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

WANDERING OFF INTO SATURDAYS’ DAWNS (2014)

Many Saturdays, I pack my journal and my camera into my shoulder bag, and go off a-wandering. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Off in another corner of cyberspace, I photograph the dawning of a new Saturday and write a meditation on the day to come.

On weekends, I tend to wake up several hours before the dawn. I find that in the silence of those dark hours, I can more easily sink into words, into creativity (and often the internet connection is much better). The streets may echo with an occasional vehicle, with an all-night party echoing down from a barrio high up on the hills, a procession wending down narrow streets.

Then the dawn comes … perhaps with birdsong, perhaps with the steps of someone out on the calle below. And then the slow revealing of a new day.

 

Saturday is the time of the week to dedicate to household tasks: cleaning, laundry and market.  No matter for how long I stay in a place, I keep this practice, this discipline. It helps me to keep a routine even when I am traveling, and also helps me to keep on budget.

After those tasks, I then have the rest of the day to go off a-wandering and exploring, journal and camera tucked into my shoulder bag, ready to capture lives and landscapes in poetry and photographs.

But, indeed, some Saturdays I cannot escape to go off a-wandering. My desk may be piled too high with projects to complete, or the seasonal rains (downpour – aguaceros) may keep me inside. I take the time, then, to work on poetry or submissions.

 

Today, I share some of my Saturday dawn meditations with you, from 2014. In future weeks I shall share other years’ morning twilight musings with you.

And no matter where or how you live, take a day every week to go exploring where you are. Even if you are not traveling, be a tourist in your hometown. Go off and see the unknown barrios (neighborhoods), museums and markets – and write poetry and stories, take photographs or your day’s experiences.

Where shall I go off to? Where shall you? Until we next meet – SAFE JOURNEYS!

July 26, 2014 – A new day is dawning as I prepare for my usually walk-about, wandering and exploring, journal and camera tucked into my shoulder bag … photo © Lorraine Caputo

August 9, 2014 – This Saturday has dawned golden – hopes of much sunshine provoked. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo © Lorraine Caputo

September 20, 2014

I sit awaiting the dawn to spill colors across a new day.

To have a spectacular sunrise (or sunset), you need to have just the right amount of clouds in the sky. Too little, and the sun’s rays have no place to snag, no folds in which to pool. Too many, and the sun is muted.

But this morning the sky is über-cloudy, with only a few spaces where blue is emerging.

Indeed, here the rainy season has arrived. At 3 in the afternoon (or perhaps at 5), the rumbles begin echoing through the valley and down the narrow cobblestone streets. Then the crisp thunder overhead, the sharp, ragged lightening. Torrential rain and hail. Within an hour – perhaps more – it passes, as to breathe deeply after such wrath. Perhaps it has not ended, perhaps it shall weep throughout the evening, throughout the night.

Perhaps come next morning, the sky will awaken sunny, clear. Perhaps the emotions spent the night before will continue to cloud another day.

 

photo © Lorraine Caputo

November 8, 2014

When I awoke several hours before the dawn, heavy quilted clouds blanketed the sky. A thick band wavered over the unseen river.

But as the first dawn colors began to touch the sky, the quilt began to fray. And once the sun crested the eastern hill of this holy jaguar valley, the day turned golden.

I bathe in that newly risen star, writing these words, tucking my journal and camera into my shoulder bag …

 

photo © Lorraine Caputo

November 15, 2014

I was awake before the dawn. Birds softly sang for a short spell before falling silent. A dog barked – just a few yaps – then quieted. No traffic, no people …

This should have been my clue that this dawn would be mute. Nay – nary a touch of faded pink, of washed gold tinted the sky.

Layer of clouds upon layer of clouds. A thin, white band backdropped by slate-blue. The distant volcano half-visible, its snow blending into the white clouds beyond.

If the rains don’t come too soon this day, perhaps I shall be off a-wandering and exploring, journal and camera tucked into my shoulder bag …

… ready to capture lives and landscapes in poetry and photographs …

 

photo © Lorraine Caputo

November 29, 2014

Morning twilight is just beginning to paint the sky.

At this hour, the bald-headed man in the apartment above the corner bar is still blaring his music – audible through his shuttered doors and windows. (At least the off-key karaoke singing stopped before 2 a.m.)

All night I have been gathering information about submissions – and have sent off two poetry manuscripts.

But now I think it is time to reflect upon this new day a-dawning … and get a few hours precious sleep before heading to the market.

photo © Lorraine Caputo

December 13, 2014

This Saturday had dawned golden …

I walked out to the terrace to bath in that light …

But the call of long-neglected tasks called me to finally be done …

The sky cleared to a deep robin-egg blue, and so I did the wash and hung it

And then a late trip to the market, slipping through crowded streets, protecting my eggs for many blocks from the multitudes of holiday vendors and buyers crowding the walks and streets.

Now at this noon, dark clouds have rolled in …

Usually on Saturday, I go off a-wandering and exploring, journal and camera tucked into my shoulder bag, to capture lives and landscapes in poetry and photographs …

But in this rainy season, perhaps I shall opt to journey within today …

 

Drop by next month to go a-wandering into Saturdays’ Dawns of 2015.

Until then – explore, delight your senses …. and Safe Journeys!

 

 

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

The recent past has been full of adventures. For three months, I was on a desert isle in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Much too often, the internet would disappear for several hours or even several days at a time. The electricity, too, would plunge us into primitive darkness. But all of this it allowed me time for reflection, as I shared in the article “SILENCE AND SOLITUDE : The Universe’s Call to Disconnect.”

These adventures kept me from spending more time with you, sharing the wonders of Latin America. But it has not kept the outside world from continuing on, including my publications in other corners of cyberspace (and even in print form).

And so it’s time, again, to do a round-up of my recent expressions and their publications. My poetry and travel writing is continuing to appear regularly in journals and on websites around the world. Just click on the journal or article title and be ready to shift away to other worlds ….

Safe Journeys!

 

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Strange Light” and “Shades,” Chachalaca Review (2016)

(Note: You have to scroll down a few poems from the “Strange Light” to encounter “Shades.”)

“Dream Stalker” in Tigershark (issue 12, October 2016)

 

Tortuga Bay is one of the Top 9 Things to Do and See on Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Tortuga Bay is one of the Top 9 Things to Do and See on Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

            Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner (including ghostwritten articles)

Top 9 Things to Do & See on San Cristóbal

Galapagos Islands: What Happens in December

Top 9 Things to See and Do on Santa Cruz Island

Galapagos Islands: What happens in November

Santa Cruz Island: In the Middle of the Galapagos

San Cristóbal: The Galapagos Islands’ Capital Isle

Galapagos Islands: What happens in October

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It’s time for the bimonthly round-up of recent publications of my poetry and travel writing, which are continuing to appear regularly in journals and on websites around the world.

And I have (finally) hit the Big Leagues in the literary world! Check out my story that appeared in Prairie Schooner – as well as travel advice for exclusively for women (though you men might pick up a few useful tips, too!) and a review by a travelling family I met.

Safe Journeys!

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“We Ain’t Supposed to Play,” in 3:33 Sports Short, Prairie Schooner (22 September 2016)

Playing ball in the streets of Cartagena. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Playing ball in the streets of Cartagena. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

AndesTransit

10 Things to Know When Traveling Sola

Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner (including ghostwritten articles)

Galapagos Islands: what happens in September

Floreana Island: Off the Beaten Galapagos Track

Santiago Island: A Hidden History of Colonization in the Galapagos Islands

 

AND FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT …

Jessica and Will homeschool their two pre-teen children – with an international twist. Each  year, they choose a different country in which to live, so that Avalon and Largo also learn other cultures and languages, They have lived in Costa Rica, Ecuador – and have just begun their latest adventure in the south of France.

Follow them at Goodie Goodie Gumdrop. They are truly inspiring!

History In Quito + Weekly Round Up

SILENCE AND SOLITUDE : The Universe’s Call to Disconnect

SILENCE AND SOLITUDE : The Universe’s Call to Disconnect

One of the greatest necessities … is to discover creative solitude.

 – Carl Sandberg

 

Sometimes one needs the silence, the solitude – if for nothing else than to meditate on where one has been, where one is now … and ponder where the road may lead to wander in the future.

Sometimes that silence, that solitude is chosen. A few weeks in a beach hut in Zorritos is always a wonderful tonic for me. To spend long hours soaking in the hot springs up in the desert hills. Hours wandering the beach. Hours swimming in the Pacific Ocean, feeling my muscles stretch with each stroke. Hours sitting on the bamboo porch, writing poetry – or swaying in the hammock reading.

Or anyplace along the Caribbean. That warm sea serenades my spirit. A home for meditating, creating poetry, exploring nature.

Sunset at Zorritos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Sunset at Zorritos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Sometimes, though, we are called from without to be in silence and solitude … called to re-learn the old ways, before internet and cell phones (which I don’t have anyways).

And such is my place in this present. A thousand kilometers at sea, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. At night I hear its thunderous voice with the incoming tide. The wind rises, banging my door ajar wide open or closing it with a bang – a ghostly message to open my self to what is happening at that moment. Or a ghostly message to release my self of it.

Such is my place in this present. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Such is my place in this present. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Although the village is just a few kilometers away and its multi-colored lights serpentine across the night bay, here it is another world.

My few neighbors are scientists or students working to preserve these islands’ unique environment, and their flora and fauna. (Me – I’m here to preserve their work for future generations of investigators.)

Like the tourists, though, that flock here to gawk at nature’s bounty, we are here only for a while. We see specimens of that species Homo sapiens turiensis every day. Many colleagues walk or bike those several kilometers to interact with that world, only to return late at night on a dark road.

I prefer to be here at night. I prefer to sit out on the porch, watching the violently colored sunset over in that direction where the town lay. Venus is bright against that pallet. Then I watch the full moon rise above the long-extinct volcano’s slopes, now covered with wild vegetation. To wonder at the multitudes of stars dusted by the Milky Way, Mars bright red near Scorpio’s curling tail.

I listen to the sea, to the call of some night bird, the rustle of something unseen in the heavy growth of saltbush and espino.

Until the clouds begin to drift in off the bay. It is now time to repose, to drift away on that spirit serenade ….

Only to awaken with the dawning of a new day misted by the seasonal garúa and mockingbird melodies.

A golden dawn, assuring more garúa mist top fall this morn. photo © Lorraine Caputo

A golden dawn, assuring more garúa mist top fall this morn. photo © Lorraine Caputo

After a day of measurements and studies, of translations and writing reports, I often head to the beach near my temporary home.

At the gate, village youth park their bikes and head off, surfboards under arms. In these garúa months, the wind comes from the south, causing the bay’s waters to swell into curving waves.

I sit on the time-worn lava rock, watching those young folk bobbing in the platinum-blue waters. When a wave begins to rise, one paddles and catches it, riding the curl until it breaks into white froth.

Overhead fly blue-footed boobies. A yellow warbler hops amidst the purslane, pecking at the coarse soil. Behind me, an iguana sprawls, resting after his algae feast.

Life within a tidal pool. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Life within a tidal pool. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Or perhaps when I arrive, it is low tide (like it was today). Now it is a solitary beach, with only a few errant Homo sapiens turiensis taking photos of a pelican atop a mound of rocks, hunched against the chill breeze.

There is a silence broken by the shriek of an ashen-colored gull. A ruddy turnstone steps across these black fields, as does a whimbrel and over yonder, a dusky heron. Overhead, a boobie passes. A frigatebird circles over the shallows.

Carefully I step across the tumbled, fractured lava and peer into the tidal pools, at the life that is within. How many will find safe haven until the waters once more rise? A yellow warbler bathes in a small pool captured between algae-greened stones.

Yellow warbler bathing in a tidal pool. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Yellow warbler bathing in a tidal pool. photo © Lorraine Caputo

I take off my shoes. Feeling the rough sands of broken coral, shells and sea urchin spines beneath my bare feet, I begin to meld with the energy of this enchanted place. I merge my energy with its during qi chi chuan.

Doing Standing Five Elements, I feel the isles’ volcanic fire and the cool waters that wash this shore. Earth that slowly breaks down into soil, to accept the mangrove woods that take root. And finally the metal of minerals belched from the planet’s soul. Bringing all these energies into me, to balance me.

Then I Yang-dance more than a hundred postures across this coarse strand, shutting doors, grasping a grass sparrow’s tail, my hands waving like the clouds passing through this heaven, waving to Buddha …

Meditatively I close the session. The western sky over the village is awash with golden fuchsia. I gather my shoes in hand and walk barefoot to my temporary home to eat dinner under starlight, to the tidal music.

The full moon veiled by clouds coming in, promising another garúa-misted dawn. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The full moon veiled by clouds coming in, promising another garúa-misted dawn. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Silence and solitude is what this place gifts to me every moment.

Yet sometimes the silence deepens … the electricity may go out, plunging all in lava-black darkness. Not even those multi-color tourist hotel lights paint the bay.

Sometimes the internet fades away, cutting all ties with the outside world that lies beyond those clouds that bear garúa.

This is when I am reminded to return, to re-learn the old ways. To sit at the table on my porch, listening to the mockingbird song and the high tide, writing these words to share with you, to let you know that indeed I am still here.

Hope, I do, to be able to send this meditation to you from this island a thousand miles out at sea.

 

The earth has its music for those who will listen …

George Santayana