Sunday, 22 March 2015

Corumba to Rio

Corumba in Feb 2015 was a hellish hot at 37 Degrees during the day it was super burning. I took a long awaited shower after crossing the border and a 18 hours train ride only to be soak and sticky smelly again in 5 minutes out of the shower. Walking around town looking for that first bank or atm to make sure that my card works in Brazil I got a tan in less than an hour but luckily no sunburn.

BRL 329 for the 30 hours bus ride to Rio. Superbly expensive compared to when I was in Bolivia not long ago. Still there was no other option so I paid the bus ticket and went back to the hostel and locked myself in the air-condition room.
Androniha Bus from Corumba to Rio
The next day; Bus was late, didn’t show up at 1130 but finally at 1215pm it came and we all rush inside the bus to seek shelter from the heat and air conditioning. How I survived a 31 hours bus ride, I still wonder. The bus was good and comfy with toilet, WIFI and power point as well. Still 31 hours of just sitting and doing nothing drags at your mind and soon I was in zombie state. Pit stop, smoke, eat, drink, pee, back on the bus and sleep.

Along the way we had many stops and police checks as well. Totally looking for drugs the bus was pulled over and searched inside and undercarriage as well. I was asked questions in Portuguese which I had no idea what they say. One police asked … English ??? I said yes and she signal her buddy and he could speak a bit of English. Amazed that a Malaysian that does not know Portuguese was on the bus he asked some standard traveller question and gave me back my passport with safe travels wishes.
Soon sleep was even too much and I gave up being cautious, taking out the tablet hoping I won’t get robbed or targeted and started reading. Soon even that was too much but nothing else I could do but just alternate between sleeping and reading and always checking google map to see where I am and how far I have to go before Rio, the small dot showing where we are never moving faster than I hoped. There was no food on the bus even for that price that I paid. Every 6 hours or so the bus would stop at a super large rest area which sold food and a little groceries.

When I thought I was finally going crazy, the bus stopped at Sao Paulo unloading passengers and one cheerful guy glad to be rid of the journey shook our hand with a large grin on his face saying good luck and have fun.
31 hours exactly plus 1 hours ahead time difference made it 32 hours and I was in Rio. Journey was not ended yet and I was out the station looking for how to get to the hostel. Local Omibus and I hopped on for 15 Real to the street near the hostel, hopped off and use the GPS on google maps to walk to the hostel all the while thinking this was bloody dangerous. I had no idea if I was in a good neighbourhood or bad one and walking around at 10 pm with a phone in hand and full backpack was a stupidly easy target. I had to trust that my friend I was about to meet choose a safe place to stay and thankfully he did.

Got to the hostel and while checking in I saw the friend I was rushing to meet sitting at the table engrossed in his phone …. Mission accomplish J
Never again I said to myself …. But long bus ride in South America was just the beginning.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Death Train Bolivia & Border Crossing – Puerto Quijarro (Bolivia) to Corumba (Brazil)

The Death-train in Bolivia is the train that goes from Santa Cruz to Puerto Quijarro a small town at the border of Brazil near the Pantanal region. Wondering how dangerous this would be I consulted Wikipedia and apparently it was called the Death-train due to its purpose of transporting yellow fever infected during the early years hence coined the Death-train where people on board were more or less on a journey to death door.
Death Train - Bolivia

I got on the 2nd most expensive train the Oriental Express, more due to timing (Different Days different train service) rather than choice. It was 100 Bolivianos about 20 SGD for an 18 hours ride throughout the night which had air conditioning in the train and good reclining seats. Food however was a challenge for they would stop at one station near to dinner time and local kids would board the train selling all kinds of cooked food to the passengers before hopping off just before the train moved again. Some of those food look like it was hunted in the nearby forest and cooked to taste like chicken.

Border Crossing – Puerto Quijarro (Bolivia) to Corumba (Brazil)
Puerto Quijarro
The train arrived in Puerto Quijarro in the morning on time at 6 am and there were taxi waiting to shuttle people where they wanted to go. I took a stroll along the dead town, maybe because it was too early in the morning but it was really small and uneventful. Eventually I hailed a cab and got to the border which is a short ride but not so short if you are walking. It cost me 5 Boliviano ….
Border Control - Bolivia
Everyone was queuing up waiting for the Bolivia border control to open. You could walk into Brazil and no one would stop you. Some money exchange shops were nearby and I dumped all my Bolivianos for Brazilian Reals. Exchange rate was fair and good. (The immediate vicinity of the Brazilian border control has no shop whatsoever).
The border control finally opened at 730am and the slow processing of clearing one at the time dragged on for 2 hours before it was my turn at the counter. The officer did not ask me anything other than my passport. As far as I could tell he was viciously keying in every form of permutation he can think of my name, passport number, nationality, identity card number but the computer return nothing to his efforts. I understood that he was trying to find my entry on the registry and he was failing at it. I was a ghost in Bolivia apparently.
I had all the right stamps and all the Visa plus the paper slip so the officer and I knew I would leave eventually but he just needed to get that data entry done. Take a seat and wait was what I understood after 10 minutes of trying and my passport was passed on to the next office. Stuck for another hours waiting.
While I was waiting I saw a sign (written on paper) on the counter which I translate as :
Exit Tax
Nationals of Bolivia - 15 Bol
Foreigners – 100 Bol  
Sitting down just waiting all things went through my mind for I had dumped most of my Bolivian money for Brazilian Real and had only 40 Bol left in my pocket ….  …. Dammit I should have change after getting the exit stamp. I clearly remembered there was no such fees when I checked on the internet so what was this all about ?? Was it an open bribe ?? No way to know till I got my passport and imagination ran wild during the 1 hour of waiting

Finally a lady came back with my passport and passed it back to the same officer. I was called to the front and he processed the exit with a stamp and passed me back the passport and waved me away. I did not need to pay anything apparently (Thou everyone was paying for some reason) and quickly left before they change their mind.
Border Control - Brazil
4 Hours now approximately and moving on to the Brazilian side of border control. 5 minute walk and back in the queue line. Another hour of queue and during that hour I got to see the Brazilian police in action where during one of their random checks of cars passing through they found one with drugs in it. All guns was in the hands pointed at the one man and one woman while they were slowly being removed from the car and put in handcuffed.

My turn up the counter and the Officer looked at my passport and immediately turn around and started conversing with his other colleague. Why am I not surprise. A question came in Portuguese and I was lost. His English was also non-existence and I had to fumble my way through with Spanish instead.
He asked me if I needed a Visa for Brazil and I said no while he double checked it with a file. The officer also asked how long I was traveling in Brazil and my standard one month answer came up and he nicely only gave me exactly 30 days. I need to start learning how to say 90 days ….

Important :
Lookout at the entry stamp and make sure the number on the right side is an Odd number which means entry into Brazil. If the Officer weather on purpose or accidentally give you an even number then you have just entered Brazil with an exit stamp which would make leaving the country very tricky.
Into Brazil, No Visa for Malaysian passport holders, no bribes and no customs just immigration which if wanted one could skip all together and enter illegally since no one checks … but crossing a rural border with a Malaysian passport took me 6 hours in total.

At Brazilian side of border control there is no stalls or shops whatsoever, just a bus stand, a taxi stand and a motor taxi stand. I was so tired I jumped on the motor taxi …. An actual motorbike with my backpack behind me and he took me to the hostel for as little as 15 Reals …. I miss Bolivia already … and dreaded how expensive Brazil is going to be compared to Bolivia.  

Welcome to Brazil …


Monday, 16 March 2015

Passing by, Potosi – Sucre – Santa Cruz

There will always be a place or places where you just skim by, there not by choice but merely a stop to break the journey along the way especially when one is rushing to get somewhere far away by a certain time. Thus that was Potosi – Sucre and Santa Cruz for me in Bolivia trying to skip hop as fast as possible to the border town of Puerto Quijarro - Corumba so I could try to get to Rio in time to keep my promise to meet a friend by a certain date.


Potosi was a gruelling-winding 4 hours bus ride away from Uyuni. I have done longer bus ride bus before but somehow this one was just edging on my nerved and I could not wait to get out of the bus when we reached Potosi. Arriving at night in Bolivia is not a good idea I realized as bus stops are usually out of the way a few miles outside the city and with most cities in Bolivia leaning on slopes getting lost and just wandering around is not very pleasant and can be quite exhausting.

Taxi was hard to spot at night as well since only a small sign or sticker on the front window marks the cars as a taxi. I manage to get one after nearly half an hour blundering about and gestured him to the preselected hostel Koala Den.

Other than the silver mines there is nothing much to do in Potosi and I was not keen on entering the mines for one bit. There are tours where they first bring tourist to the miners market and nice tourist will be obliged to buy coca leaves, equipment’s or even dynamite to be given as gifts to the miners while visiting the mines to show sincerity. Working in underground construction sites before I wish some nice tourist would come visit my workplace and bring me goodies but hell I work down there for the money and was pretty sure mining silver was the same thing. Call me inconsiderate but everyone does things by free will … there is no such thing as no choice …

I did however tried to locate the miner’s market by foot which I did and the market which was not a market but really just shops along a street selling construction gear. I would say it was like a hardware shop along a street. Potosi did feel a little more dangerous for some reason. I walked everywhere to places I guess I should not have walked, got looks and stares and felt really unsafe outside the main square when I was wondering further and further away to unknown places and at many times I almost just turned back but somehow kept going. Nothing happened but I could not shake that feeling away.

Without much to do I left after two nights of rest to Sucre ….

The most interesting sign I have ever came across during the travels so far and also the most enlightening one was at the bus station in Sucre about the taxi’s in Bolivia

What great notice signpost. The first time that I have an inclination of how much a taxi should cost thou it made no difference as the Taxi drivers will never give a foreigner a local price tag so I settled for 5 Bolivianos instead which was still cheap.

Sucre is known as the most beautiful city in South America. I can’t say much to that for it seems true with all the nice neo-classical building which seems to outshine any other city I have visited so far in South America. Still it was nowhere near the beauty of the cities in Europe.

The place is known for tours to see the dinosaur tracks imprinted on a Clift but that’s about it. I could not be bothered …. Passing by remember but good to know it’s there I guess.

The other mission I had was to find a memento for Bolivia. While researching about the border town of Pueto Quijarro they mention about a mine and about a stone called Bolivianita or the actual term Amtrine. Apparently the only mine that produce this kind of stone was in Bolivia where it is a mix of two type of crystals in colours of purple and yellow. No other mines in the world have its kind of property so I was set on a hunt to find it.

Almost could not find any bolivianita and I had to resort to scouring the internet for places to buy bolivianita in Sucre. It was still not easy even than for there was no central big souvenir market that sells it, so looking at the shop name and address I went on a hunt. Once I found the first shop that sells bolivianita, I then know what I was supposed to look for, jewellery shop the expensive kind but as small as 16 m2. So from show to shop I hunted the gemstone, and compared prices and look at the shapes and eventually bought more than I should.
Santa Cruz

If I was passing by Potosi and Sucre I was more or less just stopping for a piss break in Santa Cruz. Got off the bus just to find the cheapest hostel there is before I headed back to the train station to get a ticket the next day on the famous Death Train to Puerto Quijarro.

I was in Santa Cruz on a Sunday …. Everything was close

I did had a quick glimpse of the city which was set in rings of circle. Circle upon circle and although flat it felt worse than La Paz. Santa Cruz was warm climate and after traveling through all the high altitude, cool climate of Bolivia, suddenly you get tired just from the heat and humidity.

Out the next morning on the 18 hours journey on the Death Train to border town Puerto Quijarro.