And now the story really starts...

Sat, 22 Mar 2008 12:30:51 +0000

Somewhere in Brazil Index "Train of Death"

So here I am in Corumba. And this is where I worry that people might not understand what I'm trying to achieve here. Because Corumba is right in the middle of the Patanal, a huge expanse of wetland full of capybaras, giant anteaters, jaguars, and flocks of birds. And I'm not venturing outside the city at all.

In fact the reason I'm in Corumba is that I want to get to Bolivia, and lake Titicaca. Corumba is a convenient place to draw breath before tackling the Bolivian border crossing. So it was never part of the plan to actually do anything here. Still, I'd love to see a real live capybara. I do have time to go on a single day tour if I could organise it. But I was unable to find a tourism agency that could do such a thing - mostly they're oriented towards multi-day camping safaris. And in fact, weirdly enough, most of the agencies live in Campo Grande, well outside the Patanal. Maybe on the way back, if I have time.

For today, though, there were challenges enough. No-one at all speaks English, and the town is too poor to have a well developed infrastructure for tourists. I found the hostel by the old "phone them and hand the phone to the taxi driver" trick. I have no idea how much to pay for taxis - I gave the guy R$10, which seems a lot to me. I had a bunch of questions for the receptionist, so it was a pity that she didn't speak a word of English.

First task for the day was getting malaria medicine. There's a lonely planet guide to Brazil here which claims that the whole Patanal has been declared malaria-free, which is nice since wikitravel says it's a very high risk zone. The guy at the pharmacy seemed pretty bemused to be asked about malaria. But he dived into the back and produced a battered packet of cloroquine. Cost R$40, which is quite a lot really, but it'll make my parents feel better to know that I'm fully drugged up. It's evening now, by the way, and I haven't yet seen a single mosquito.

I then realised that I was running low on money. No problem, go to the bank. Except that I tried three different banks, and none of them would recognise any of my cards. At the local headquarters of Banco do Brasil, it told me to find another machine displaying the visa symbol. There were about twenty machines, none of them displaying a visa symbol. Bugger. Various emergency measures flitted through my head, the most promising being to delve into my stash of US dollars and try to convert them - although I haven't seen a bureau de change in Corumba yet. But then I asked at reception, showing the message from the machine that I had painstakingly transcribed to the last circumflex, showed her the offending visa card, and she drew on my map the location of an HSBC. Crisis averted. As it happens, HSBC have noticed that my card has been used overseas and of course immediately blocked it. Thanks guys. But Postbank still works.

Next was to book my train ticket out. This is quite complicated. You can't just find go to the Bolivian railways website and book with your visa card, otherwise I would have already done it. Instead you take a bus to the border, take a taxi over the border to the nearby town of Puerto Quijarro, and book your ticket at the train station. You then have to slog your way back.

The bus is very, very bumpy and uncomfortable, but it's only a short distance. And then you can see the border, and mighty impressive it is too, with Brazilian and Bolivian flags flying. Except that apparently you can just wander over and no-one will challenge you. So over I crossed into Bolivia. And then back again, because I still needed a taxi. Since I'd wasted time wandering around the borderlands, I'd missed all the people who had immediately organised a taxi to share. Instead of R$2 to share a taxi, I ended up getting my own and paying R$10. The taxi driver was very friendly and spoke a few words of English. He managed to point out to me that my plan of buying a ticket with a visa card was doomed, and that I'd need to swap some Reals for Bolivianos. As it happened, he had a stack of the latter with him. Yeah, OK, I get it. But I need this ticket, and it's too hot to argue. As it happened, he gave me a fairly reasonable price: 200 Bolivianos for 50 Reals, which is in the ballpark. He made up for it by charging me R$20 for the return journey. Whatever, I have my ticket, and a wad of spare Bolivianos to boot, and it all cost me a fraction of the ticket from Sao Paulo.

So with that out of the way, and the full heat of the afternoon kicking in, what next? I decided to investigate the possibility of going on a tour of the Patanal, try to buy some supplies for the journey tomorrow, and find some postcards to fulfill my promise to Volker. In all three of these tasks I failed utterly. I couldn't even find a single shop that sold groceries, at all.

But I like wandering the streets, getting a feel for a place. Like Sao Paulo, and presumably the rest of Brazil, it's very colourful here:

There was guitar music and singing coming out of the wide open doors of that church, so I had a listen for a bit. I then went to the Independence Park to get some coconut milk, which I've never tried before. Certainly refreshing, and you get a surprising amount out:

And then I had my dinner, the local barbeque. This turned out to be self serve, so I was forced, against my better judgement, to have three servings.

And now, finally, the mosquitos are out. So I'm off to spray myself with DEET.

Somewhere in Brazil Index "Train of Death"