Actor Will Smith and National Geographic chronicle the dramatic history of Ecuador’s railroad
Actor Will Smith has been busy lately sharing videos, photos and comments about Ecuador on social media with his followers back in the U.S.. The star of films such as “I am a Legend,” “Aladdin” and “In Search of Happiness,” arrived two weeks ago in Alausí, in Chimborazo Province, to begin work on his latest film project.
The shooting of the National Geographic documentary, “Welcome to Earth,” to be presented on the Disney Plus channel next year, is already underway. In it, Smith serves as producer, narrator and actor.
The site chosen for most of the filming is a section of the old Ecuadorian Railway system that crosses the well-known Devil’s Nose, a national Historical Heritage site.
The Devil’s Nose is recognized by tourists from around the world due to its dramatic scenery and the steep ascents and descents that tested the limits of railroad technology more than a century ago. The Nose itself is a gigantic rock with a triangular shape that local residents claim presents the face of the devil.
The scene is set between jagged mountain peaks, running beside the fast-flowing Alangasí River.
Construction of the historic railway began more than a century ago during the government of President Gabriel García Moreno to connect Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca to allow passenger service and the transportation of goods between cities of the Ecuadorian coast and the sierra. The project was best known for the engineering challenges it presented and the enormous cost of lives it extracted — and estimated 3,000 died over the 30 years of construction.
The project was also notable for bringing thousands of Chinese workers and their families to Ecuador, the descendants of which still live in the country’s largest cites.
Much of the railroad was destroyed by landslides and flooding resulting from the 1997-1998 El Niño, although parts of it continue to operate. The Devil’s Nose section, located between Cuenca and Riobamba, operated as a tourist attraction until the Covid-19 pandemic closed it in March 2020. Although the government says it will resume service, no date has been set.
During filming of the documentary, Smith is also visiting towns near Alausí as well as in the Amazon jungle to the east.