Is it a train? Is it a bus? No it’s the buscarril

We found a way to travel from Potosí to Sucre that would satisfy any Thomas the Tank Engine enthusiast.

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Three times a week a buscarril plies an otherwise forgotten railway route that services communities with no road connections. I’d say it seats about thirty. It looks and feels a lot like a bus. But it goes along the rails.

We were the only tourists, and it was clear when they escorted Fiona to the front of the ticket queue that there are seldom any foreigners along for the trip. Instead, the buscarril was ferrying local Bolivians too and from the ‘big’ cities at either end of the line.

It cost about $5NZD for a journey of nearly seven hours. Taking the bus would have been cheaper and a lot faster, but it was a great and often comical experience, like when:

  • The driver stopped the train on the edge of town at a stall selling fresh juice.
  • Every dog we passed tried to chase us down with determination and delight.
  • A cholita appeared in the middle of nowhere and flagged down the train.
  • We had to stop while a farmer tried to get his donkey away from the line.
  • The driver jumped out of the cab and used a massive spanner to change the points on the rails and make sure we went in the right direction.
  • A toot of the horn sent a squeal of guinea pigs bounding off the line.
  • We routinely stopped to let people off where the only man made structure you could see was the railway line. They must have had some walk ahead of them.

On top of all of that the scenery was excellent. The trip meandered through valleys and over dusty mountain passes. The buscarril didn’t seem especially stable, and some of the views were a little vertigo inducing, but overall pleasing. We descended about 1500 from Potosí to Sucre, off the altiplano and in to a much more pleasant and spring like climate, which we hope to enjoy for our last five days in Bolivia.

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