The Death Train

Trip Start Sep 2005
Trip End Sep 2006

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, October 31, 2005

This stage of the trip was real trains planes and automobiles stuff. I needed to get to Brazil to meet Gina at the weekend in Rio, but I also wanted to see the pantanal, and go swimming with the fish in Bonito. So today I took the train from Santa Cruz to Quijarro, affectionately known in the guidebooks as the "Death Train". I haven't a clue why. It was boring, but not lethally so. The best thing about it was all the people who keep trying to sell food through the windows of the train every time it stops. The locals cook stuff up at home and then send the kids out to sell it at the train stations. It's a bit of a lucky dip but I've always been lucky. I always try to avoid the kids with runny noses.

There's lots of warnings about this particular border crossing. It's notoriously bad for all sorts of scams. First theres the train station in Santa Cruz which is rife with bogus officials dressed as proper police/immigration uniforms. Then there's the stretch from Quijarro to Corumba, which is a couple of kilometres of no-mans land that you have to negotiate a taxi for. Finally there's the dodgy money-changers. Gringos are top prey. Especially solo travellers staggering bleary-eyed off the train. But all went well.

The taxi across no-mans land was good. This guy filled his car to the brim with four of us all with lots of luggage, so the car was nearly touching the ground when we took off. The road-surface in nomansland isn't too well maintained. So about 1 mile down the road we got a puncture and all got out while the guy started changing tires. I'm being kind calling them tires. They were actually worn down to the metal wires in parts. A couple of minutes later another car pulled up and we all climbed in like the keystone cops. He already had 2 passengers, so it was pretty cosy when we took off. I was riding shotgun on another guys knee in the front seat. We got there without the 6 of us having to jump into yet another car, and he only charged us a fraction of the fare that the 1st taxi wanted. I was really expecting him to get the fist in given the circumstances, and with the reputation that these guys have. He was only young though, so I suppose he'll learn.

From here you have to take a motorcycle taxi to the bus station. It's not that comfortable when you've got a rucksack on. Because of the weight of the rucksack (over 20kg at this stage) and the wind drag, it's a bit safer to hold on to driver rather than the small bars behind you. The heat was deadly so it was really good speeding along getting a bit of a breeze into your face. Pulling up tight to the driver. His taut stomach muscles. The damp spftness of his chest hair. The scent of his aftershave. 2 quid well spent I'd say.

The bus to Bonito takes you through the Pantanal, and I saw more wildlife than you'd expect so see in a jungle trip. Snakes, eagles, pelicans, aligators, marsh deer, capybara (a rat/guinea pig that weighs 10 stone), they all came out to play at the side of the road that afternoon. And when the sun went down, fire-flies sparked away in the road-side fields.

There's a serious amount of bugs too. I made the mistake of leaving a half eaten packet of biscuits in my room in Bonito. It took 2 days for the ants to find them, but when word got round you'd have thought that half the jungle had set up camp in my room. Ants, queen ants, beetles, giant cockroaches and geckos had all moved in on my last day. I ended up taking an early bus out of town just to get away from my new room mates.

At one stage the bus stopped off somewhere for supper. When you first got off you didn't notice anything. Then when your eyes got adjusted you realised there was a biblical plague of flying cockroaches. They were in thousands everywhere, including all over the tables, the buffet bar, the kitchen worktops, and even the kitchen staff. As people were eating they were landing on the them and their dinner plates. It was unreal. In Ireland the place would have been shut down straightaway. Out here the people just laughed, joked and carried on regardless. I just had an ice-cream from the freezer and ate it as quick as I could.
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