Ecuador, which takes its name from its position on 0 degrees latitude, is one of two countries in South America that does not share a border with Brazil. It is bordered by Colombia on the north, by Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. The Galapagos Islands, renown for its beautiful geography and vast endemic biodiversity as well as its ties to Darwin's Theory of Evolution, is a province of Ecuador.
Ecuador's capital, Quito, is known as the "Luz de America" or "Light of America" because it was here that the first declaration of independence from Spain was proclaimed and so it was viewed as an inspiration for the rest of South America. The largest city is Guayaquil, a port city that serves as the main center for trade and business. The two cities can be compared to Beijing and Shanghai in China in that Quito, like Beijing is the historical and cultural capital, while Guayaquil, like Shanghai, is the business capital.
In line with this, a means of transportation was necessary to connect the two cities. This is where the Guayaquil-Quito railroad (Ferrocarril Guayaquil-Quito), whose centennary is celebrated by the stamp on the front of the envelope (issued 23 June 08), steps into the picture.
Several plans and attempts were made to build the railway from Guayaquil to Quito, since 1860 until 1874, when the first locomotive reached Milagro. But it was only by 1895 that contacts were made with North American technicians Archer Harman and Edward Morely, representatives of an American company interested in the building of the "most difficult railway in the world" as it was called at that time. An agreement was reached, and "The Guayaquil and Quito Railway Company" started the construction in 1899.
The tracks finally reached a huge obstacle - an almost perpendicular wall of rock - called the "Devil´s Nose". Many lives were shed in the building of what until now is called a masterpiece of railway engineering: a zig-zag carved out of the rock, which allows the train, by advancing and backing up, to reach the necessary height to the town of Alausí. The train finally reached Alausí by September 1902 and Riobamba by July 1905.
From this point on, the construction was easier. The highest point of the route - Urbina at 3604 meters - was reached by the end of 1905 and finally on June 25, 1908 the train made its triumphal entrance to Quito and was received by arches of palms, laurel and flowers, bells tolling banquetes, dances and popular festivities that lasted four days.
Also a bit related - albeit remotely - to this issue about the railroad is the issue shown on the back, which is about using eco-friendly electricity. (Trains, like the one shown in the picture above, use coal and other fuels that pollute the air.)
At first it seems that this issue, released 18 Mar 08, celebrates biodiversity or endangered wildlife since it shows animals and has the word "Galapagos" on the stamp, but it is actually devoted to promoting a clean energy source, in this case turbine-produced electricity.
This theme is especially not evident from the 3 stamps on the cover's reverse because the set lacks one stamp (the one that actually shows the turbines). The reason for the word "Galapagos" is that the turbines are located on San Cristobal Island, which is in the Galapagos Islands. Apparently, the plant was set up there to reduce the amount of electricity produced through diesel combustion, which harms the environment, and also harms the biodiversity on the islands. Operations of the plant began on 01 October. More about the project here.
Also, you may notice that the face values of the stamps are in US Dollars! The US Dollar has been used in Ecuador since 2000 in order to address Ecuador's economic crisis at the time. The formal adoption of the dollar as currency in January 2000, as opposed to merely pegging the Ecuadorian sucre to the dollar as Argentina had done, theoretically meant that the benefits of seigniorage would accrue to the U.S. economy.
Seigniorage is the net revenue derived from the issuing of currency. Seigniorage derived from coins arises from the difference between the face value of a coin and the cost of producing, distributing and eventually retiring it from circulation. Seigniorage derived from notes is the difference between the interest earned on securities acquired in exchange for bank notes and the costs of producing and distributing those bank notes. Seigniorage is an important source of revenue for some national banks. According to some reports, currently over half the revenue of the government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is in seigniorage.