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

GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ : His Macondo, Aracataca

“All journalism is political,” Gabriel García Márquez. Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez (Bogotá, Colombia). photo © LorraineCaputo

“All journalism is political,” Gabriel García Márquez. Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez (Bogotá, Colombia). photo © Lorraine Caputo

One of Latin America’s greatest writers is Gabriel García Márquez. He was born in Aracataca, Colombia, in the midst of United Fruit Company’s banana plantations, on 6 March 1927.

The great author died 17 April 2014 in Mexico City. His archives are now at the University of Texas-Austin. His ashes will rest in the Claustro de La Merced of the Universidad de Cartagena.

García Márquez – affectionately known as Gabo – was a journalist, screenwriter and novelist, and is credited with founding the magic realism literary movement. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. His most famous work is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which began its life as La Casa – only to be destroyed in the fires that raged through the capital during the Bogotazo.

His collections of short stories are also legendary. But what I enjoy most are his journalistic writings. The stories he would uncover! They are a definite instruction to budding journalists of how to look for a story.

On my breezes through Cali, Colombia, I would stop into a used bookshop I stumbled across downtown in 1999 (and for many years had marked in my memory.) I would search the shelves for any copy of the Oveja Negra editions – small and cheap for super-budget travelers.

And in that first visit in 1999, I found two treasures that would accompany for that May 1999 I spent in Colombia: Cuando era feliz e indocumentado and Crónicas y reportajes.

Casa del Telegrafista, where García Márquez’ father worked. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Casa del Telegrafista, where García Márquez’ father worked. photo © Lorraine Caputo

There are many places in Colombia where you can follow Gabo’s footsteps:

  • Aracataca – His home town, with the Casa-Museo Gabriel García Márquez, Casa del Telegrafista and other sites.
  • Barranquilla – The Museo Romántico displays the typewriter on which he composed his first great work, La Hojarasca (Leaf Storm), as well as other personal items by the great author. La Cueva was where he and rest of the Grupo de Barranquilla hung out.
  • Cartagena – His home for many years, just a block from the Spanish fortress walls, is in the San Diego district. His ashes will rest in the Claustro de La Merced of the Universidad de Cartagena.
  • Bogotá – Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez
Gabo’s typewriter in the Museo Romántico (Barranquilla). photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Gabo’s typewriter in the Museo Romántico (Barranquilla). photo ©Lorraine Caputo

But today, let’s take a step back in time, to war-riven Colombia, 1999. To Gabriel García Márquez’ Macondo we shall go.

Safe Journeys!

 

IN MACONDO

Aracataca’s arabesque village church. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Aracataca’s arabesque village church. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The General in the Labyrinth of This Park

I sit in thin shade, on a bench at the edge of Parque de Bolívar. Just there, in the center, stands a diminutive statue of the Libertador.

The doors of the white-washed, arabesque church are open to the heat of this early morning. Within, the worshippers are exposed.

Vendors on the other side of this park have their stands open, revealing all manner of gadgets and belts and purses.

Men sit on the garden walls, sharing news. I don’t hear their words – just the Caribbean lilt murmur and the hands speaking.

From the side street, music plays from a café. There a group of women chat. I don’t hear their words, I don’t hear their murmurs. Their hands speak through the already-muggy day.

 

Was This a Death Foretold?

The church bells ring steady, in a rhythm.

I look up from my book.

Those worshippers depart behind the white and purple vestmented priest, behind the coffin atop four pairs of shoulders. They turn the corner of the church and disappear up the street. Many in the park, many in the café drop their conversations and follow. Others mount bicycles and motor-scooters, joining the procession.

 

The birdsong and human murmur fall back into place. Flies swarm and dance over the pages held in my sweating hands.

An old, dark woman stops at my side and asks, “What are you reading? An evangelical book?”

“No, ma’am,” I respond, placing my fingers where I must leave off reading. “García Márquez.”

“García Márquez? You have him there? García Márquez is in that little paperback?!” She repeats over and again, shuffling off. Her flip-flops barely flop. A heavy black bag swings from her wrist. “She has García Márquez in that little book!” The filtered sunlight glitters off her whitened hair.

Her murmurs fade to the corner and disappear.

Casa-Museo Gabriel García Márquez. Photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Casa-Museo Gabriel García Márquez. Photo ©Lorraine Caputo

La Casa

A bus of workers stops in front of the ochre and white house: Casa-Museo de Gabriel García Márquez. Quickly they scan the exhibition room of the front building and through the two rooms remaining of the white and green casa natal.

Quickly they board the bus again and disappear.

 

On the other side of that park, a man builds another stand. His hammer echoes through the air growing heavy.

Every once and again, a passing woman murmurs, Buenos días or Adiós. I repeat their greetings, barely looking up from my pages to their smiles.

And as I sit writing these words, young men or young boys stop to watch my pen flow. But when I look at them, their eyes quickly turn away to some innocent pursuit.

Another truck laden with African palm fruit goes around the plaza and disappears.

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

A strange town, indeed, is this Macondo in the midst of banana – and now African palm fruit – plantations of some foreign owner. It is full of interesting characters.

On every spare space imaginable – upon walls, upon benches – someone has written prophetic biblical quotes.

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

I decide to stay in Aracataca for at least a day more. But one sultry day blends into another, the heat and humidity swirling from day into night and again into day.

I drop by Residencias Macondo where the price is right for this wandering poet. Rooms set around the patio share the bathroom stalls and showers at the back of the yard. On one side is the owner’s kitchen.

“You look tired,” the doña says to me. “Have a seat. Would you like a tintico?”

A tintico, a strong cup of Colombian coffee. Precisely what I need! It’s been a long week or so of traveling, in search of trains. My dream trip of sailing the Río Magdalena is off. Already, in the first four months of this year, over 200 kidnappings have happened on that river-highway.

And although it is not spoken aloud, the tensions of the civil war in this year of 1999 permeates the air.

So many adventures to tell that lead up to this point. They are for another story, I dare say. But on this leg, from Puerto Berrío on the west bank of the Río Magdalena to here, was a necklace of adventures in and of itself. In a nut shell?

After a night of clandestine traveling through the war zone, being dropped off at the Bostonia crossroads as the sun rose, I hitched northward. I wanted to go to Fundación (where I erroneously thought the 1928 banana massacre occurred – García Márquez mentions it in One Hundred Years of Solitude – I later find out it happened in Ciénaga). But the driver didn’t hear my banging on the back of the pickup truck until we arrived at the crossroads for Aracataca. I hoisted my Rocinante (my knapsack, my faithful companion) and hoofed the three kilometers into town. At least I’ll visit the casa-museo before continuing to Santa Marta.

The doña and I sit under the shade of the níspero trees growing in the patio. Other women come to chat, holding a cup of tintico in their hands. Chickens peck at the dirt, around our feet.

A vendor arrives and greets us. He places two large sacks of in front of his room’s door. He opens one. “Welcome,” he says as he tosses to me two oranges from the sack.

Down by the old train station there’s a sculpture in a small roadside park. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Down by the old train station there’s a sculpture in a small roadside park. photo © Lorraine Caputo

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Down by the old train station there’s a sculpture in a small roadside park. Upon this giant book open to the passage about Remedios reclines a woman. A multitude of yellow butterflies flurry all around, around that woman.

The station is painted white. The sign declaring this station – Aracataca – still hangs on one side. Its white and black paint is peeling. On the side porch benches, four men sit. A fifth joins them. A few young girls sit on another bench. They are all wrapped in their conversations.

Suddenly they fall silent. Their eyes turn to the northern horizon. They watch the southbound train pass by at a quick clip. Two locomotives haul a chain of 83 open hoppers, the weight and technical information all in English. There is no caboose. A worker on the last car waves to those of us who have gathered at the station.

And after the train disappears, the old men and young girls wander away, disappearing into the late morning.

But again they shall gather here in the afternoon, to wrap themselves in conversations, to fall silent, to wordlessly watch the train pass by … and again disappear ….

… until the next train’s passing.

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

A strange town, indeed, is this Macondo in the midst of the civil war zone. It is full of interesting characters.

Donkeys wander around the parque, near the station, past the market, down side streets.

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

All day, the heat and humidity drive people to sit – on chairs, on curbs, on planters – under the thin shade of trees along the streets, to catch whatever slim breeze possible.

One day I go to the neighborhood general store. Out front sit a man and the shop’s owner. A third man sits quietly, not saying a word.

The first man – who could be in his mid- to late-40s and just worn from too much work or booze, or he could have been a young 60s or 70s – is dressed in shorts, sandals and a worn t-shirt. He is a storyteller, weaving incredible tales (and damn that now I can’t remember a one of them!)

The owner seems to be taking most of his tales with a proverbial grain of salt, with a slight smile.

A young woman in not-too-short shorts, a modest shirt and low, open shoes strolls by the three men. Immediately the storyteller falls silent and turns his attention to her. “Boy, she sure wears those shoes well.”

And, no – his eyes are not looking that low ….

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

A strange town, indeed, is this Macondo.

Not only do donkeys abound – but also the flies. Perhaps it is because of the generations of bananas and flesh that have rotted into the soil of this tropical Caribbean backwater region.

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

The market is quite gross with the swarms of flies that hang as heavy as the humidity. But it is the only place where I can find to have a cup of coffee!

I pull up a seat at a small wooden table outside the only stand – of the dozens in this mercado – that serves coffee. Three men are also there.

On the narrow street beside us, a truck is leaving. It hits a motorcycle parked near us. One of my tablemates jumps up. He inspects his bike for any damage – as does the crowd of people that forms thicker and thicker around the scene. Every minuscule dent and scratch is examined – “What about this? He didn’t do it? And this one?” A fervent discussion pursues about what should be done.

I leave the crowd – and the dozen donkeys milling around – to continue exploring Macondo.

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

One evening at the restaurant where I have dinner, I ask the woman there when Gabriel García Márquez last visited his hometown.

“When he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.”

“Why hasn’t he visited since then?”

A look of disgust washes over her face, bitter words sprout from her mouth. “Because he feels he’s too good to come back. He hasn’t done anything for our community – though some say the solution to the problems here or here isn’t his or anyone else’s money, but the system as it is, and everyone has to work towards the change and solution, what do you think?”

I remember the warning the taxi driver in Medellín had given me when he learned I was going to take the train to Barrancabermeja on the east bank of the Río Magdalena: You don’t know who is guerrilla or who is paraco (paramilitary). Keep your mouth shut.

The civil war zone extends this far north. In fact, it extends through most of the country in this year of 1999.

I keep my mouth shut.

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

A strange town, indeed, is this Macondo.

Not only do donkeys and flies abound – but also the ants.

One pre-dawn, I hurry across the patio to the bathrooms in back. As I stoop over the stool, I notice a line of ants ascending my leg.

I hop into the shower next door to wash them away.

And I examine my tennies. In the left shoe, dozens upon dozens of ants have begun building a nest.

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

Tonight I eat at a different place. The air conditioned salon has a large painting of García Márquez on one wall.

I ask the man there when Gabriel García Márquez last visited his hometown.

“When he won the Nobel Prize.”

“Why hasn’t he visited since then?”

“Ah, because of security.”

“In what sense, sir?”

“With the situation in the country, he could be kidnapped. Any of the factions would want to lay hands on him.”

“Where does he live now?”

“In Cartagena and Mexico.” In the great metropolis of that latter country, he believes.

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

My time in Aractaca has come to an end.

After days of passing messages, I have my next clandestine ride set. I must hurry back to the residencia to grab Rocinante and head out.

I take one last look at the red long johns I had worn when I left Quito several weeks earlier. Because of the hard travel, I didn’t get a chance to take them off until I reached the banks of the Río Magdalena. Now I am heading for the Caribbean coast.

I no longer have use for them. I toss them on the bed before closing the door behind me and saying good-bye to the doña.

I am sweating in this late morning. But soon I shall be where the sea breezes sway the palm trees. Ah, there is a very slight one blowing now. How refreshing!

But what the heck anyone in a place like Aracataca is going to do with red long johns, goddess only knows!

 

=   =   =   =   =   =   =

 

Postscript

Several weeks later, I spend a few days in Parque Nacional Tayrona, just east of Santa Marta. I stay in at Arrecifes, and spend the days snorkeling in La Piscina, hiking to Chairama and beach combing.

One night, hours before the dawn, I hear a voice. “Lorena, can I borrow your flashlight?”

It is Sergio, the Colombian-Swede with whom I am sharing this open-sided palapa. I pull my mosquito net aside and step out of my hammock.

Sergio shines my flashlight to where his bag is hanging from an overhead beam. A donkey is rummaging through the pack. Upon noticing our presence, he disappears into the darkness.

Sergio picks up his copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The burro has eaten the first hundred pages or so.

Just another tale in this Macondo that is any Colombian Caribbean village.

 

New Publication : 11 SENSATIONAL (AND SENSIBLE!) DESTINATIONS OF SOUTHERN COLOMBIA

El Partero / The Midwife. Parque Arqueológico, San Agustín. photo © Lorraine Caputo

El Partero / The Midwife. Parque Arqueológico, San Agustín. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Pacific beaches to Amazon jungle, along either side of the Andes, studded with volcanoes. UNESCO-honored traditions, hot springs, whitewater rafting, great museums and fantastic foods.

Find out what there is to enjoy and know in Southern Colombia — and get prepared to hit the open road, at my latest article for AndesTransit.

Safe Journeys!

Quito’s Liberation, Ecuador’s Freedom

Bunting decorates Carondolet – the Presidential Palace – for the commemoration of the Battle of Pichincha, which occurred 24 May 1822. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Bunting decorates Carondolet – the Presidential Palace – for the commemoration of the Battle of Pichincha, which occurred 24 May 1822.
photo © Lorraine Caputo

Just after dawn, one boom, a second and a third roll down the slope of Pichincha volcano and through the narrow Machángara River Valley. Then the strains of a slow military march flow down into the narrow streets of the Centro Histórico of Quito.

Suddenly, this quiet 24 March morning is sliced by fighter jets flying in formation near the flanks of Pichincha. A church tolls its bell.

Down on the Plaza de la Independencia, the President of the nation walks from his palace to the cathedral with a military entourage. In that temple, they attend mass. Later in the day, the President will deliver his State of the Union address to the National Assembly and the armed forces will be present for a mass at Iglesia de la Merced, the Virgin that is patron saint to their ranks.

Thus begins the commemoration of the Batalla de Pichincha, one of the most decisive battles in South America’s independence.

 


 

I think about how it must have been for the denizens of this colonial capital at the time of the Spanish occupation, during the Mother Land’s vain attempt to hold onto her rebellious colonies. She lay in this valley like an Old World lion, digging her claws into the local people’s fervent desire for freedom.

 

Already many of Spain’s lands in the New World escaped her iron grip: Venezuela, Cartagena – even Cuenca and Guayaquil. Even though Quito first declared its independence on 10 August 1809, the rebellion was squelched within a year. Could Spain manage to hold on to Quito, the capital of the Real Audiencia?

 

What was life like for the 10,000 or so Quiteños of that epoch? Quito – in its girth – was yet a small town at an altitude of 2,850 meters (9,350 feet). It extended from the banks of the Machángara River flowing along the southern base of Panecillo hill and to San Juan Hill. Beyond those frontiers, El Ejido and other farms scattered the countryside and quilted the steeps slopes of this narrow valley.

Battle -- diorama

Diorama of troop movements in the Battle of Pichincha. Templo de la Libertad, Quito. Photo © Lorraine Caputo

The rebel troops, under the command of Mariscal (Field Marshal) Antonio José de Sucre came to liberate Quito from Spain’s hold. His army began its ascent from Latacunga, to the south of the city. In order to launch a surprise attack, his forces – made up of not only Gran Colombian troops, but also men from Paraguay and Argentina – swept along the flanks of Cotopaxi Volcano and across the Valle de los Chillos. But as they climbed up the slopes of Pinchincha, Spanish troops stationed on El Panecillo spotted the rebels’ advance towards Chillogallo.

An artist’s rendition of the Battle of Pichincha. Sucre statue, Plaza Santo Domingo, Quito. photo © Lorraine Caputo

An artist’s rendition of the Battle of Pichincha. Sucre statue, Plaza Santo Domingo, Quito. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Near the battlefield in the hills above Quito. In the distance are the two craters of Pichincha volcano: Rucu (right) and Guagua (left) which has recently become active again. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Near the battlefield in the hills above Quito. In the distance are the two craters of Pichincha volcano: Rucu (right) and Guagua (left) which has recently become active again. photo © Lorraine Caputo

On 24 May 1822, the opposing armies met in battle, at 3,500 meters (11,483 feet) altitude, near the summit of Pichincha Volcano.

 

When that skirmish began far in the hills to the west of Quito, what did the people hear? The shots from primitive firearms, the shouts of hit and dying men? Did Spanish troops quarter in citizens’ homes, was a curfew declared? Did troops march off in formation to the battlefield, a few lucky to return in a mayhem of makeshift hospitals?

Looking down the flanks of Pichincha to El Tejar (left) and Iglesia de laMerced (right). Templo de la Libertad, Quito. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Looking down the flanks of Pichincha to El Tejar (left) and Iglesia de la Merced (right). Templo de la Libertad, Quito. photo © Lorraine Caputo

After the battle, Sucre’s troops descended the flanks of Pichincha, to El Tejar where the Mercedario monks had a retreat church. Here, some of the wounded and dead were left.

The battered soldiers continued their march downhill, to the Mercedario’s main church, Iglesia de la Merced. Here, popular history says, was where a mass for all the fallen soldiers – of the independence regiments as well as royalist forces – was said.

 

And after the battle was won by the rebel forces, sealing Ecuador’s independence from Spain, what were these city streets like? Filled with wounded, with dying, with prisoners. Did the Spanish royalist forces quietly retreat – and to where? The seaports are many weeks of rough travel away …. Or did some of those soldiers hide away in the hopes of mounting an attack against those rebels, to recapture this city of gilded temples for the glory of the Motherland?

 

Some royalist forces fled, intending to force the independence forces to once more subject themselves to Spanish rule. The final blow to them came on 17 July 1823 at the Battle of Ibarra, led by the Great Liberator himself, Simón Bolívar.

 


 

Today, almost 200 years after the Battle of Pichincha, the city of Quito is a city of 2.5 million inhabitants busting at the seams of the Machangará River and surrounding valleys. The Centro Histórico, though, retains a slower pace. At night, when the traffic disappears, you can almost feel the ghosts of the country’s independence movement wander through the narrow cobblestone streets.

It is in this oldest part of the city where you may find places where the history of the Battle of Pichincha is explained.

photo ©Lorraine Caputo

photo ©Lorraine Caputo

 

 

In the Catedral (Calle Venezuela and Calle Espejo, Plaza de la Independencia) is the tomb of Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre.

 

 

 

 

 

Just a block south of the Plaza de la Independencia is the Museo Casa de Sucre (Calle Venezuela and Calle Sucre. Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Entry: Free; ID required). Here is where the Mariscal lived. It displays his military and personal effects.

photo © Lorraine Caputo

photo © Lorraine Caputo

photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

 

A few streets away, on Plaza Santo Domingo (Calle Guayaquil, between Calle Bolívar and Calle Rocafuerte) stands a statue of Antonio José de Sucre. He points westward, towards the slopes of Pichincha where his great victory took place on that 24 of May, 1822. Around the pedestal of the monument are bronze engravings of the battle.

 

 

 

photo © Lorraine Caputo

photo © Lorraine Caputo

If you look up on volcano’s flanks, you see a low building with a tower on its left side. A large mural by Ecuadorian artist Eduardo Kingman decorates the front. This is the Templo de La Libertad, also known as Templo de la Patria (Avenida Los Libertadores OE13-997, Sector Cima de la Libertad. Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-noon. Entry: free; ID required. Take a bus marked “Libertad” from along Calle Benalcázar or Calle Rocafuerte; $0.25).

 

On the southwest flank of El Panecillo, about midways up, is one of the stone watchtowers (fortín) the Spaniards used to mount surveillance of the rebel troops’ movements through the valley.

 

Two blocks north of Plaza de la Independencia is Iglesia de la Merced, the purported locale of the post-battle mass. The Virgin to which this church is dedicated is the patron saint of the armed forces. A painting by Ecuadorian artist Víctor Mideros depicting Sucre in battle. This is one of many Mideros paintings – done in a luminescent Art Deco style – that grace Iglesia de la Merced. (Calle Chile and Calle Cuenca. Entry: free).

photo © Lorraine Caputo

photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

photo © Lorraine Caputo

photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

 

 

To the west of this church is El Tejar, another sanctuary of the Mercedario (Mercedarian) religious order and host of one of Quito’s oldest cemeteries (Calle Mejía and Avenida Mariscal Sucre. Entry: free). In a crypt are buried some of the fallen from the Battle of Pichincha.

 

 

 

In Chillogallo, on the southwest side of Quito, is another museum dedicated to the battle: Centro Cívico Mariscal Sucre (Calle Marcos Escorza y Carlos Freire, Parque Central de Chillogallo. Tuesday – Sunday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Entry: free). Every 23 May is a commemoration to the Batalla de Pichincha, as this is where Sucre’s troops spent the eve of the battle. One the anniversary of the skirmish, a hike (Caminata Libertaria) to Cima de la Libertad is offered. To get this rural parish, catch a bus with a “Chillogallo” sign ($0.25) from Avenida Pichincha in the La Marín sector of downtown Quito.

 


 

Beneath its broad wings, a condor protects Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre and Capitán Aldón Calderón during the Battle of Pichincha. At their feet lies the wounded Spaniard lion. Mural by Carlos Enriquez (1996). Cupola, first sala, Templo de la Libertad, Quito. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Beneath its broad wings, a condor protects Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre and Capitán Aldón Calderón during the Battle of Pichincha. At their feet lies the wounded Spaniard lion. Mural by Carlos Enriquez (1996). Cupola, first sala, Templo de la Libertad, Quito.
photo ©Lorraine Caputo

The Casa Museo de Sucre, Templo de la Patria and Centro Cívico de Chillogallo are all run by the Ministry of Defense; for more information about these museums.

 

To learn more about this historic battle, please see Christopher Minster’s article, “The Battle of Pichincha.”

Other detailed articles may be read at Wikipedia: Battle of Pichincha and Ecuadorian War off Independence.

 

To learn more about the Virgen de la Merced, please see my photo-essay about her.

And to see further images about Quito’s first Cry of Independence, see Ecuador : Día de la Independencia / Independence Day.

 

A curious footnote: Ask Quiteños about Pichincha volcano, and many old-timers will say it is the profile of Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre. On the old sucre coins that have his image, you can see the resemblance.