Ridin’ the rails

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…

El Tejar station on the fringes of Sucre. Those tracks don’t appear to have seen much traffic in a long time…

Steam trains in the yard. A reminder of Bolivia’s not so distant railway past

Steam trains in the yard. A reminder of Bolivia’s not so distant railway past

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 ride from the 6 hour journey from Sucre to Potosi (you can get there by bus in 3 hours)

Our ride from the six hour journey from Sucre to Potosi (you can get there by bus in three hours)

We were a little sceptical as to whether we’d receive its processed 5 star comfort

We were a little skeptical as to whether we’d receive its processed 5 star comfort

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!

Stunning views as we slowly gain elevation

Stunning views as we slowly gain elevation

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!

Our driver at the controls. We never could figure out why there was a steering wheel… (left) & possibly the clearest stretch of track on which we travelled (right)

Our driver at the controls. We never could figure out why there was a steering wheel… (left) & Possibly the clearest stretch of track on which we travelled (right)

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.

A delicious travel snack!

The Sonso, a delicious travel snack!

From great heights, it was now all downhill

From great heights, it was now all 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.

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13 Responses to Ridin’ the rails

  1. Kevin Wagar says:

    Looks like a cool way to see the countryside! That converted bus is amazing! I’ve never seen anything like that on the rails.

  2. Doreen Pendgracs says:

    Love those views, Chris! They make it worth the wait to board the ‘Brain!’ Glad you got seats. That makes the journey so much more enjoyable.

  3. Mar Pages says:

    This is so unique! It looked like you were traveling through a story from years back. Also love the colours on the ‘five star comfort’ infographics, whether they were accurate or not. 😉

  4. The Jerny says:

    The ride is quite different and that gives a feeling of excitement for first timers! Oh, and awesome photos as well! I actually haven’t heard of the place but I will surely remember this blog when I got there. Thanks Chris!

  5. Haha what a neat way to travel and get great views of the countryside 🙂 That sonso looks absolutely amazing by the way. The photo/description definitely made me feel hungry haha.

  6. Hey that ride is so unique I definitely want to give it a try. it adds spunk to the tour.

  7. Sanket D. says:

    woah! that looks like good old rough, wild country. Been a while since I have been on your site Chris, and as usual, pleasure following your journey 🙂

  8. elizabeth says:

    I love the picture of the station- it must have made you wonder what was going to arrive!! Sounds like a unique journey. The things you find while traveling!

  9. 6 hours with that kind of view? That’s pretty cool. I love the mountains and the trees. Help me to get it. Is it really a train or a bus driving on the train rail? Hahaha sorry, anyway it look so unique.

  10. Jessica Ayun says:

    I don’t mind the long hours of sitting as I view those intense landscapes

  11. Joeography says:

    What an interesting adventure! The views are incredible! I can only imagine what you expected to show up while waiting for the “Brain”.

  12. Hey Chris! Did this route, too! Are you going to visit Salar?

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