Alausí – Sleepy nexus between the Andes and the Coast
Alausí is a “train town”. Had it not been for the decision to bring the railway tracks up from the coast via the daring Devil’s Nose switchbacks, it might never have existed beyond the village founded in Colonial times. But the arrival of the engineers and workers, and finally of the train itself in 1905, wrenched it out of its sleepy slumber and hurled it firmly into the 20th century.
The town sits at a crucial point in the Ecuadorian railway system, in Ecuador’s geography and its history: it soon became the nexus point for the produce brought up from the Pacific Coast – fish, seafood, fruit – and the produce from the Andes – think cereals, maize, barley, potatoes, blackberries… All of a sudden, the large populations of the coastal plains were able to trade with those of the Andes in a matter of hours, instead of the gruelling journeys of times past.
Alausí boomed. Immigrants arrived from Europe, traders flocked to set up stores. Merchants built mansions and the town expanded.
Today, for the average city-dweller, Alausí is a sleepy place. A wonderfully sleepy place. Its streets get busier on market days, Thursday and Saturday mornings, with more pick-ups circling, piled high with goods. But otherwise, it’s a town to savor a more sedate pace of life: buy an ice-cream, sit at a bench on the main road and watch the locals go about their business.
Home today to 7,000 people, Alausí is a great place to amble, too. Walk up to the main square to admire its monument to the Libertador, Simón Bolívar, fringed by handsome palm trees. On one side, the pale-stone church can also be visited. Two blocks east, a small square celebrates the town’s history with plaques and busts. Calle Larga retains its old-world elegance as the street favoured by the merchants and their families. Pop in to Casa del Molino to see a mansion restored and given a new lease of life as a hotel.
El mercado es divertido, repleto de puestos que venden todo tipo de productos, cumpliendo la misión del pueblo como un punto de intercambio. En la Calle García Moreno, no se pierda la galería de arte de Julio Cóndor. Julio es pintor y vende obras que representan la zona.
The market is fun, stuffed to the brim with stalls selling every sort of goods and produce, fulfilling the town’s mission as a point of exchange still. Round on Calle García Moreno, don’t miss Julio Condor’s art gallery. Julio is a painter himself and sells works painted in the area.
At the end of the main drag, Avenida 1 de Junio, a municipal set of stairs climbs up the hill, decorated with a dynamic mural featuring the train’s construction. At the other extreme of the town, following the railway tracks, you come to the impressive ‘black bridge’ which spans the gorge of the River Alausí roiling below.
Around the train station, there’s a mix of old and new, commerce catering to the visitors who come to enjoy the Devil’s Nose train ride and those, like the local barber, that cater to the locals.
If you fancy a walk, head downhill to the stairs that lead up to the Monumento a San Pedro, the patron saint of the city, erected by the Ecuadorian artist, Eddie Crespo. The saint dominates the city from his strategic spot on the hill, forever casting his eye over the coming and going of this town, welcoming all.
Further afield, Alausí is the starting point for many an adventure, taking in both highland and lowland possibilities: from the waterfalls of Huigra and La Multitud, the Andean communities of Nizag and Tolte, trekking along the old Inca trail from Achupallas, or horseback riding, camping, mountain bike riding. Alausí once again proves it’s perfectly placed between these two vastly different and always-surprising worlds.