Days: 315 (6 May 2015)
Total distance travelled: 59,851.36 kilometres (37,174.76 miles)
From all that we’d read, it had appeared that there was no other option (not that we’d been seeking an alternative) but to take a bus from Sucre to the silver mining city of Potosi.
On our recent excursion to Tiwanaku however, one of our companions (Michael the German) told us a tale of how he’d taken a train from Potosi to Sucre.
This had us intrigued, as apparently passenger train services had not run between the two cities in a long, long time.
Then he revised his story slightly… it wasn’t a train, but rather, it was more like a bus!?
Okay, now we were both intrigued and confused, so when we finally made it to Sucre, we did some research on Google and found that there was indeed a service that ran between the cities, running every second day (one day Sucre to Potosi, and returning the next), and with no service in either direction on Sundays.
As luck would have it, the day we ultimately decided to depart the Bolivian capital, happened to be a day in which the service was headed in the direction we desired.
That is how we found ourselves on the outskirts of Sucre, freezing our arses off at an old railway station nice and early on a Wednesday morning (we arrived at 6:45am for an 8am service).
Given the state of the place, had there not already been a decent amount of locals in wait, we probably would have doubted that there was any service at all…
Soon the numbers around us began to swell, and a couple of enterprising women started to sell their mornings wares. What looked to be a warming broth with warm bread.
Had we not self-catered, I’m sure we would have happily indulged in this in an effort to stave off the morning chill.
Eventually the station opened, and we realised that everyone had essentially been sitting, or left their bags in a queue, one that we happened to be near the rear of (not through people cutting the line, we just happened to have arrived later than many).
We did however manage to get ourselves tickets, in fact we suspect that the station master had have in fact saved two seats specifically for us, after spotting us in the queue.
Suddenly we looked up, and there, backing into the station was our ride.
It was certainly no train, but neither was it really a bus… I guess it sat somewhere in between!
Our packs were loaded atop the vehicle, and with a little forethought, I quickly grabbed my sleeping bag for us to use as a blanket as well. A decision that was VERY well received once Sarah realised what I’d done.
All the seats filled, we were ready to depart, when a few final passengers arrived, including two other gringos who ultimately were forced to stand as there was simply nowhere left to sit.
Time wasn’t an issue, and we’d figured that this could well prove a more scenic route, not to mention the novelty of riding in a vehicle that was some sort of Bus/Train hybrid… could it be a ‘Brain’?
The early stages of our trip saw us predominantly on the ascent, and going was obviously reasonably slow.
It was however, as we’d suspected, a ridiculously pretty view, the first hour or so taking us along valley walls, crossing rivers, punctuated by the occasional halt, as our driver rode the horn trying to clear our path of cows.
Occasionally people got off, and others got on, which often got us wondering where on earth these people lived.
We suspect that without this service, many would be indeed quite cut off from much of the world!
Often we could only look on and marvel, as a tiny old woman would climb from the vehicle, as already said, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
Then she would unload three or four bags from on board, whilst the drivers assistant (we’ll call him the conductor, as he did sell tickets to any who got on) removed from the roof another four or five huge bags.
How this little old women then carried the goods home was beyond us!
At about the midway point, we stopped for ten or so minutes at a station where yet another local entrepreneur sat selling puffy pockets of something with a salsa on top.
By now I was a bit peckish, and even though we’d brought snacks, the chance to try some local fare was too good to pass up, so I jumped off and grabbed us a couple.
The salsa, it was spicy, I mean it had a real back of the throat kind of kick!
The ball was truly delicious. A pocket of deep fried mashed potato filled with a small dollop of meat and vegetables along with a bit of egg.
I had no idea what it was at the time, but subsequent online research has me thinking it could have been called a Sonso…
Eventually we got to a point where we could (or perhaps it was would) go no higher, and the bulk of the back end of the journey was either flat or downhill.
Most passengers were gone by the time we left the larger town of Betanzos, so for the last hour or so, there remained less than a handful on board.
Finally, around half past two in the afternoon, we pulled in Potosi’s grand station, ready to explore this city of silver.
* Our scenic rail journey from Sucre to Potosi (on what could only be described as a hybrid bus) took 6 hours, & cost us $25.00 Bolivianos per person.