RESPECT for all engineers in Ecuador


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South America » Ecuador » Centre » Central Highlands
February 23rd 2020
Published: March 13th 2020
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You might have noticed a passing reference to El Nariz del Diablo in our last blog. WELL this amazing feat of engineering deserves at least a blog spot of its own and maybe more than one!

In the late 1800s the Ecuadorian government decided to build a railway from Quito to Guayquil to link the two main areas of the country and stop every one fighting with everyone else. They started in Guayquil on the coast and proceeded splendidly through the coastal plain until they hit THE ANDES. The Andes are one heck of a obstacle and the railway ground to a halt and over the next few years began to be overgrown and abandoned.

The story goes that an English born financier, Archer Harman, who had a brother John who was a civil engineer, was playing pool in a bar in America when he overheard a representative from the Ecuadorian Government saying that he had been sent to America to try and find someone who would take on the construction of the railway. Well to cut a long story short, these two brothers took on the project and I am sure the poor brother who was the engineer must have wanted to murder his brother on a number of occasions for getting him involved with this horrendous project.

Anyhow, the route had to get up a nearly vertical face of a mountain called the Nariz del Diablo that looks like a nose of someone devillish who is lying down. The only way to get the train up the mountain was to build a series of switchbacks across the face of the almost vertical plane. The engine pulled the cartriages across the first switchback onto a spare bit of track and then reversed and pushed the carriages up the next switchback to the next bit of spare track and so on until the train reached the top and the land was flat enough for it to get round a series of very tight curves. Amazing. The train tracks were blasted into the rock face over a period of years and thousands of workers lost their lives during construction, including the hapless civil engineer, John Harman. Archer, the financier brother survived (typical) and became very rich.

We travelled on the train from Alausi down the Devils Nose and back up again which was interesting but frustrating as you couldn't see the engineering of the tracks, so the next day we did an amazing hike to Condor Point which is right at the top of the vertical section and we could see a lot of the engineering and miles of the railway track below us. A great walk although a lot of it was in the cloud and mist. Another top picnic of jam sandwiches and avocado but this time in visibility of about 5m. Very eerie. This Condor marked the end of the trail.....and as we got there the clouds lifted and we could see the railway station almost vertically below us. "Do not go any further" the map said (thankfully in English) "as the trail becomes mortally steep"..... We took the advice offered and retraced our steps, marvelling at the confidence and pig-headedness of engineers (and the poor workers) who would even think of building anything in these mountains.

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