NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

My poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Spend the afternoon browsing through the list (with links – just click on the title) below …. and until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

 

 

Full moon and clouds. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Night Voyage,” “Dying Yungas Moon” and “I Dream” in The MOON Magazine (September 2017)

 

An autumn landscape. Cerro Castillo, Carretera Austral, Chile. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

 

Footprint Travel Guides

South America Handbook 2018

I am honored to have been a correspondent for the Chile chapter of this latest edition of the legendary South America Handbook.

 

Andes Transit

13 Spooky South American Haunts

 

Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner

Volcanic Eruptions: Galapagos Islands’ Natural Fireworks

Galapagos Tortoise Species Back from Extinction

The Charles Darwin Research Station

Galapagos National Park – A Brief History

Twelve Titles on Galapagos series

Twelve Titles on the Galapagos – Natural History

Twelve Titles on the Galapagos – Human History

Twelve Titles on the Galapagos – for Children

Twelve Titles on Galapagos – Videos

Advertisements

THE OLD PATAGONIAN EXPRESS REVISITED

The Old Patagonian Express preparing for the journey. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

For weeks I have continued to ride that narrow-gauge track winding through my memory.

Three times have I ridden the Old Patagonian Express – and each time, it was a different experience.

The story I shared in A VOYAGE INTO HISTORY : The Old Patagonian Express was based on my experience in late 2008. The time before that, in 2005, I rode in the rear car with the local inhabitants. Both of these times, the train went only as far as Nahuel Pan, and the train was segregated: the high-paying tourists rode in special cars; the local inhabitants rode in a separate compartment.

But how the service had changed so much in 10 short years!

It is that first time, in late 1998, that has been winding through my mind.  You see, back then, it was a much different journey. All passengers rode together. There was no separation of the locals from the tourists. And La Trochita (as the Old Patagonian Express is lovingly called), went as far as El Maitén, half-ways to Ingeniero Jacobacci where it connected with the San Antonio del Oeste-Bariloche Tren Patagónico. This Esquel-El Maitén leg of the line has six watering stops: Nahuel  Pan, La Cancha, Molloco, Lepá, Leleque and El Maitén, where the repair workshop (taller) is.

What I hold close to my memory’s heart are the wild landscape, far from the modern roads of humans, and the people who live in that region who have no other way to reach home.

Let us get on the Old Patagonian Express of several decades ago – when it still was a local train in which tourists happened to also ride (for quite a bit more money, truth be told).

All Aboard!

 

Map of the Old Patagonian Express train line. produced by: Moebiusuibeom-en

 

THE OLD PATAGONIAN EXPRESS

 

Under this week’s bright sun

& cirrus clouds

La Trochita is prepared

for its journey

Señor Rickert the stationmaster cleans

the windows outside

with a rhea-feather duster

Engineer Juan sweeps the floors

His wife Mary shines

the inside panes

Comedor chairs are lowered

from the wall hooks

 

Nº 16 chugs into place

& connects

Clicks of camera shutters scurry

through the morning air

 

A long whistle blow of

of that black steam locomotive

I run       & just as it

begins to pull away

hop onto the vestibule

Cecilia calls my name

& trotting alongside

our departure

she takes a last

picture of me

 

& here I stand on the

open space between cars

Cinders spray over

falling on my hair

& upon this page

 

We climb above Esquel

Children wave

Bicyclists weave down

the ribbon highway

 

& in the distance

snow-streaked mountains

divide the earth

from sky

 

In the old-fashioned first-class

red leather seats

are mosty empty

I pause on the next vestibule

the wagons rocking

& make the leap, turning

the brass knob

into the dining car

There Mary serves me a cup of coffee

After a while other passengers

enter our conversations of trains

 

& up on the high plains

horses gallop from our

warning whistle

A flock of sheep runs, runs

across the scrub-brush fold

 

In a dry laguna bed

ten guanacos stand like

brown silhouettes against the

pale silt sand

 

& across that disappeared water

rheas rush from the rumble

of this petite wooden train

Above       a falcon soars

his shadow cast below

 

 

LA CANCHA

our first refilling stop

The tanks overflow

water streaming down

the narrow-gauge tracks

Steam roars into the robin-egg sky

The assistant oils the wheels

 

Bees swarm around the moist pump

Artemesia       brushed by photographer-passengers

scents the early afternoon

 

I close the segunda door

on the comedor discussion

Old wooden benches

for two on one side

for one on the other

Silvered mesh wraps around

the woodstove       cold & silent

on this almost-summer day

 

A Welsh descendent

& a Mapuche share tales

with guffaws

and wild hand-dances

 

With a short whistle song

we continue on

slowly ascending

 

A young couple over there

The woman quiets their

crying daughter

She peers into her mate’s eyes

He turns away

to the vista swaying by

His crossed arms rest

on the open window’s sill

 

A hare escapes

through the thorn bushes

 

 

MALLOCO

a half-dozen abandoned log cabins

Their windows & doors agape

 

In a valley of this undulating land

that white-patched sierra peeks

Sweet herbs swell the air

 

But       once more

our call comes

 

A small lizard slinks

through tufted grasses

& dried mullein

 

Four startled sheep scatter

frantically       blindly

towards the tracks       & away

 

Barely visible in the near distance

stand four guanacos

with two calves

 

A hawk swoops on the currents

of the slightly clouded sky

bathed by the black steam

of our trencito

 

Frightened maras

hop in long strides       fleeing

over the Patagonian prairie

 

 

LEPÁ

two gauchos await near a cabin

Their loose pants

studded with silver coins

held by woven belts

& tucked into boots

Low-crowned hats shade their faces

They hoist their family’s luggage

up       & into these cars

 

Out on the vestibule

Mary talks with a villager

“Oh, your baby is so precious”

she cradles him in her thick arms

looking into those new eyes

 

 

LELEQUE

welcome to Benetton country

Miles & miles of sheep estancias

stretch to any horizon

 

Here a gaucho departs

wearing a Metallica t-shirt

His well-muscled arms bulge

carrying bags & provisions

for his family

He greets them at the gate

with broad hugs & broad smiles

With his teenage son this father

spars around the shaded yard

 

Ñandús & chicks

roam this valley

as we make the last

stretch towards

El Maitén

 

The mountains near       & retreat

a bandoneón to the north

closing       & opening       around

the plains

 

The dense carbon smoke of Nº 16

swirls across the land

These old wooden wagons

reel & creak with

the clatter of rails

& the chug of engine

 

 

poem © 1998 Lorraine Caputo

A homestead on the Patagonian plain. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Journey’s End

In those days, the service went as far as El Maitén. The following day, it would return to Esquel. After all, this was still a local train, to fulfill the transportation needs of the inhabitants of these small hamlets in the middle of nowhere, on these Patagonian plains.

When I debarked in El Maitén, I visited the taller where these mighty steam engines are kept alive. Also just getting off La Trochita was a German locomotive engineer with a shaft under his arm: “Can you replace this?” Sure enough, the workshop would be able to help keep alive a steam locomotive half a world away.

 

The Patagonian landscape. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 


 

For almost thirty years, I have been riding trains (now over 100), from Alaska to Patagonia. As I explained in An Affair Never-Ending, riding the rails became a way to more deeply know (and fall in love with) a country. And I choose to ride trains in which the local people also ride.

 

My favorite place from which to meditate on the landscapes slowly, rhythmically clicking by is from the vestibule. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

Hello, again – and welcome to my bi-monthly round-up of recent publications.

Since we last met in this corner of cyberspace, my poetry and travel writing has continued to appear in journals and on websites around the world. I did make a great escape from all, stowing poetry drafts in my knapsack along with some bare essentials. For four days, I molded my poetic voice, soaked in hot springs, walked many kilometers through the countryside, and visited an ancient indigenous sacred site. I came back with more poetry to begin submitting, and hopefully to share their publication with you in future installment of NEW PUBLICATIONS.

But spend this afternoon browsing through the list of my most recent poetic and travel publications (below, with links)

And until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

River Poets Journal’s special “Windows” issue includes my verse. photo ©Blue Heron Review

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“2 AM Streets” in River Poets Journal, special “Windows” edition (July 2017)

“Traversing the Night” in Peacock Journal – Anthology: Beauty First [Vol I, No 2], ed. by W.F. Lantry

“In the Sunset Sea” in Blue Heron Review (Summer 2017)

 

Termas de Polloquere didn’t make it on the list of great hot springs in Latin America – as the only way to get to these is with private vehicle. Polloquere is in Monumento Natural Salares de Surire in northern Chile, near the Bolivian border (http://www.conaf.cl/parques/monumento-natural-salar-de-surire). A campsite is on the springs’ shores, but this is high altitude – and guaranteed to get below freezing at night. Be prepared!
photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

Andes Transit

Hot Springs by Bus

 

Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner

Twelve Titles on Galapagos – Natural History

Beebe’s Inspirational Galapagos Expeditions

Whaling Times in the Galapagos Islands – Part 3

Whaling Times in the Galapagos Islands – Part 2

Whaling Times in the Galapagos Islands – Part 1

Pirates of the Galapagos

Galapagos Islands’ Best Snorkeling Sites – No Cruise Required

 

 

NAVIGATING THE KITCHEN – A Bilingual Guide to Kitchen Gear

One of the most surprisingly difficult places to navigate when you are traveling is the kitchen. I find nothing more frustrating than to be cooking away, then not be able to find some utensil that I need. What in the devil is a colander called? A grater?

These aren’t exactly words we are taught in Spanish class. Oh, yes, we learn the basics: plate, fork, spoon, knife, glass. But when we get out of the comedor (dining room) and into the cocina (kitchen), we are suddenly thrust into no-person’s land.

Today I present to you words to help you more easily navigate around the hostel or your host family’s kitchen.

¡Buen viaje! ¡Buen provecho!

Place setting. photo © Lorraine Caputo

above (left to right)

bread / dessert plate – plato dulcero

soup bowl – plato hondo  / plato para sopa / bol / cuenco

below (left to right)

napkin – servieta

fork – tenedor

plate – plato

knife – cuchillo

teaspoon – cucharita

soup spoon – cuchara

 

Kitchen utensils. photo © Lorraine Caputo

above (left to right)

pancake turner / spatula – paleta

mixing bowl – tazón

strainer / colander – cernedor / colador

ladel – cucharón

below

knife – cuchillo

 

To cook your food. photo © Lorraine Caputo

skillet – sartén

pot – olla

lid – tapa

 

Three sizes of pailas. These deep metal skillets are used for all manner of cooking, from fried eggs to dishes. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The paila is a unique cooking vessel in Latin American kitchens, perfect for preparing such dishes as Roasted Veggies.

 

To prepare beverages. photo © Lorraine Caputo

blender – licuadora

coffee pot – cafetera

 

To enjoy your beverages. photo © Lorraine Caputo

(left to right)

glass – vaso

wine goblet – copa

cup – taza

saucer – platillo / plato dulcero / plato para café

 

 

Other utensils you may need to prepare your dinner are:

cake pan / bread pan – molde

can opener – abrelatas

corkscrew – sacacorchos

cutting board – table (de cortar)

dish rag – trapo

grater – rallador

griddle (for making tortillas or roasting chilis) – comal (Mexico, Central America)

squeezer (for lemon, oranges, etc.) – exprimador

mixer – batidora

potato masher (for potatoes or other vegetables) – aplastador / majador  / pasapurés / chino

serrated knife – cuchillo de sierra

teapot – tetera

tongs – tenacillas / pinzas

towel – toalla

whetstone – piedra de afilar / afiladera

whisk – batidor

 

And how to describe the means of cooking:

burner – hornilla / hornalla (Argentina, Uruguay) / quemador

charcoal – carbón

firewood – leña

grill – parrilla

matches – fósforos / cerillos (Mexico)

oven – horno

stove – estufa / cocina

turn off – apagar

turn on – encender

 

 

Is there any word I may have missed? Please mention it below in the comments.

 

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It is time for our bimonthly roundup of my poetry and travel writing which continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Today, we travel to various corners of Latin America, including Mexico, Chile and Ecuador’s enchanting Galápagos Islands.

Spend the afternoon browsing through the list (with links) below …. and stay tuned for more poetic and narrative journeys coming up later this month!

Until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

 

The Daphnes and other Galapagos Islands from on high. Capture the magic of flying from the Andes to coast, to the Enchanted Isles with my poem “Journey of Changes.” photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Isla Negra” in Blue Fifth Review (Spring Quarterly, June 2017)

“Trickster Songs” and “Canyon Winds” in Mojave River Review (May 2017)

“Journey of Changes” in Topology Magazine (May 2017), theme: Borders & Boundaries

 

Sunflower seastar (Pycnopodia) in a tidal pool. Playa Orgánica, Isla Isabela, Galápagos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

            Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner

Galapagos Islands’ Best Snorkeling Sites – No Cruise Required

Galapagos Islands’ Best Snorkeling Sites – Western Islands

New Galapagos  Entry Requirements

Galapagos Islands’ Best Snorkeling Sites – Eastern and Central Islands

Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands

9 Galapagos Islands Day Cruises

 

 

A FEAST DAY IN THE COUNTRY – AND THE CITY : Fêting San Antonio in Latin America

San Antonio. La Recoleta Church (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

On this rainy night, the eve of the feast day of San Antonio de Padúa, hundreds of kilometers from Los Crepúsculos, I imagine I hear the strains of his serenade.

¡Ay, mi padre San Antonio

Donde está que no lo veo

Que vine a cantar con él

Y me voy con los deseos!

 

Qué queréis con San Antonio

Que lo ‘tas  llamando tanto

San Antonio  está en el cielo

Junto con los otros santos

 

Señores los bailadores

No se vayan a pegar

Los remedios ‘tan  muy lejos

No hay quien los vaya a buscar

 

Adorar y adorar y adorar a mi padre San Antonio

Adorar y adorar y adorar a mi padre San Antonio

 

Ay, my father San Antonio

Where are you, I don’t see you

I’ve come to sing with him

And I’ll be leaving with my dreams!

 

What is it you want with San Antonio

That you’re calling upon him so much?

San Antonio is in heaven,

Along with the other Saints.

 

It is the eve of the feast day of San Antonio – Saint Anthony of Padua. In the middle of the street of a neighborhood of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, musicians are seated in front of a statue of San Antonio. As they sing their honoring song honoring to this saint, bottles of cocuy (homebrew liquor) are being passed.

This serenade will continue until the wee hours of the morn, when then the all-day procession commences with a mass, and ends with an evening of seven dances…

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Guápulo (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Even many years after that night in Los Crepúsculos, the serenade sounds through my mind. Every time I encounter a statue of San Antonio – no matter the season – I mouth the words and sway, dancing to this great saint.

 

Iglesia de Sn Antonio (M’burucuyá, Argentina). photo © Lorraine Caputo

The feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua is celebrated on 13 June. San Antonio was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões, in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195. He was contemporary of Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francisco de Asís), founder of the Franciscan order. Saint Anthony became a monk of this order, and was famous for his knowledge of scripture, being able to teach them through simple words and deeds. Thus he holds the title of Doctor of the Church. He died 13 June 1231.

San Antonio is represented by the infant Jesus cradled in one arm. Sometimes he also holds a book or a lily blossom. He is the patron saint of lost causes, lost (or stolen) items, lost people and of the poor. In France, Italy, Spain and his native Portugal, Saint Anthony is the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. In other countries, he is the patron of travelers. On his saint’s day, small loaves of bread are passed out after the mass. This symbolizes San Antonio’s devotion to the marginalized peoples of these lands.

San Antonio is fêted throughout the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina. Today, we shall witness the traditions in two distinct parts of this region: in the deep countryside of Nicaragua, and in the barrios of the city of Barquisimeto, in Venezuela.

 

Iglesia San Francisco (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Many moons ago, when I stayed a mighty spell in Estelí, I was invited to accompany Padre Juan and some of the Rugama family to Terrero, a small settlement in the mountains of northern Nicaragua.

 

A FEAST DAY IN THE COUNTRY

 

Campesinos climb the rocky road

up to the brick chapel

With four guitars & two basses

their song fills the  valley

of these greened hills

Rockets fire into the air

 

In his glass case carried

in two men’s work-worn hands

San Antonio sways

Mothers & children enter the church

Fathers gather outside

smoking cigarettes

talking about crops & cattle

The Saint rests to one side of the altar

in front of the moss-covered apse

studded with plastic-petalled carnations

made by women of this parish

A large cloth-covered basket

of fresh-baked bread

is placed atop him

 

On horseback       on foot

the late arrive

One tethers his mare

to a guanacaste tree

Tattered curtains of Spanish moss

floating the blue-white sun breeze

In the distance two women

comedown the camino

They hold the hands of their children´

a baby in arms

 

Outside Padre Juan confers

with the mass assistants

&the musicians

 

More & more ascend the slope

to the sanctuary

Another rocket rises into the sky

where light clouds move & form swiftly

The white line of its smoke

the pop of its explosion

 

The priest & the choir enter the chapel

Men put their discussions aside

&pack into the back

 

Faces of those unable to fit inside

peer into the open doors & windows

 

Some compadres remain perched

on the scattered lava boulders

cowboy hats, baseball caps on knees

One holds his daughter on his thigh

The bow of her yellow voile dress

flutters in the soft wind

 

As the mass unfolds

with the reading of the scripture

the music

with the sermon

& the testimonies of the community

with the celebration of the Eucharist

More families near the temple

children in hand tottering along

children in arms

Men hastily remove their hats

 

The wafers are placed on tongues

Outside a man lights the fuse

of the rockets with his cigarette

The swooshes       the cracks

of each fill the late morning

 

The last song is being sung

Two women carry the basket of bread

All within & outside this crowded

church are fed

 

Amid cries bounding from one another

¡Viva San Antonio!

                                                ¡Viva!

                  ¡Viva San Antonio!

                                                ¡Viva!

The Saint is carried away

in his glass case

the handles held by those

two sets of work-worn hands

Down the hill

down the winding road

up the next rise

into the distance

Rocket blasts reverberate

throughout the valley

 

published in: Baobab (2000)

 

Iglesia San Francisco (Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

In further south climes, this popular Saint is also being fêted. One of his largest strong hold is in Venezuela’s state of Lara, where he is the patron saint. The tamunangue music and dances of these celebrations have their roots deep in Africa. It is said to have originated with San Antonio himself, during his missionary work in northern Africa.

My first visit to Venezuela coincided with the fiestas of San Antonio. Friends around the country urged me to get to Barquisimeto, capital of Lara. Yakarí offered to be my guide through the two days of celebrations in the Los Crepúsculos neighborhood. This is home of one of the most traditional troupes, Grupo de Tamunangue Uyama.

The evening of June 12 is the velorio (vigil) to San Antonio, a serenade on the eve of his saint’s day. The next day, mass is said at the parish church in La Unión. The procession then wends through the streets, with dancing and drumming until dusk. At night, the round of dances is performed.

 

A FEAST DAY IN THE CITY

 

  1. El Velorio / Los Crepúsculos

 

The warning rockets are fired

one two three & four

with the butt of a cigarette

 

San Antonio stands in his case

near the door of a house

His wooden capilla

is backdropped by fan-

shaped palm leaves

Two vases of flowers

perch at the front corners

Their carnations scent the evening

a single candle flickers

 

People gather in the cul-de-sac

awaiting this velorio to begin

Many come & touch his head

his back       & then cross themselves

 

The strumming of cuatros

& guitarra marruna

                  begins before this saint

Of a septet standing before him

the strains of Ave María Purísima

A rocket fired

&a second

rocket tras rocket

 

After the song

one troubadour

prays aloud

The standing people repeat

¡Viva San Antonio!

                  ¡Viva San Antonio!

 

Everyone sits in silver

wrought-iron seats set

in a semi-circle before the Saint

Two troubadours in the front row

sing to San Antonio

 

Playing kids roam

young teen women gossip—

their mothers & grandmothers, too

 

Two floodlights brighten

the street, the scenario

 

A brindis of cocuy

is left for San Antonio

& after a coffee break

the serenade continues

More men join with

cuatros, voice and cincos

Between songs more

cocuy is poured

 

A grey-rooted, red haired woman

in a bright green shirt

claps with the music

swaying in rhythm

Her palms redden

song after song

 

These men, their eyes reddening

sing leaning into a compañero

or closes his eyes

They praise San Antonio

la-la-ing with heart & smile

or eyes wide, brows twisted with feeling

 

As the evening grows older

people move the chairs

into tight circles around the music

 

And when the velorio

ends at midnight

The musicians suit their instruments

until the next morn,

San Antonio’s feast

 

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

On San Antonio’s feast day, the biggest celebration is in Barrio La Unión. After the morning mass at the parish church, tamunangueros dance through the streets, carrying the beloved saint from house to house. This procession with its accompanying drumming (and copious amounts of cocuy) continues until dusk. After the sun sets, the seven sones (rhythms) of tamunangue are danced by couples armed with garrotes (sticks).

Yakarí and I spent the day being one with the procession. That night, we returned to Los Crepúsculos. For hours we sat on the blacktop street while he explained the intricacies of each dance.

The tamunangue not only honors San Antonio on his feast day, but it is also performed to fulfill a promise (promesa) to him for granting a good harvest, a family request (for wishes of healing, a new home, studies, etc.) or for love conquered.

The tamunangue consists of the Dedicatorio or Serenade to San Antonio, which includes the Batalla (Battle), performed by two men. This is to ask the Saint for permission to present the dances promised to him.

This is then followed by a round of seven dances performed by couples:

  • El Yiyevamos – The opening dance, with the singer directing the dancers with his calls
  • La Bella – An honoring of women
  • La Juruminga – Based rhythms and forgotten African words
  • La Perrendenga – A dance between woman and man, with garrotes
  • El Poco a PocoThree humorous passes compose this dance
  • El Galerón – The couples dance holding hands
  • El Seis Figurado (Seis Corrido) – Three men and three women dance a total of 32 movements, acting out the picaresque calls of the singer

 

These are just two of the ways San Antonio is fêted in Latin America, in the countryside and in the city, by campesinos and by African descendants. The pueblos of this region wear many other faces, including indigenous. Many roads, there are, yet to wend to continue honoring this saint.

A VOYAGE INTO THE PAST : The Old Patagonian Express

Juan, our engineer on this day. © Lorraine Caputo

 

As the 1922 Henschel steam engine leaves its shed, people gather along the long platform to watch its dance as it couples the eight cars for the journey to Nahuel Pan. For some it will be a many-year dream fulfilled, to ride the famed Old Patagonia Express. For others, like that petite, white-haired woman there, this is a step back to childhood when she first came to Esquel. She had been relieved to step out of her carriage after the almost-day-long journey from Ingeniero Jacobacci on La Trochita, as this train is loving called by locals.

 

The white-haired lady is ready to step back into her childhood. © Lorraine Caputo

 

El Viejo Expreso Patagónico – also called El Viejo Expreso Patagónico and La Trochita – has been the subject of many books, like Paul Theroux’ epic journey through the Americas, The Old Patagonia Express, and documentaries. It was a challenge to build this 400-kilometer (244-mile) narrow gauge line through the desolate Patagonian landscape. When completed, it was the southern-most regular passenger service in the world. It yet holds that distinction, being the main transport for the Mapuche inhabitants of Nahuel Pan.

All aboard! © Lorraine Caputo

 

Those villagers slip into the rear car with the workers while the tourists board the five 1922 Belgian-made passenger cars. In the two dining cars, one at either end of the train, doña Jovita will serve coffee and tortaletas, beer and sandwiches during the trip. As our journey begins, guides tell the historical trek of La Trochita.

 

Inside the Belgian-made cars, built in 1922. In front of the seated woman is a salamandra stove. © Lorraine Caputo

 

Early 20th Century Patagonian villages were isolated. To get their goods to city markets as a three-month or more travail. Under the 1908 Ley Ramos Majía, these communities petitioned for a connection to the outside world.

Water sources where a steam engine could fill up every 40 kilometers (24 miles) had to be pinpointed in the dry Patagonia plain. In 1923 construction began southward from Ingeniero Jacobacci on the San Antonio Oeste-Bariloche line. Narrow gauge or troche angosta (75 centimeters / 29.5 inch) was chosen because of the land’s mountainous lay. Midway down the line, a workshop was established at El Maitén which still maintains these steam engines and makes any parts needed.

Despite icy winters, the global economic crisis of the 1930s and the high cost of laying the line, cargo service finally reached Esquel in 1945. Five years later the first passenger train arrived, with trains running several times per day. Each journey took 14 to 16 hours, longer in winters. These days, the usual speed of the Old Patagonia Express is 45 kph / 27 mph, with a maximum speed of 60 kph / 36 mph, due the winding nature of the tracks.

In 1993, then-President Carlos Menem turned administration of the railroads over to the provinces. Because many could not afford the maintenance, dozens of lines closed nation-wide, including the Ingeniero Jacobacci-El Maitén leg of the Express in Río Negro Province. With determination, Chubut Province has kept La Trochita alive.

 

Over the years of taking trains throughout the Americas, I have learned that three things are always true when a train passes:
• Traffic must stop.
• People – especially kids – wave.
• Dogs bark.
© Lorraine Caputo

 

Between Esquel and the first north-bound station, Nahuel Pan, we cross several modern-day roads. The cars must stop for our passage. We exchange waves as this little train clatters along. A truck on Ruta 40 salutes the Express with a blare of its horn.

La Trochita twisting across the mountainous terrain. © Lorraine Caputo

Watching the terrain of the Old Patagonian Express. © Lorraine Caputo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Patagonian Express on the longest curve of the line. © Lorraine Caputo

 

Nahuel Pan Mountain rises beige and faded-green on the east horizon. Across the narrow valley are small farms. Birds wing from our approach. The longest curve of the line is just south of Nahuel Pan hamlet. From the last cars, the engine comes into view. Its steam pumps across the blue sky.

 

The Mapuche-Tehuelche village of Nahuel Pan. Here many passengers will visit the Museo de Culturas Originarias Patagónicas. © Lorraine Caputo

 

The Old Patagonian Express preparing for the homeward journey. © Lorraine Caputo

 

The Henschel refills its water hopper at Nahuel Pan and pirouettes to the front of the cars. Further on are several abandoned engines. Meanwhile, passengers visit the Museo de Culturas Originarias Patagónicas and buy crafts from these artisan villagers. With a toot of the locomotive whistle, we board the wooden cars for our homeward journey.

 

Homeward bound. © Lorraine Caputo

 

The end of our excursion is nearing. Across the vestibule, I see that petite, white-haired woman looking wistfully out her window of the next car. What memories has this trip brought her? Perhaps the smell of sausages cooking on the salamandra stove each passenger car has. Perhaps the bustle of others gathering baggage and bundles as La Trochita approaches its final stop.

 

The summer fields of Patagonia. © Lorraine Caputo

 

All year long, through winter snows and summer fields of thistle, Esquel visitors hop the Old Patagonia Express, once or twice weekly in the off season, daily at holiday times. Once monthly, the ride goes as far as El Maitén, where the maintenance workshops can be visited. In the high season, nighttime rides are offered from Esquel to Nahuel Pan. Another regular run of La Trochita is from El Maitén to Desvío Thomae. About once a year, foreigners charter La Trochita to do the entire line, from Esquel to Ingeniero Jacobacci, a four to five-day excursion. Schedules are posted on the website.

The second weekend of February is the Fiesta Nacional del Tren a Vapor (National Steam Train Festival) in Maitén.

 

Gazing into the mighty Henschel’s innards. © Lorraine Caputo

Guiding the Henschel to bed. © Lorraine Caputo

At the end of the day’s run, La Trochita mounts the roundtable to be turned around before entering the locomotive shed. © Lorraine Caputo