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As I near the end of my journey I’ve been wondering about the name you gave to the train from Jacobacci to Esquel: ‘The Old Patagonian Express.’
I liked the fact that the boy you were talking to on the train, Renaldo Davies, said: “This train is too insignificant to have a name. The government is talking about getting rid of it.”
In part the government have succeeded to do that as the only remaining segment of the train line that runs on a regular basis is from Esquel to Nahuel Pan and back again. A tiny section of the last train journey you took on your South American adventure.
But I stumbled across an interesting fact when talking with Hector, Argentina’s last remaining train expert. He informed me that the train has always been known as La Trochita, in translation, Little Gauge. Did you know this at the time or was it a fact you discovered later on, long after ‘The Old Patagonian Express’ had stuck? Your name sounds much more romantic and is now even on the current train tickets for La Trochita: The Old Patagonian Express as they now officially call it.
Getting hold of one of those tickets from anywhere else in the world apart from Esquel itself was near-on impossible as I have recently discovered, but having been immersed in some Patagonian literary research, it seems this is the beauty of the place; its isolation and solitariness.
The great expanses of nothing, the vast desolate plains and the lack of habitation which would turn into stretches of lush forests and snowy mountainous are overwhelming. These vistas led W H Hudson to feeling he was: “Incapable of reflection: my mind had suddenly transformed itself from a thinking machine into a machine for some other unknown purpose. To think was like setting in motion a noisy engine in my brain; and there was something that bade me still, and I was forced to obey.”
Perhaps this is the effect Patagonia has on its inhabitants, as I must admit to feeling something similar as I gazed upon the landscapes and marvelled at their rugged beauty.
Luckily upon my arrival in Esquel I was able to procure myself a ticket to your legendary train and the end of my journey. The Old Patagonian Express.
You once wrote:
The llama was a special reproach to me.
‘The llama is a woolly sort of fleecy hairy goat,
With an indolent expression and an undulating throat,
like an unsuccessful literary man.’
I’m currently in Bolivia swigging, instead of your morphine spiked cement, nasty, pink, Pepto Bismol, and feeling a little sorry for myself, wondering what it is I’m doing here. I feel a little like the llama in your above prose. Nevertheless I have made it this far and will soldier on to my goal, The Old Patagonian Express.
I have discovered the only part of the line left running from La Paz to Buenos Aires is from Oruro to the Argentinean border at Villazon. So this will be my next and I believe, sadly my penultimate train ride, as the Lagos Del Sur Express is also out of action.
I hope you have been enjoying reading my blog and if you have any tips for the last few weeks of my journey then I’ll be pleased to hear them.
I was wondering, did you take a plane, or rather a ‘carpeted metal tube’ from Guayaquil to Lima because of the lack of trains on this part of your trip?
I was a little flummoxed at this sudden plane ride in your journey. Why not take a bus as you so disliked flying?
I’m continuing this part of my trip overland in order to try and fill in the missing chapter from Guayaquil to Lima. I hope you’ll find it somewhat interesting. My reading companion is now Michael Jacob’s Andes. A heavy, informative tome that has been weighing me down for some weeks now. Yet an inspirational read and a great insight into the history of the Andes and their present day reality, I’ll be drawing on some of Jacobs’ insights to help guide me along the way. Starting on the coast I’ll then move into the mountains before getting to Lima and hopefully taking the train east as far as I can get.
I popped my head into the Royal Dutch in San Jose. The hotel is now by day a kind of budget casino with pale green plastic chairs and a few bored looking Ticos playing slot machines. By night it hosts Nick’s Disco, which from the outside (I was not brave enough to venture in) consisted of bright flashing purple lights and women in very tight lycra.
The Pacific Station was impressively clean and still houses the eight-foot statue of Jesus, but was closed and deserted except for a train station official, who confirmed for me that the only train that runs now is the commuter train to Heredia. Sadly no more trains to either Puntarenas or Limon.
To get to Panama I’ll be taking the bus, despite the lack of trains I’m going to try to stick to overland travel as much as possible, as like yourself I find those carpeted tubes in the sky far from enjoyable.
I’ve got an excellent book for the 14 hour trip – A House for Mr Biswas, V S Naipaul. I needed to exchange The Sheltering Sky somewhere and I found a bookcase of English books in a little bar in Quepos, Mr Biswas, with your quote on the back, seemed like the perfect choice.
Actually this leads me onto a question. On your travels you always had an excellent book on hand. Did you carry all these books with you from the start of the trip as you especially wanted to read them? or did you pick them up as you went along? I’m carrying a few with me but it’s causing me to almost topple over when I have to try to get my backpack on, I’m pretty sure you travelled with a suitcase – perhaps it was easy to keep your books in there – but still surely no lighter, anyway I’m intrigued…
p.s I’ve got a few pictures of the Royal Dutch also, let me know if you would like to take a look.
Just thought I’d let you know that I’m embarking on a journey to follow in your footsteps on The Old Patagonian Express.
I’ve been in touch with your agent Miriam Feurle. She was very nice and helpful.
I explained I was hoping to talk to you about the trip; the sorts of things you would like to read about when seeing the journey re-created, any advice you might have for me, dos and don’ts. Also what you think the trip might be like now compared to your experiences.
Unfortunately as I wasn’t requesting an official interview and don’t have a publication backing me on this journey she informed me that you wouldn’t be interested.
Last month you turned down an interview with the BBC and one with a documentary maker. I did wonder if she had told you of my trip as I imagine you are very busy. I plan to contact some other people in the hope that this url might one day find its way to your inbox and I may get the opportunity to talk to you.
Meanwhile I shall continue with my plans which will be unfolding in this new blog of mine.