I ought to start by informing you my Chiva Express experience was a few years ago but thought you may enjoy our trek across
the Ecuadorian Andes.
Envision designing and laying hundreds of miles of railway tracks over the Andes Mountains in the mid-1800s. Incredibly, men hauled tons of railroad ties and steel thousands of feet above sea level. The most dramatic section is called “Devil’s Nose”, which is a steep perpendicular plunge. This component established a mammoth dilemma and subsequent engineering achievement.
Sadly, many people working on this phase lost their lives to complete it. To transverse the decline, the mountainside became a zig-zag route carved into the rock. Many sections require advancing and backing up to go down. This segment was genuinely memorable but nerve-racking to ride down while overhanging a river gorge.
The construction ensued void of modern modes of transportation or drilling tools. In 1908 the trains started connecting the principal cities of Guayaquil and Quito, creating a pillar of trade and industry for the people along the route. Over the following decades, the modern highway system evolved making the trains less vital.
In 2005 the Metropolitan Touring Company started their Ecuadorian rail tours with a unique one car motor vehicle called
the “Chiva Express”. Is it a bus or a train… maybe the simple answer is a little of both. The Chiva Express is an old-fashioned steel bus fitted on the chassis of a diesel powered rail coach. It appears similar to a school bus on train wheels, brightly painted yellow, red and blue. We traveled back in time to rural Ecuador, where the train tracks are inlaid in the town’s main street.
We arrived in a small agricultural village of indigenous people during their Saturday morning market. The Chiva Express has a loud train horn and initiated the sounding fifteen minutes before our arrival. All the local street vendors scurried to move their stalls allowing us to pass through town. After passing, we joined the hustle and bustle of the street events. There were whole roasted pigs, straw hats, multicolored blankets, livestock and more for sale. Afterward, we continued rolling down the tracks to see an old train station, mountain tops blanketed in snow and to a local ranch for lunch. It was a time journey back to an era of a century past.
The expedition along the Andes Mountains on tracks laid over a hundred years ago would give me pause had I knew the disrepair they were in. The logistics of going up precipitous train tracks added extra challenges. There was a plastic tube built into the front dash to pour sand on the rails for traction. There were times we had more severe difficulties, which required stopping to move a few tracks back into place.
The train’s back balcony offered an excellent portrait of beautiful mountain views and alarmingly a closer look at the hundred- year- old tracks. Most of the wooden tie bars were rotten and demonstrated the reason the Chiva Express was being closed down. Everyone has to face new life encounters because they may not be here in the future. Feeling adventurous, is there a substitute? One could roam the rural dirt roads on a “Chicken Bus”, the name was coined because you guessed it, they sometimes carry chickens as well as people. www.RonMcGinty.com