From the amazing Brazilian Pantanal I needed to get to La Paz, Bolivia. With no direct flights and one-way flights ridiculously expensive, the best mode was overland.
Leaving the excellent Hostel Road Riders in Corumbá, Brazil, Dana, Ela and I took a taxi to the Bolivian border. As an Australian, I obtained my Bolivian entry stamp easily. Not so Israeli passport holders Dana and Ela. Border officials shunted them around, asked for itineraries and bookings and treated them with disdain.
The Corumbá-Quijarro border crossing from outside a shop on the Bolivian side where I waited for Dana and Ela
After a few hours Dana and Ela still had not received their visas so I left the border for Puerto Quillaro’s La Brasilena train station. There I met New Zealanders Kyle and Anna who also wanted to buy a ticket on the Death Train to Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
The Quijarro-Santa Cruz Death Train schedule and fares
As of July 2016 two different trains run between Quijarro and Santa Cruz, the Expreso Oriental (Eastern Express) in super pullman class and the faster, more comfortable Ferrobus in cama class. Both trains make intermediate stops in San Jose, Robore and Rivero Torrez.
Santa Cruz to Quijarro: departs 13:20 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, arriving 06:02 the next day.
Quijarro to Santa Cruz: leaves 13:00 each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, terminating 05:40 the following day.
Cost: 70 bolivianos (~US$10).
Santa Cruz to Quijarro: leaves 18:00 every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, terminating 07:00 the next day.I
Quijarro to Santa Cruz: departs 18:00 each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, arriving 07:00 the following day.
Cost: 235 bolivianos (~US$34)
I arrived to Quijarro Friday, as planned, in order to catch the roomier Ferrobus.
The modern two-carriage Ferrobus train at Quijarro’s La Brasilena station
The station ticket counter opened a few hours before departure time. Fortunately for Ela and Dana, seats were still available when they eventually arrived from the border, visas in hand.
Passengers boarding the Santa Cruz-bound train in Quijarro
After unsuccessfully catching a train on my previous Bolivia visit, I finally had my first South American intercity rail journey. Although bumpy, the overnight ride was worth it and did not resemble the Death Train nickname. The Quijarro-Santa Cruz train is called the Death Train as it transported victims from a historic yellow fever epidemic.
In Santa Cruz, Anna and Kyle transferred to their accommodation while Ela, Dana and I walked to Jodanga Backpackers Hostel.
Custom-made ice cream using nitrogen at the Nice Cream shop, Santa Cruz
The next day I reunited with Kyle and Anna for a beer and a burger. Afterwards, near the main plaza we saw an ice cream shop with a difference. Nice Cream prepare custom-made ice cream using nitrogen to freeze the ingredients. The product tasted delicious.
Santa Cruz’s main town square: Plaza 24 de Septiembre
A camera-shy wild sloth hanging around at Santa Cruz Zoo
From the city centre Anna, Kyle and I taxied across town to Santa Cruz’s Zoo. With very long entry lines, we didn’t bother entering. Instead, we wandered around the outside fence, looking for wild sloths and the captive animals.
A black-spotted yellow jaguar caged up at Santa Cruz Zoo
Many of the Santa Cruz Zoo animals lived in cramped and poor conditions, particularly the jaguar. I’m happy I did not condone this treatment by paying money.
Farewelling Kyle and Anna, I returned to the hostel, packed my bags and transited back to the bimodal bus and train station. Luckily, Trans Copacabana had one seat left on their 16:00 cama service to La Paz.
This magical sunset was the highlight of my overnight Santa Cruz-La Paz bus trip
A rhea posing outside a Trans Copacabana roadside restaurant stop
The flight duration between Santa Cruz and La Paz, Bolivia’s two largest cities, is less than an hour. However, because the road winds across the giant Andes mountain range, the bus takes 18 hours.
La Paz is 3,400 metres higher than Santa Cruz and the temperature upon arrival felt more than 20 degrees centigrade colder. This change in altitude and weather gave me a headache. The wonderful Pirwa La Paz Hostel staff took care of me, offering pain relief and making sure I recovered.
I came to La Paz to mountain bike down Death Road, something I couldn’t do previously and the subject of my next blog post.