A Girl's Journey to Ecuador

Guayaquil to Quito

Famed children’s author Ludwig Bemelmans (author of the beloved children's book Madeline) traveled through Ecuador around the same time that Ina and her family lived in Quito.  In 1941 Bemelmans published The Donkey Inside which recounts his time in Ecuador in the late 1930s.

Here is Bemelmans’ description of the train that Ina and her family took from the port of Guayaquil, where they first arrived in Ecuador, through the coastal flatlands to the Andean highlands.  The weather turns from tropical to cool on the journey as plantations give way to small farms.

To take the train for Quito, you are called at five in the morning, and an old and twisted ferry-boat carries you across the Guayas river to DurĂ¡n.  The traveler here beholds a picture, lit by the rising sun, that is a hundred years old and like the finale of an operetta that has been dressed with second hand costumes. …Here is the station-master with a coat cut en taille and a baby beard.  Nuns walk up and down dressed in the colors of several convents, predominant among them the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent DePaul, under immense butterfly hats.  Between them clamor officers sabers…Half a dozen monks, fat and happy, stand talking with folded arms, and aside and serious stands a Jesuit, his eyes on a little book. Commercial people, clerks in bowlers and threadbare black suits, large families with hanker-chiefs ready for tears, embraces, and train whistling, conductor running up and down, salutes and crying and waving of the hanker-chiefs.”  (Bemelmans 1941:37).

"The prospectus of the Guayaquil and Quito Railway informs us that we are in a land of Old World Charm, courtesy and hospitality, a land with delightful climate to suit every taste, ranging from the tropical to the temperate; that verdure-covered hills are set like jewels among the snow-capped mountains; that the distance from Guayaquil to Quito is 462 kilometers; that the railway is the result of the initiative of General Eloy Alfaro and Mr. Archer Harmen, a far-seeing North American; that the railway traverses banana and cocoa plantations, coffee and rice and tobacco fields; that the train stops in Huigra and that from there on is the most interesting part of the trip, where the road goes up over Devil’s nose in a five and a half percent zigzag and eventually comes to Riobamba, which lies at an altitude 9020 feet; that the population of this city is 30,000, that it is the capital of Chimborazo, and that it has many fine buildings, parks, statues and excellent hotels.  (Bemelmans 1941:38-39).

The train ride from Guayaquil to Quito is usually a two-day trip with an overnight layover in Riobamba.

Bemelmans, Ludwig 1941.  The Donkey Inside.  New York, Viking Press

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