On the 29th of November 1890 thousand of Jamaicans and few nationals of other islands as Barbados and Trinidad, disembarked in Guayas starting an outrageous task that will brought death to a lot of them and stamped a seal on the history of Ecuador. A big amount of them departed leaving their imprint in “the middle of the world”, and a significant number of them founded their homes along the coast of Ecuador once they concluded their astonishing project of railroad engineering.
In their undertaking, more than 2.500 workers died and it was said that the mountain was damned: “They are man of action. Men of endurance, good-humored, optimistic, and hard workers. Their fortitude is evident not being affected by nervous disorders and they know how to deal with loneliness”, wrote the Ecuadorian Luz Argentina Chiriboga in her novel “The Nose of the Devil” in referring to the workers original from Jamaica.
We take a look at the characters of a novel that starts in Jamaica, where the contractor James MacDonald is looking forward to recruit a big amount of workers for constructing a railroad in an unknown country. The fact is that the British colony already had her railroad, and lots of the strong and resistant afrojamaicans had already contributed in the construction of the Panamanian railroad, and because of that they were considered experts in the usage of dynamite. Therefore, thousands of pawn original from the today known as the island of reggae and of the “No Problem” embarked to go to this land, with the hope of making a fortune, something common in the immigrants of that time. The explosions of dynamite, the accident of hard work, the malaria, and the bite of snakes, among other causes, were regular things that happened.
It is dawning time in Alausí and we are astonished seeing the landscape from the Hostel La Quinta, where we arrived the afternoon before from Quito. In the middle of so much peacefulness it is difficult to imagine big machines perforating the rocks, and loads of dynamite deafening those who devoted themselves to the gods before making them explode. A sumptuous breakfast and the kind attention of the owner prepare us for the journey, and we walk following the rails of the train while we receive the first rays of the sun in our faces.
Bill Milligan is photographing everything as he is accustomed to: the children that go to school, the lazy dogs at such an early hour, the workers that start their labor of repairing the historic center.., a revival of Alausí undoubtedly , as in all those years of president Eloy Alfaro, “the Old Combatant”, leader of the liberal revolution, who determinedly looked for the foreign capital necessary for the starting of the most ambitious project of all times, the Trans-Andean Railroad, a dream initiated by his predecessor, president Gabriel Garcia Moreno, and preceded in time by the visionary Ecuadorian colonel Victor Proano, of whom it was said that “dreamed with his eyes opened” and who was considered to be irrational by many. And the thing is that Quito has nothing in common with the highlands, and the mule was the only vehicle for the transportation of persons and goods.
Remain somewhere along the way the railway wagons of that deafening locomotive that vomited steam from within her fire entrails, driven by those black men. It is also noticeable alongside the wooden sleepers of the old train, which are now being used by inhabitants of the region to build their houses.
It is evident that on the confluence of the river Guasuntos and the Chanchán stands up the motive of concerns of thousands of human beings of those years. There were so many obstacles in the perforation of that gigantic rock that it was for that reason that was given the name of “The Nose of the Devil”.
Today it attracts many visitors from Ecuador and the rest of the world, bringing prosperity to Alausí for the second time. While we think about this we arrive to the attractive terminal, where we buy the tickets half an hour before the departure of the first train. There are three trains along the day. The first leaves at eight in the morning. At 11 a.m. and at 3 in the afternoon are scheduled the other two, but it depends on the weather if the last train departs or not.
In the shop of handicrafts of the station I could not resist in buying the book “the Nose of the Devil and the Black Monster”, of Karl Dieter Gartelmann, luxury bound, and a small red cap and a scarf of the same color.
It is the moment to set out! Santiago, the guide, is explaining the history of the construction of the train during the course that takes less than an hour. The faces of the passengers reflect their happiness and I look their delighted gestures while observing the beautiful landscapes. Bill and I are the only passengers in the compartment where the ticket costs 35 dollars, ten dollars more that in the rest of the wagon, but quite useful for taking the pictures that accompany this note. The service is more exclusive because it has an arm chair in U form that can be used by groups of friends or families. It has a service of cafeteria as well.
The journey is felt as an adventure, and the adrenaline goes up or down when you do the same along the hills in a rhythmic compass, while the hydraulic system of the wagons guarantees a displacement without sudden assaults. The Railroad Enterprise of Ecuador (EFE) initiated its courses with three panoramic wagons at the beginning of 2012. We think that the objective of attracting tourists and generating income for the inhabitants of the places through which the train goes over, it is undoubtedly being fulfilled.
The locomotive is impelled with electricity and diesel, and in Sibambe is the dining room cafeteria “Cóndor Puñuna”, under the administration of an association of workers integrated by around twenty of the chiefs of local indigenous families. The visitors could visit the museum as it is included in the price paid for the ticket. They could ride a horse, paying an extra amount of five dollars. It is another activity managed by the indigenous themselves, and we enjoyed it a lot. We even “had a dance”, learning the smooth typical dances taught by our affable indigenous hosts.
In the middle of the enjoyment and satisfaction of the course it came to our mind several times the character of the novel of Argentina Chiriboga, the Jamaican John Karruco, who loved to pay drums, making bonfires, preparing “chicken to the jerk (the elaborated seasoning of Jamaica), besides singing and playing soccer. The dynamite took away his two arms: “humble fish without fins, beggar of the water, no more than a fragment of the pitcher…”.
As enthusiasts of the Caribbean region, we could not but mention that this note has given us the opportunity of getting closer two touristic poles that attract and entice us, Ecuador and Jamaica. Undoubtedly the development of this product has the same purpose: try to obtain that tourism be sustainable, in order that local communities get beneficiated by the incomes generated dutifully for the apportionment of their contribution to her country. And it is quite satisfying to know that around here there is Jamaican blood as well.
Photographs: Bill Milligan
Text: Yndiana Montes