Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 339-340 – Brazil – Entry to Bolivia and Santa Cruz

We awoke and wandered down for breakfast which had been laid out under clothes and wasn’t much but filled a hole. Johanna and Anne arrived as did another couple from Germany who’d been sharing the dorm with them. They planned to head to La Paz and work in El Alto on a project to introduce a plant-based water filtration system – very much a live experiment. We exchanged details with Tonia but for the life of me have no idea of the name of her partner!

We were advised to go to the border for around 1pm to ensure enough time for immigration. Close to our departure time Johanna was chatting with a fella down in the courtyard who went by the name of ‘The Greek’ and happened to mention that I’d had my Yellow Fever certificate stolen. He’d advised that there could be some problems and I wandered down for a quick chat. I happened to have a photocopy of the certificate thanks to Fi’s studious preparation before our departure many months ago and he immediately said I’d be fine. Ten minutes later he wandered up to our room saying that he’d been on the phone and the guy on the border was a real hard ass and wouldn’t take a photocopy meaning I’d be stuck at the border for 10 days having had to take the vaccination again.

This sounded nothing short of ridiculous but The Greek had decided he’d come to the border with us and make sure we made it across – a true Samaritan. It all sounded fishy but we were in no real position to argue and everybody had been so helpful that we decided to go along with it. We took a taxi and paid over the odds for the privilege; a bad start. We left the girls at the Brazilian immigration office which we were delighted to find out didn’t even re-open until 2pm (it wasn’t even 1pm yet) – this wasn’t getting any better. The Greek and I then took a walk to Bolivia, stopping for a quick handshake with the supposed border official where The Greek took 40 Real from me and slipped it his way with a smile before we wandered off and he declared it would now all be alright.

We continued into Bolivia where he helpfully exchanged my remaining Real at a horrific exchange rate for some Bolivianos, took payment in the form of a bottle of coke from me, and then sent me back on my way into Brazil. I should point out that I knew what was happening but that the numbers we were talking about were low enough for me to treat it as more of an adventure than anything else and if it meant I wasn’t stopped and held at the border then fair enough. I returned to wait with the ladies and we eventually hopped through Brazilian immigration and then took a walk to their Bolivian counterparts wherein the fella who’d acquired the 40 Real was, of course, nowhere to be seen. The fact that no-one was in the slightest bit concerned to see anyone’s Yellow Fever vaccination certificate was the real sting in the tail but by this time our hosts collective concern for our border crossing was starting to become much more transparent. When we’d crossed and taxied to the train station – where we’d been promised a nearby mall with Wi-Fi and air conditioning – and found nothing but a ramshackle border town we were becoming more and more disappointed with our Corumba experience. Top it off with the realisation that our train tickets were something ridiculous like a 40% markup on actual price in Bolivia and we’d collectively agreed to denounce the whole team – The Infamous Greek and the Hostel Pantanal crew – publicly across every Internet-based review and advice forum we could.

Johanna and I took a wander through the quaint and nice enough town to where thanks to her magnificent Spanish and no thanks to me we acquired a delicious Chicken, Rice, Potato and Salsa combo from a local street vendor and plenty of water to wash it down. After 3-4 hours waiting we were eventually able to board the 2-carriage train and finally enjoy some air-conditioned relief from the always welcome but nonetheless relentless heat. The train was much nicer than I was expecting and even had LCD’s placed around the carriage for movies. The fact that all they had were horrific Disney TV movies meant I’d rather they’d not bothered.

We were served a simple but tasty enough meal almost immediately which we put down despite having only recently eaten and set about the relaxing 14 hour journey. About an hour in the train derailed.

I shit you not.


Effectively a train crash on the Death Railway.

To be honest we didn’t even notice until we obviously came to a stop and people started running up and down the train grabbing torches. It took a couple of hours (pretty quick in my opinion) for another train to come out and drag us back onto the track before we were on our way again. Despite the quality of the seating unless you are capable of sleeping on your back straight with no movement (a skill I don’t possess unless I’m heavily intoxicated) then it meant little in the way of comfort for sleep. I didn’t sleep much.