The Death Train Needs a New Name

April 24-25, 2007
Day 573-574

Confusion was the theme of the day. The guy who was supposed to give me my train ticket didn't show up on time. I somewhat expected this, so I walked around looking for a supermarket to buy some snacks for the train ride. When I got back to the hotel, the ticket guy's friend was there with my ticket. He wondered if I had gotten my exit stamp yet. I told him no because I had to make sure I got my train ticket first. Immigration was about to close, though, so I had to run to the bus station to get my stamp. This all could have been avoided if I had just gone to the bus station in the first place because the train ticket guy's office was located there. Of course he never told me this last night. The guy's friend said he had too many girls on his mind, and they were clogging up his brain. Figures.

With my train ticket and exit stamp, all I had to do was cross the border and find the train. That was easier said than done, too, because the city bus that goes to the border had just left. I had to wait forty-five minutes in the stifling mid-afternoon heat for the next bus to come. Luckily I left extra early because everyone I asked told me the train left at different times. On top of that, I still wasn't even sure there would be a train today because of the strike.

Getting into Bolivia was easy enough. I only got thirty days in the country, as is Bolivia's usual custom, but at least I didn't need to buy a visa. I heard rumors that Bolivia was going to require visas for Americans starting in March, but I guess they still haven't gotten around to it. It now seems like the requirement might be put off until June, but one can never be sure. The only thing I am sure of is that I could still enter the country for free for now.

Once across the border, I shared a cab to the train station with two Israelis. We had agreed on a price beforehand, but then the driver looked at our train tickets and told us we had to go to the second train station. None of us was even aware that there was a second station, but we had no way of knowing what was right at that point. The driver wanted to charge us double because the second station was 27 K's away. We talked him down a lot, but still had to pay more than our first price. The actual distance was more like 10 K's, so we already felt cheated.

When we got to the second station, it was almost empty. The train employees said that this was because the train wasn't coming for a couple more hours, but we could go back to the first station if we wanted to board it right away. So of course the taxi driver lied to us and already was long gone. We only lost about eighty cents each, though, so if that's the worst thing that happens to me in Bolivia I guess I'm doing alright.

In the station, little kids were walking around selling lemonade to support their families, not just for economic education. Independent workers were busy carrying peoples' luggage onto the train for tip money. Women walked around selling empanadas for twelve cents. Even just across the Brazilian border, it was obvious that I was back in Bolivia.

When the train finally did show up, it was much nicer than I had expected. The cars were set up like buses, with two seats on each side and an isle down the middle. The two TVs in my car were used to play some stupid movie with no dialog, nonstop screaming, and three songs constantly being played at once. Nobody on the train seemed bothered by this horrible noise.

The Death Train got its nickname because 100 years ago, a lot of people died on the train when it broke down in the sweltering heat with no access to water. My book says that it's a lot safer now, but you should still bring insect repellent because of the "zillions" of mosquitoes that make their way onto the train during the constant unexplained stops. However, the only time we stopped was at small towns to pick up new passengers, and there weren't any mosquitoes in site because of the sealed, air-conditioned cabins. The Death Train was a little bumpy, but not nearly as deadly as its nickname would suggest. The only problem was that it went at night, so I missed out on seeing the scenery of Bolivia's pantanal.

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