traditional garb, greet us with singing, dancing and alpacas. A small market sells local handicrafts and Ecuadorian teas. “Before the railway there was no restaurant, no bar and no museum, but that’s changed and now people here have work,” says Manuel Mendoza, the poncho-wearing museum curator. “It is good for our community.”
And it is good for tourists too, who, once again, can experience this most spectacular railroad and discover a country as it rediscovers itself.