The school run to Machachi

Trip Start May 05, 2013
Trip End Nov 06, 2013

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Flag of Ecuador  , Pichincha,
Friday, May 31, 2013

We purchased our tickets for the Tren Ecuador ride to Machachi at the Tourist Office in Centro Historico. A very helpful lady found seats for us on the Friday before we were due to leave Quito. The ride is only about 50 kms heading south out of the city but would take us through the Avenue of the Volcanoes, so named by the explorer Alexander Bon Humboldt. Ecuador has around 55 volcanoes, but "only" 8 are still active. We would pass close to Cotapaxi, symmetrical and always snow capped, it has become almost the national symbol of Ecuador.

As we set off on the bus to the train station, the clouds come in and it starts to rain and pretty much carries on for the whole day. With the rain our chances of seeing some of the most spectacular scenery in Ecuador disappears as the clouds roll in.

Arriving at the train station we see our train, a motley collection of carriages of all shapes and sizes, alongside a converted bus on rails?? For some reason we have to be at the station 75 mins before departure so after a coffee in the restaurant, we head off to the waiting room which is jam packed with schoolchildren on a day trip, all extraordinarily well behaved I might add.

After a while the bus on rails leaves with some of the kids aboard, leaving only about a hundred to travel on our train. We board the train in second class (too mean to pay the extra $10 for first which provides the luxury of a table??). We are immediately followed by 30 or so children, all very excited about their day trip and, somewhat bemused as to why there are two extranjeros on their school trip. It later transpires that the the train passenger list consists of, we two at the front and 6 university lecturers from Oklahoma State at the back and in between, around 80 hyperactive kids.

We have a female train guard who is also a guide and, as we will later discover, an accomplished children's entertainer. She explains the route we will take and what we will see along the way and off we go from the station. The first thing she explains to us is that we will be accompanied by a police pickup truck and two motorcycle outriders, not because of bandits etc., but because Ecuador does not have any level crossings. They will stop the traffic at every road we cross, of which there are many ( I really want that job!). One of the first roads we cross is the Pan American highway the major route all the way from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. A sight to behold to see all the traffic backed up as far as we could see during the morning rush hour ( reminds me of the M25 back home)

A few minutes into the ride and the kids are getting very excited (and will stay that way!). The entertainment starts with a game of "Tingo Tango" a sort of karaoke version of pass the parcel. Thankfully we do not catch the ball at the wrong time and do not have to sing, but all the children do. This continued more or less continuously, all the way to the next station where we get of for snacks and a toilet break. During the first part of this journey we were called upon to open bottle of fizzy drinks for the kids, the effect of this, a sugar rush and full bladders, became quickly apparent as soon as the train stopped. Ever seen 80 excitable kids head for the bathrooms at the same time? You really do not want to get in their way.

As we travelled down the avenue of the volcanoes we pass many interesting sights, the suburbs and industrial areas of Quito, Kichwa people working the fields and herding the livestock but not one single volcano. It turns out that we have picked the worst possible day to travel as it is more or less constant drizzle and the low cloud means no volcanoes!

Never mind, the real entertainment is the children. The school trip is really good fun and we would not have missed it for the world. The guard asks us if we would like to take the two spare seats in first class on the return trip and when we say " no thanks " and that we would really like to stay with the kids, she clearly thinks we have lost our minds.

On arrival in Machachi we are greeted by a band playing tradition folk music which was great but we were expecting the station to be in the middle of Machachi , not 2 kms outside of town. There is nothing here, So what are we going to do for the next three hours? We are invited to join the guys from Oklahoma on their trip around the hacienda close to the station followed by lunch. The Ecuadorian guide is one of life's true characters and although the trip around the farm is all a bit touristy, he is great fun and not only shows us around, but conducts a group meditation session and, over lunch serenades us accompanied by his guitar. It is a small world as we discover over lunch that one of the guys is from Wisconsin and used to work at the same university as our Finnish friend Mona!

After lunch we pick up the train which has now been to Latacuna and back and meet our young travelling companions once again. By now they are exhausted and the teacher and the guard, even more so. As soon as we board, the fizzy drinks and lollipops are out and 10 mins later a group sugar rush and mayhem ensues (teacher and guard manage to sleep through most of it).

Eventually, we continue back into Quito, once again in rush hour and once again our police outriders stop the traffic. No one seems to mind much as most passers by are waving at the kids on the train.

In all a very enjoyable trip even if we didn't see any volcanoes. We now both have the greatest respect for primary school teachers, police motorcyclists and train guards..
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thursdaysd on

Classic! I think I might have taken that first class seat on the way back.... Are you going to try the trip again for better weather?

candcthai on

Hi thursdaysd,
Probably not, the weather is really hit and miss as far as Cotapaxi is concerned so we are probably heading off to Banos tomorrow for a soak in some hot pools!

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