Sunday, 14 January 2018

El Valdiviano

El Valdiviano steam train
It was our plan to be on our way north toward French Polynesia by now.  Of course, wishes often don't work out as planned.  Mary Anne's visit to the dentist to fix a long simmering problem required a return visit in two weeks.  There were now two extra weeks in Valdivia and two less weeks in the Marquesas.  What to do?   ... lots, it turns out!

Writing about the ocean conference arranged by the university will have to wait until after it takes place.  Nonetheless, the steam train excursion is fair game having happened yesterday on a cloudless sunshiny blue-sky day.

These days in Chile, public transport between cities is by fast comfortable buses and on faster jets. Nonetheless, not so long ago, there were passenger train services, now limited to the larger urban areas.  One of the rail companies has resurrected an early 1900s vintage steam locomotive and some 1930s coaches and linked them into a summer weekend tourist attraction.

The Calle Calle River
Belching great clouds of black coal smoke, we lurched along the very scenic river for a few hours stopping briefly at a couple of barely pronounceable villages.  At just over twenty kilometers an hour, the countryside drifted rather than flew by.  The cattle in the fields were more frightened by this apparition from the past while we were soothed by our personal movie soundtrack provided by a group of singers strolling through the carriages. Guitar and accordion strains filled the coach as we rumbled along, tree branches scraping along the windows.

Eventually we arrived for the signature two hour stop in Antilhue where we were entertained with great food and a troupe of young dancers who, after displaying their skills, ran out into the large audience to dance with some of our fellow train travelers. I have to admit that to avoid being drawn into this I skipped out after the lunch to have a close look at our train and its engine.
Go ahead. Pronounce "Huellelhue"!

Music aboard

At this point the locomotive had been uncoupled and moved around a long loop to be re-positioned at the other end of the train for our return.  I learned: That the engine had been built in Valparaiso in 1913 to British plans; that the coaches were from Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. The 686 horsepower engine was capable (we never experienced this) of a breathtaking 60 km/hour while consuming 20 kilos of coal and 150 liters of water per kilometer.

Altogether, the day was just another reminder that delays and detours are more to be embraced and enjoyed rather than to be lamented.

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