Published: October 9th 2006October 5th 2006
The Death Train
Taken at dawn when the temperature was a balmy -5°c
Well, i decided not to say before in the blogs what the train ride i was taking is termed over here. But, yes the train from Calama to Uyuni in Bolivia is one of many train journies in South America called "The Death Train". Why its called this im not sure as there was certainly no actual danger of death during the trip as such. The greatest problem encountered was in fact boredom and frustration at the incompitence of the border officials (both sides) making it seem like ones life was fading away.
Anyway, the journey started at 11pm Wednesday (the only train between Calama in Chile and Uyuni in Bolivia) and as we clambered aboard it was immeadiately obvious that luxury it wasnt going to be. Very crowded and the seats were nowhere near big enough. The people in my coach contained a mixture of gringos and locals and hence the initial introductions were conducted in Spanglish. Before too long and with the aid of a lovely bottle of Pisco shared between us there were a group of about 15 of us that were all firm friends and spent the early part of the evening chatting and getting aquainted.
Guitar + pisco + mate de coco = warmth
Enter the night. Luckily i had my sleeping bag with me and hence wasnt too cold but the fact remains..well, rather than write lots and lots of dribble i"ll give you a few facts.....
* 23 Hours - total length of time spent on the train covering around 400km
* GBP 7 - the cost of said trip
* 9 Hours - time spent doing nothing at the Chilean border (Ollague) while lots of railway workers wandered around doing nothing in particular. It really was chaotic and laughable at how they just kept going back and forth with the engine doing nothing
* 1 Hour - time spent at the Bolivian immigration (Avaroa) trying to work out why he wanted us to pay an entry fee. None of us had heard of this before including many poeple who had frequently entered Bolivia.
* US$2 the "fee" we ended up paying to get in
* -15°c - the low temperature during the night
* All - clothing worn in the night. One of our poor friends ended up trying to snuggle under towels.
* Lots - Mate de Coco/coca drunk to
* Somewhere around 4000m - the high point of
* An estimate of an average of between 10-15 miles/hour for the trip.
Aside from the facts, points of interest include a sing-a-long come gig in the mid morning sun in our coach using the faithful guitar. Also it was amazing how when the proverbial hit the fan (lots) everyone came together like a big family, and so at the end although only knowing each other for 23 hours it felt like we were all old old freinds. I also had an opotunity to practrice much spannish thanks to the spannish speakers on board.
Finally at 9pm on Thursday we limped into Uyuni totally shattered but strangely happy to have survived an undeadly but unbeliviably taxing ordeal. Smiles were very broad that evening and so to celebrate we went for pizza and beer in an Uyuni cafe before stumbling into bed..sweeet sweeeeet bed.
The following day for all of us was very much a recovery day, but myself and Juan (Spannish friend) decided at sunset to wander to the Cemetery of Trains just outside Uyuni. This is definately a place for train enthusiasts and photographers. Being niether particularly strongly i must say it was still
9 Hours we spent stuck here in the (expletive) cold
fantastic and anyone about should try and visit this place during a full moon at sunset. Truely ive never seen anything like it. On one side you could see the sun setting (literally judge the movement against the mountains) and on the other side see the moon doing the same (literally creeping up over the hill - it looked like a clockwork toy). All the time the sky was hundreds and hundreds of colours and in the middle myself and Juan took endless photos of the trains (also constanly changing colour. Theyre preserved as the climate is so dry) and the views. Very very special.
As far as the supposed Death Train goes id reccomend people to do it as its a totally bonkers experience with a feeling of imense achivement at the end of it. Its not deadly really, the cold is bad and occasionally there were some near wobbles at the side of pretty wonky countryside, but with a sense of humour its fine.
On to Bolivia next
There are more photos below