Brazil to Bolivia – a 3 ½ day journey
29.03.2012 - 31.03.2012 30 °C
Blog 42: The death train.
Brazil to Bolivia – a 3 ½ day journey.
So after doing some research on the various border entries from Brazil to Bolivia, we had established that Corumba (Br) to Quijarro (Bl) was the most convenient in terms of location from Rio. When I say the most convenient, I mean it was ONLY a 29 hour bus trip from Rio to Corumba. This was definitely better than heading back down south through Brazil, underneath Paraguay and back up to Bolivia through northern Argentina. Our research also highlighted the fact that this particular border crossing can be a nightmare at times, due to the strange opening hours kept by the Bolivian immigration office. Other people have been stuck for days in Corumba, so we decided to book ourselves a night in Corumba to hopefully ease & de-stress the process.
The actual bus journey wasn’t too bad, even though the standard of buses in Brazil is lacking a little when compared with their Argentinean counterparts. We managed to get some sleep, but only in fits & starts, due mostly to the sniffing, sneezing, and farting Bolivians we were surrounded by. Keely wanted to make special mention of the little girl that amused herself by repeatedly kicking the back of her seat, or poking her hand in-between the seats to touch Keely or say “hoy”, or pull her hair over the top of the seat. Unfortunately her parents had decided she didn’t require a seat of her own, so she either had to sit on her parents lap or stand up in the aisle. And I’m sure it was only one person doing the farting (silently it must be said), but we never established who it was – they were very good at keeping their guilt hidden! The driver made stops every 3 – 5 hours which helped, and it must be said the standard of the highway services in Brazil is very impressive. One we visited was extensively decorated with Easter theming, and even had a fenced off section with real life bunnies!
Upon arriving in Corumba in the mid-afternoon, we walked to our hostel but got lost and almost walked into the bad part of town – whoops! We were stopped by a guy who told us we were definitely heading somewhere we shouldn’t be going and thankfully gave us the correct directions. Big thanks go out to that guy! The plan was then to go to the border, or frontera as the locals call it, to get our Brazilian exit stamp for the next day, and then head across the border proper in the morning. Unfortunately we didn’t have quite enough time to make that happen, so instead went grocery shopping in preparation for the next long journey from Quijarro to Santa Cruz…
Corumba is a strange little town – most travellers stay just one night either before or after touring the Pantanal. Locals who aren’t involved in organising or selling tours of the Pantanal either sell alcohol or fix cars judging by the various stores we saw in the town centre. Either way this close to the border we were finally able to speak Spanish and be understood with more regularity.
The main route from Quijarro to Santa Cruz is via the infamous “Death Train”. It must be said though that as dramatic as it sounds, the name doesn’t actually relate to modern times. Instead, it was dubbed the death train for a couple of reasons. The first being from when the line was used to move the numerous dead during a yellow fever plague, and secondly due to the number of men that allegedly died during construction of the line. The term “death train” actually relates to the route, rather than the train itself, and there are various different classes of train you can take, depending entirely of course on your budget. Unfortunately the day we travelled only offered the worst and best options, and given the various accounts of how awful the worst option was, we decided to treat ourselves and plump for the first class option which was basically double the price, but still only cost about £25 for a 14 hour overnight journey. We must have changed our minds about 10 times before eventually deciding on the first class option, as this did give us more time to cross the border the following day.
Now any of you imagining flutes of champagne upon arrival and totally lay-flat beds a la airline travel are sadly mistaken – we are talking first class “Bolivian” style. In truth the chairs were comfy enough and the air conditioning worked, but that was as good as it got. In another random act of kindness towards us a fellow passenger/stranger paid a tip to the luggage man on our behalf, as we didn’t have any small change. People often said the train “shunts and rolls around on the track” but we had assumed this related to the cheaper trains, and that our first class train would be much better. Ummmm not really! For 15 hours it bucked left and right and if we had been on a plane, the fasten seat belt sign would have been turned on due to bad turbulence for the entire trip! We did get food however: a thin processed slab of meat, rice and what probably started out as a potato. Hardly first class mind, but strangely edible. We somehow managed to get some sleep, and arrived in Santa Cruz in the early morning exited and ready to start our Bolivian adventure! We had survived the death train.
Mike (yay!) and Keely (only a little bit)