Ecuador has recently got a number of trains up and running, and polished up the service on some of the others like the ‘Nariz del Diablo’ – The Nose of the Devil. This is a good thing. Probably. Well I prefer train journeys that are proper journeys instead of a short tourist ride to be honest. The train to Machu Picchu was certainly just for tourists, and so was this one.
There were a couple of other trains I was hoping to catch whilst in South America – the train to Uyuni in Bolivia for example but I just couldn’t make it as I altered my route to get to Sucre and well, it wouldn’t have worked sadly. Then there were a couple of trains in Argentina. One I didn’t make it far enough south to catch, the other had a working website but the train hadn’t run for a few years!
So sadly it was really only two train journeys in South America, although there was the train from Buenos Aires to Tigre, I might yet write that one up. But back to the Devil’s Nose.
Why the name? Well, it makes its way down a mountain that does, if you squint your eyes and use a little imagination, sort of look like it might be the devil’s nose. The journey begins in Alausi, which is a 2+ hour bus trip from Riobamba where I was staying. That journey is over mountains too and it was an eventful bus trip because as we were arriving in Alausi a lady declared her phone had been stolen. She started sobbing, and police boarded the bus. She wailed and spoke loudly to the passengers, a mixture of anger and trauma. They went to her seat and found the phone stuck between the seats. True story.
I’d bought my ticket in Riobamba at the nice little railway station there the previous day. The station at Riobamba has a little museum there worth poking your head in to see, and the staff who organised my ticket didn’t speak a word of English but with my basic Spanish the ticket was easy enough to buy.
In Alausi the tracks go right down one of the roads there and it looked a bit like a tramway. To find the station you’re dropped off on a road and plenty of people were taking the train so I just followed them down the road which eventually reached the station. The station has a bunch of souvenir shops with similar fare, and a place for coffee.
The train eventually arrived and it was a little while before we were allowed to board as they cleaned it from the previous journey. We moved off towards the destination – Sibambe, which according to Ecuador Rail is along 12 kilometres of track and covers an elevation of 500 metres from top to bottom.
The train is pretty comfy, and was pretty full but not 100% full. We moved pretty slowly through the town, and in all fairness never hit any great speed. The ride was around 45 minutes in total so that’s an average of less than 20 kilometres an hour. Each carriage had its own guide – ours spoke to us in both Spanish and English and he had a few other languages up his sleeve if he needed them.
The ride went from the town to the mountains – well Alausi is already in the mountains at 2345 metres. The 12 kilometre journey took me to Sibambe. It’s interesting through the town and then there are a few corners it slowly moves around into a sort of valley, where everything was briefly surprisingly green, even a little creek.
Then it dries out and trees are rare and everything is brown. This is the section where we descend to Sibambe station down the ‘Devil’s Nose’. It’s quite impressive and the train goes through two (I think it was two) switchbacks to get down there. The train went through the station to a view point a few hundred metres along, where everyone got out and looked at the strange big mountain we’d descended. Guides pointed out the devil’s face to us and indeed the mountain did seem to have a sort of drawn out pointy nose.
In Sibambe, which appeared to just be a small museum, a café and the station, tourists were treated to an opportunity to buy souvenirs and to watch some Andean dancing with colourful costumes in a shelter next to the station.
Food choices were limited, but the museum was interesting showcasing the history of the railway. It is also known as ‘The Most Dangerous Railway in the World’ because so many died building it. That was back in the 19th century and it was built using dynamite to clear the path for the tracks. 4500 or more men worked on the line, more than half died. There was a guide who talked for quite some time about the construction of the railway.
So… it has a dark past. Perhaps that’s half the interest on this ride. Although the ride itself is amazing in many ways, you’re also in a comfortable carriage with a guide and basically, you’re on a short tourist ride. So in the end I had mixed feelings about this one. To be truthful on any ride that only exists for tourists.
Naturally I compiled a video of this one too. It came up rather well.
The train, according the Tren Ecuador Website, runs every day bar Monday (I’d check this because I thought at the time I had to be there on the Friday as it only ran 2-3 times a week). The cost is $US32, which is what I paid, and despite my mixed feelings on the experience, I definitely am glad I went on this train. Thanks for reading, and of course, May the Journey Never End!