NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It has been a few crazy months, with not only commissioned articles and poetry submissions, but also proofreading a dissertation and translating poetry.

And, indeed, 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) below, journeying to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Chile, Colombia and other destinations between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego.

…. and until we next meet …..

 

Moonset over the slopes of Volcán Pichincha. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Moonset” and “Horizon” in River Poets Journal (April 2018)

“As If a Dream,” “One Hundred Moments of Solitude” and “Transmutation,” in Eos: The Creative Context (12 April 2018)

 

Also during these past few months, I have had the opportunity to translate more works by the renowned Uruguayan poet Cristina Cabral. Although the six translations are not available as yet, the poems (in the original Spanish) appear in her new collection.

Telaraña: Ecos y sonidos de la Afro Diaspora (Spanish Edition)

 

Galápagos Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

AndesTransit

12 Fun and Free Things to Do in Santiago de Chile

 

Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner

Masters of the Sea – Sharks of the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands Meets El Niño and La Niña

 

If you are in need of an article, translation – or a dissertation proofread, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to participate in literary events.

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REFLECTIONS

Often – too often – I hurry about daily life, rushing to projects and appointments and errands. Winding through crowded streets on Saturday, buying fresh beans from women shelling on the street. From another anciana, a large bag of carrots, some onions, green beans, tomatoes.

Rushing and rushing, pulling a coin out for the one man band who occasionally staggers down the street, a toilet bulb beating the drum upon his back as he plays a zampoña. A coin for the blind man who plays his accordion, stopping long enough to write a poem.

 

THE BLIND BUSKER

On this side street

behind the president’s palace

with an occasional bus

fuming by

 

he sits playing

a wheezing accordion

off-key singing a pasillo

 

passers-by divert

to the other side

or divert to him

to drop a coin

 

in his green plastic bowl

chained to one ankle

against theft

 

& they move on …

 

I drop a coin

& stop to listen …

 

… to listen …

 

& write this poem

 

© Lorraine Caputo

 

“On this side street …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Or I hide away in my room up on the terrace seeking refuge from the torrential afternoon rain that come in this season. Thick drops and perhaps hail pelt the tin roof. The wind blows like a hurricane. Frequent lightning is so sharp and its thunder so throaty at this high altitude.

And not often enough do I stop to appreciate the view from my privileged spot about the historic heart of the city.

Oh, sure, I’ll watch the action on the streets below – tourists lost in this off-the-beaten-track neighborhood, families running to catch the bus rocking down the cobblestones.

At times I do lift my gaze to the hills surrounding this valley where ticky-tacky houses stack one upon the other in multicolored hues. Perhaps after an afternoon storm, a rainbow will arc over the eastern horizon.

 

Sometimes afternoon the storm passes, a rainbow arcs over the east where, beyond the hills, the jungle lies. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Though I admit – I do not stop to smell the proverbial roses frequently enough.

At time some aperture does catch my mind. What worlds, what lives lay beyond them that door left ajar? Windows are another fascinating opening into other lives and worlds … but they also reflect the world around us.

Across the way from this terrace is a colonial-era house. On the second floor are with large, shuttered doors which lead out to balconies. In the late afternoon, their windows capture the world beyond, reflecting the city … calling my attention to some facet that I neglect to SEE in the course of daily life.

I am reminded of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: We see reality only as shadows upon the smooth rock walls.

Ay, but if we turn around to SEE the source of those shadows … If I turn around to see those mountains, the clouds flowing over them, those houses ….

To celebrate May is National Photograph Month, let us watch the reflections those windows.

Safe Journeys!

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NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

A new year has begun, and with it new beginnings.

Weights of past years have been being lifted, clearing the path for more adventures. And that worry-energy I can now focus upon what matters most to me: my poetic voice. This year, I am sure, will open the way to not only more wondrous landscapes, but also more achievements in the realm of the literary world.

And here we are once more, rounding up my most recent publications – both literary and travel expressions (below, with links).

While away a snowy (or rainy) day and escape to Peru, Ecuador and the enchanted Galapagos Islands (including a series of articles on the isles’ stunning fauna). And this month, there is something a bit additional: two essays on Ecuadorian writers, plus a translation of a story by a third author of that Andean country.

And until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

 

Religious procession with the Virgin. Piura, Peru. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Vigil” in Mojave River Review (Vol 3 No 2 Fall/Winter 2017)

 

… and something a bit different – two articles and a translation for the new website, Ecuador Fiction:

Alicia Yáñez Cossío

Vladimiro Rivas Iturralde

“Night Matters” by Ney Yépez (translation)

 

Blue Heron – one of the many types of shore birds you’ll see in the Galapagos Islands. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

            Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner

Furry and Warm-Blooded – Galapagos mammals

Galapagos Feathered Friends: Land Birds of the Galapagos Islands (part 2)

Galapagos Feathered Friends: Land Birds of the Galapagos Islands (part 1)

5 Reasons to Visit the Galapagos Islands in 2018

2017 Galapagos News Roundup

Denizens of the Galapagos’ Prehistoric World: Seven Reptiles to Spot on Your Galapagos Adventure

Strolling Galapagos Shores: Shore & Wetland Birds to Spot on Your Galapagos Vacation

Sailing on Galapagos Breezes: Seabirds to Spot on Your Galapagos Cruise (part 2)

Sailing on Galapagos Breezes: Seabirds to Spot on Your Galapagos Cruise (part 1)

A Galapagos Expedition with a Mission: California Academy of Sciences, 1905-1906

 

Please feel free to contact me if you would like an article or translation from my pen, or invite me to participate in a literary event.

 

And to this new year, full of endless possibilities!

 

Recipe Corner : BRANDY ALMOND CAKE

cake, brandy, almonds, stove top

Brandy Almond Cake, perfect with a cup of coffee or tea. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

For years, I have lived without an oven. How do I bake, then? you might ask.

Remember back to the days of the Westward Expansion in U.S. history. In those wagon trains, the women prepared everything over the campfire. Even for centuries before that, women prepared cakes, breads and all sorts of “baked” goodies on the hearth. These days, I do it atop the stove.

And how do we do it? With a good, heavy pot or skillet with a lid. The most common is cast iron, those massive, black and HEAVY cooking utensils. If you don’t have one of those, any heavy pot will do.

 

cake, brandy, almonds, stove top

In the upper left is the four-liter pot I use for preparing cakes and breads. The lid is in the foreground. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

A housemate has a bottle of cheap brandy leftover from her Christmas pudding. She has offered it to any and all to use it up. With this cold rainy weather of late, I decided to make a cake. In lieu of a mixer (which I don’t have), I used a blender to whip the wet ingredients together – which also allowed me, in one fell swoop, to grind the almonds.

 

cake, brandy, almonds, stove top

My creation – or what’s left of it after one sitting between three women. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

This was my creation. It turned out very moist, with a fine crumb texture.

Three of us sat down last night to have this for dessert. We all went in for seconds, leaving behind only half of the cake. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

 

BRANDY ALMOND CAKE

 

The Night Before

Place ½ cup of whole almonds in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover and set aside.

 

Day of Preparation

In blender pitcher, whip at high:

½ cup butter, softened

½ cup white sugar

½ cup brown sugar

⅓ cup brandy

 

Add and whip well:

2 eggs

almonds

 

In another bowl, mix together well:

1 ¼ cup flour (I prefer using whole wheat flour)

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

 

Fold the butter mixture into the flour mixture.

Lightly oil a heavy four-liter pot. Pour in the batter. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick (or thin knife) inserted near the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

When the pot is cool, remove the cake. Serve plain or with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

 

¡Buen provecho!

 

Feel free to experiment with this recipe:

  • Use walnuts, pecans or any other nuts that strike your fancy.
  • Add approximately 2 centimeters (3/4 inch) piece of peeled fresh ginger with the almonds. (In Spanish, ginger is called gengibre; in Peru, its name is kion.)
  • Use other types of clear liqueurs, like amaretto.

 

 

 

 

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY —or— Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone

My search for a passenger train in Guatemala left me feeling like Doña Quixote.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Resistencia, Argentina (a country where I did take a number of passenger trains).
photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Once upon a time, I almost took a train.

No, I didn’t. And for many years thereafter I have waited, patiently, for the chance again.

I am defeated—or I choose to be. Here I put the Guatemalan iron horse out to pasture.

 

How many times I’d been in Guatemala over the years and never journeyed by rail: twice the end of 1988, twice the beginning of 1992; December 1993 and March 1994; and twice the beginning of 1996.

Now I sit here many years later, trying to figure out why I didn’t take it then, or even then. Sometimes my route north or south was in the wrong direction. Sometimes I was in too much of a hurry—sometimes others were. I believe one time I didn’t want to have to face the dangers of Guatemala City’s Zona 1 streets, hotel to station, at sunrise to catch a 7 a.m. train.

(Kick, kick, kick.)

 

In early 1992, I had met two young Dutch men. They told me of taking the train to Puerto Barrios. It was running so late, those small wooden cars skip-clicking through the pouring rain. Near Amate, the trip was aborted. A bridge had washed out. A woman they met aboard took them through the already-darkened streets to her home.

Their tale piqued my desire to someday take a chapín train. Images formed in my mind of narrow rails through jungle green, into the hearts of lives shielded from the highway view, into the banana plantations.

 

In November 1993, I began another trip to Central America. I vowed to take that train. So much for good intentions.

While at Lake Atitlán, I met an Israeli couple that wanted to do the Jungle Trail: a three-hour walk from Finca Chinoq, Guatemala, to Corinto, Honduras, through plantations and swamp. But they would like to have a translator. Would I be interested in coming along?

Need I think about it? For several years I had read about this. However, I had put my dreams aside, as a woman traveling alone. There’s no question. I’d be a fool…. Yes, I will.

We finalized our plans: a middle-of-the-night bus to Guatemala City, so they could take care of some business there. Then to the ruins of Quiriguá, and the next day head into the fincas. I suggested that we take the train. No: it is too slow; it is not the right day anyways; they want to get moving.

Well, when would I get another opportunity to do the Jungle Trail? And anyways, the train will always be there.

While the couple was off mailing a package in the City, I sat on the curb of the train station parking lot watching our gear. Sometimes I glanced over to the station, to the guarded gate into the railyards. The Jungle Trail versus a train. Is there a choice? And all along our bus ride to Quiriguá, I could occasionally glimpse those tracks. The Jungle Trail versus a train. Is there a choice?

Anyways, the train will always be there.

 

Well, in March 1996, the trains stopped. Sometime that same year the station in Guatemala City burned. I would see its empty hull and charred roof while passing through the capital.

 

Why did I never take it all those years?

Because, of course, it would always be there—it would never die.

Yeh, sure. Like chivalry and knights errant.

But hope was instilled in me.

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b1/Guatemala_rail_map_1925.jpg

The railroads of Guatemala, 1925. from Wikipedia

 

In May 1997, I wrote to Ferrocarriles de Guatemala (FEGUA) to ask about the status of passenger services in its country. Within a month, FEGUA responded:

  • Ferrocarriles de Guatemala suspended operations approximately one year ago, due to the very bad conditions of the infrastructure, for which reason the administration decided not to provide cargo nor passenger service.
  • Presently, in the course of this month [June], it will be know who the new concessionaire of the rail system will be, based on offers submitted in previous months.
  • [Such-and-such] company … in California … does excursions with steam engines approximately every year….

No, no special excursion trains. The purpose of riding the rails, of writing this book is to know the country. Not only the landscapes, but also that community that forms within the train. No, scratch number three—the community within will be foreigners, not Guatemalans.

Ah, but point two. A new concessionaire. So that means passenger service will return.

The end of that year, I hoisted my backpack Rocinante and headed into Latin America again. In February 1998, I arrived in Guatemala with a pocket full of that hope.

The stretches of rails I saw paralleling the highway from Tecún Umán on the Mexican border to Coatepeque appeared to be in good condition or under repair. Two Mormon missionaries in Ocós told me they had seen maintenance trains. But everyone I spoke with said the same thing: No, there are no passenger trains.

From Quetzaltenango I called the main office of FEGUA in the capital. Yes, a new administrator had been found, and passenger service will resume by the end of this year. There are no cargo trains running either. Rail reparations are underway.

Dang. Only about ten months too early.

For the next few months, the Guatemalan newspapers reported the struggles of the railroad to reclaim the clearance on either side of the tracks. In the less than three years since service was suspended, people had begun to build homes and businesses within that zone. Between Morales and Bananera I saw many market stalls and parking lots set up across the rails.

I guess, perhaps, Guatemalans has lost hope that the trains would ever return. I know I was beginning to—but held onto the Head of Transportation Department’s words: By the end of the year, there would be passenger service again.

Ay, and those tracks from Morales to Bananera to Quiriguá—in such horrendous condition.

 

10 March 1998 / Quiriguá

Rails heading into the banana plantation

split off just before the station

A few hundred feet down the line

a yellow & black gate blocks

with a simple word that shouts

ALTO

 

The old wooden station       faded orange & black

rain gutters rusted through

138.3 miles to Guatemala City

59.1 miles to Puerto Barrios

Part is now a funeral home

even though a sign proclaims

PROPERTY OF FEGUA

 

Four children bounce on a low

fence made of a stretch

of an old rail

 

I stop to talk with a young man

in the former ticket office

& will this once more be a station

when service begins again?

He & his friend look surprised

But in Guate they say

by the end of the year

the trains will return

The friend says

Only God knows

 

A faded old-orange wooden boxcar

rots on its rusting wheels

The rusting rail upon rotten ties

becomes buried beneath

partly burned trash

weeds & fallen leaves

dirt eroded from a landscape cut

 

My heart quickens at the thought

of finally       in the future

riding this train

 

I leave that stretch

at the turn-off for the highway

My Spirit wants to follow

its winding path

through tropical growth

those 59 miles to Puerto Barrios

 

In that port town, I spoke with the station chief. He was confident service would return.

That was before Hurricane Mitch hit in October 1998.

 

= = = = = = =

 

Again I begin planning another trip. I will give one last try at taking a train in Guatemala. In July 2002, I researched the internet. The new concessionaire is called Ferrovías Guatemala. Yes, it is running cargo trains from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios. It has plans to get the line toward the Mexican border going again. Passenger service, however, is limited to only a high-class, expensive tourist train in Februaries.

Well, in my experience, where there are cargo trains, there is also clandestine passenger service. I will go in person and see if somehow I can ride with el pueblo—if, indeed, el pueblo can still ride the rails.

 

May 2003

I arrive in Quetzaltenango. For several weeks I try calling the telephone numbers for Ferrovías Guatemala I got from a website. No matter what time of day I call, one line is busy. At the other number, I receive a recorded message: The person you are calling is not available. Please hang up and try your call later.

In street gutters, I find spent phone cards with old-time photographs of Ferrocarriles de Guatemala. Card one of the series of six shows a steam locomotive. Card four, a woman waits next to a car in the station, a wicker suitcase at her side. On card six, a woman stands in the doorway of a back vestibule. The reverse of each tarjeta tells a bit of the history of this country’s railroad.

In an internet café, I see a large map of Guatemala. I stand there, on tiptoe, fighting the glare of glass, compiling a list of towns along that silver rail:

GUATEMALA CITY—San José del Golfo—Sanarate—Guastatoya—El Jícaro—San Cristóbal Acasaguatlán—Cabañas—Usumatlán—Zacapa—La Pepesca—Gualán—Natalia—La Libertad—Morales—La Ruidosa—Navajos—Cayuga—Picuatz—Tenedores—Veracruz—Entre Ríos—Piteros—PUERTO BARRIOS

Still, almost every day, at all hours, I call those numbers for Ferrovías Guatemala. The line is busy. The recording: The person you are calling is not available….

I also phone FEGUA. A woman tells me, “No, FEGUA has no cargo nor passenger service. When will there be regular passenger trains? I don’t know. Perhaps next year. Ferrovías Guatemala? Perhaps they do.”

I finally lay my game plan: The road from Cobán meets up with the Atlantic Highway at El Rancho, between Guastatoya and El Jícaro. To bypass the madness of Guatemala City, I will travel through the Cuchamatanes Mountains to Cobán and come down to El Rancho.

 

16 June 2003

From El Rancho

I search across these drylands

greened with scrubbrush

South of this highway

upon which I travel

Hoping to catch some sight of those

silver rails I so need

to ride to complete

this book

No      still five years later

passenger service has

not resumed

But cargo has

from Guatemala City

to Puerto Barrios

A hope, a wish

… perhaps in vain …

& so to Zacapa I go

a town on that rail line

With my pockets full of

hope       full of wishes

 

We are at Jícaro now—a town that map showed to be on the route. But I’ve yet to see the tracks. San Cristóbal Acasaguatlán, another town. Through the spaces, the vistas, between trees, bluffs, homes—no glint, no cut of rails. No bridge spanning that river. (I know the line swings quite south of the road for a while. Is this search in vain? I keep checking my list of towns along the way. Perhaps the tracks are on the other side of yonder río. (Is that the Motagua?) Usumatlán—three kilometers from the highway, the sign says. Perhaps this is a bit in vain—and I can’t hope to see it until we turn off this highway. The next town is Zacapa.

If this effort fails, I’ll try further up the line. I will keep hope until the end—if my courage to ask for a ride holds out.

I continue to peer across those lands. Three kilometers. Would that be at the foot of those now-mountains?

Part of my mind begins to argue: This is crazy. All you know is, there are cargo trains running. You have no idea how often. Yes, perhaps every day or two. Or perhaps once a week. Perhaps once a month.

Hope, hope—a wish and a prayer, another part of my mind responds.

I know the train exists, that it is once more being used. Wherever I’ve been in Latin America, freighters have taken passengers—clandestinely. Could this country be any different?

We are now at the turn-off for Zacapa, Río Hondo. Deep River—my river of hope runs deep. Let it not be dammed by discouragement, disillusionment or fear.

Yes, I’m mad, I tell that other part of my mind that continues to rant. I’m a Doña Quixote, with my faithful compañera Rocinante. Yes, I’m tilting at windmills in hopes that somehow, somehow this book will raise a call for the return of passenger services.

As soon as I write these words, we enter Zacapa. We pass a small plaza with a brick windmill—and Sancho Panza with Don Quixote.

My guidebook says there are inexpensive places to stay near the train station. That would put me just where I want to be—close enough to it should the opportunity arise to take a ride.

I stop into a shop to buy a juice—and to ask where the station is. The woman tells me, “No, it’s not safe there. There’s lots of robo.” Her right hand grasps at the air.

When I explain my quest, she walks from behind the counter. “No, during the day it is safe—even for a woman alone. At night it’s different.” She encourages me, “No, go there first and see. If not, you can return to the market area for a cheap place to stay—15 quetzales.”

I hop a combi. We pass the church and the being-renovated central plaza. Down streets, past stores and workshops, to the south edge of town. Soon I see the railyards with rotting wooden cars. On a nearer track a deep-blue and yellow engine faces the direction of Guatemala City. Attached to it are several container cars with the names of northern companies. Near the gate stands an armed guard, hands on rifle.

The stone station is marred by gang tagging. The orange, press-wood eave tiles sag in the humid heat. Some are missing, some have holes punched into them. A dulled plaque commemorates the first anniversary of the “gift” of the railroad from the International Railroad Company of Central America (aka United Fruit) to the Guatemalan government, in 1968. Deeply engraved on the front eave is FEGUA. But above the old ticket window is a new sign: FERROVÍAS GUATEMALA. The company whose one phone number was always busy, and the other number, “The person you are calling is not available. Please hang up and try your call later.”

Across the street is the ramshackle of an old, two-story turquoise building. The bottom half is adobe or concrete; the top half, wood. The empty windows stare at the station. Above the doors off the balcony one can still see the former room numbers. Without a doubt, this was one of the inexpensive hospedajes.

I check out the only hotel still operating, Posada de las Molina (the final “s” missing), Inn of the Mills. From the outside, it looks nice. An older woman sits in a screened porch in the plant-filled courtyard. She informs me it will costs 50 quetzales for the entire night. So this is where the lovers tryst, the women work their nights. Away from the center of town, away from the spying eyes of neighbors.

I return to the station and set my pack down on a tree planter. I call to the guard, “Is the station chief in?”

“What is your business?”

I introduce myself and explain my quest. He disappears around the corner and within seconds reappears. “You can come in and take photos if you like.”

“No, I don’t have a camera. My poems and stories are my photos to show people the journeys.”

He urges me to enter with my pack and points to a group of men talking on the back platform. “He’s over there.”

“The one in the red ballcap?” I refer to the older man.

“No, el joven.”

I walk up to the one who looks perhaps in his mid-thirties, tall and slim with short dark hair. Once more the introduction, the explanation—and then the question. “Do freight trains here, as in other countries, ever take passengers?”

No. But, yes, he could grant me an interview. He invites me into his stark, grey-metal-furnished office. An old wooden station clock on the wall is stopped at 8:25.

Douglas Aldana, the jefe de patio in Zacapa, spends the next hour or so talking with me about the new company, its fifty-year contract, and the challenges of bringing the trains back online. Getting the right-of-way clearance five years ago “took quite a bit of doing.” Hurricane Mitch has set them back. Cargo service is provided once more between Guatemala City and Puerto Barrios. Next will be the stretch to Tecún Umán. Yes, passenger service is in the master plans, but he has no idea what type of service it will be. I can probably get the information in Guatemala City.

Several times the phone rings. He lets his assistant answer the calls. The second time our conversation is interrupted. While he is gone, I study the list of stations he has photocopied for me—the altitude and milepost of each stop. When he returns, I say it must have been quite a ride, almost like a rollercoaster. Aldana’s eyes brighten, “Oh, yeh, it was quite a beautiful passage.” He suggests that if I go to Guatemala City, I could probably get special permission to ride on a cargo train.

When he was a kid, he never thought he would work for the railroad—though his father was a brequero (brakeman) and he had uncles on both sides that worked for it. “Ah, so you’re carrying on the family tradition.” “,” he responds with a light laugh.

We go out onto the back platform. As I grab my Rocinante, I ask, “Where was the old waiting room?”

He leads me to the patio where I had first entered. “This was it.”

“Well, the benches are here. So there’s hope.” I shift the weight of my pack. “I have been waiting seven years to take a train here, without luck—and unfortunately I can’t wait another seven. But in fifty years, ay, perhaps there will be a train. We’ll both be retired. I’ll see you and say, Hey, Señor Aldana, let’s go for a ride to Puerto Barrios.”

He smiles and laughs.

“For me, train journeys are a good way to know a country,” I continue.

“Why’s that?”

“Because you have not only the vistas, and you are traveling slow enough to really see them, but—more importantly—you also have the community inside the train. And there are always three things that are the same with all journeys, no matter where.”

“Yes?”

“The whole human world has to stop for the passage of the train. The children wave. Dogs bark.”

“And it doesn’t matter where,” he says, looking thoughtful.

I glance over the railyards one last time. “In other places I’ve noticed people living in the old boxcars.”

“No, not here. We helped them find other places to stay. Plus that’s why we have an armed guard.” He motions towards the man who had let me in.

 

I flag down the first combi returning to town and watch the railyards disappear as we turn our back on them.

After dinner I resume my study of the list of stations, and my possible course of action. Of all the towns, the guidebook solely mentions Quiriguá. There is lodging there. Only five names appear in bold-faced, capital letters: Guatemala City, Rancho, Zacapa, Gualán and Puerto Barrios. What does it mean? The only staffed stations?  (Then no use in going to Quiriguá.) Stations with workshops? (But Aldana said the only one was in Guatemala City.)

Damn, why didn’t I notice this before and ask him?

I have no idea where Gualán is, if it is accessible by road, if I could find a place to stay. All I know is that it is 21.9 miles, eight stops from here. Thirteen stops, 23 miles beyond, would be the next hope, Quiriguá—whose name sits on this page in front of me in plain type.

The next bold-faced, capital-letter station is Puerto Barrios. The end of the line.

I believe I have reached my last hope. Perhaps it is time to stow the lance and shield in the attic, put the horse out to pasture, and tell Sancho to go home to his wife and kids.

What would Don Quixote do in this case?

Wait fifty years, find Señor Aldana and say, “Well, shall we take a ride to Puerto Barrios?”

What should this Doña Quixote do?

It’s now nearing midnight. I’ve been reviewing my notes and realizing questions I’d forgotten, clarifications I need, points perhaps for this story. I’ve now a list of queries, in case I decide to return to the station come morning. If Aldana is willing to spend a bit more time with me. And I kick Doña Quixote out of the bed, who keeps repeating, “Perhaps, upon sleeping on it, he will have a change of heart.”

Just as I’m turning in, I hear a locomotive blast that lasts a minute. Then the rumble of freight cars in the distance.

 

About ten a.m. I arrive once more at the station. I can see Señor Aldana out on the back platform talking with some men in a pick-up truck. They begin unloading tools and parts. Finally he notices me standing by the former ticket window. He approaches. After we exchange the customary pleasantries, I ask if he might have a few minutes.

“We’re having problems with one of the locomotives. But if it’s only a few minutes, sure.” We enter his office.

My hunch about the bold-faced, capital-letter towns on the list is correct: the only staffed stations. Bananera is another, though it isn’t marked as such. The frequency is not a set schedule; only when necessary. As for the number of cars—the trains aren’t as long as in Mexico and other places, as the terrain won’t permit it.

We discuss the geography of the line. Aldana draws a map on the backside of the station list, showing its relation to the mountains, to the Río Motagua and the highway.

He suggests the best way to keep updated on when passenger service resumes is to e-mail or write the parent company, the Railroad Development Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It probably has a website.

Did a cargo train pass through last night? Yes, about 12:30 a.m.

 

As I leave Zacapa, traveling east on the highway, I keep an eye out for the glint of silver rails. I get off the bus at La Trinchera. Far across a field, I see a deep-blue and yellow locomotive.

I have called off the search for a train ride here. It would violate a basic principle of this book: to ride with the people. If, in this country, el pueblo isn’t allowed to ride the freight trains, then there isn’t a train for me to take. For me to ask special permission would make me an elite. It would be no better than taking a tourist train.

And I am sure Mr. Posner and his Railroad Development Corporation will continue for the next 44 years to tell the people and the government that passenger service “is in the master plans.” But as I have seen in many countries, when such service is put in the hands of private corporations, it disappears. No, it’s not important that it provides a safe, energy-efficient way to travel. Not important that it creates many jobs: the official workers within the train—as well as the ad-hoc vendors along the way, giving people in these impoverished communities some way to feed their families. Not important that it can provide a mode of transportation the poor can afford to take. The only thing that is important is, Does it make a profit?

We’d seen it happen in the US, Mexico.

And only when the government steps in, can the people be guaranteed this option of traveling.

Perhaps someday I can return to Zacapa and say, “Hey, Señor Aldana, let’s go for a ride to Puerto Barrios.”

 

story © 2004 Lorraine Caputo

 

REPRISE:

More than a decade later, are there passenger trains in Guatemala?

Still ideas float about to bring back passengers trains in Guatemala, from Tecún Umán on the Mexican border in the west to Puerto Barrios on the Caribbean coast. The latest plan was to be presented in early 2017 – but it appears this, too, has come to naught.

In the interim, you can visit the Museo de Ferrocarril in Guatemala City. This railroad museum opened in 2004 in the old train station in the capital city.

It would appear that I shall continue to be Doña Quixote.

 


 

About this Project

For three decades, I have searched for and taken passenger trains from Alaska to the Patagonia. To date, I have ridden over 100 trains – always local trains, no tourist ones – in almost all of the countries of the Americas. From these experiences, I have been composing a collection of poems and stories of the adventures.

 

 

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

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