Friday, October 7, 2011

South America By Train

I enjoy train travel, especially when seeing the world for pleasure. That's why I selected some travel videos on Netflix that feature seeing the world by rail. I started with South America.
From a series titled 'Travel The World By Train', I viewed their 1999 production. Admittedly, the video is dated. From what I am able to determine, much of the rail service presented no longer exists -- and it had already become a remnant nearly ten years before when the formerly touted South American tourist railways were shut down. That's too bad because what little experience I have with rail travel on that continent remains one of the best memories of the experience, and what I see in films or travel videos just makes me want to do a lot more. I am a travel romantic. Yes, the simple going is half the motivation for me. Seeing landscapes I've never seen is the other half. That's why I enjoy trains. You don't get the same experience in an airplane (and I don't do small craft unless I'm on a job. Just a weird superstition of mine which aviation enthusiast friends of mine find irritating...), and though I thoroughly love road trips by car in my home country, I prefer to let someone else do the driving when in other lands. Thus, my enjoyment of train travel. On the ground, you see everything; on the train, you can relax and let your mind and heart wander.
See the world by rail and you'll see that no amount of computers, iPads, or cell phones really make the world one small village. There is a LOT of land that remains uninhabited. This train travel video through South America emphasized that (again) for me. Seeing the wide plains and lonely yet beautiful skies over the Andes is a beautiful sight. The trains take you through the vast and quiet landscapes of one of the most fascinating continents on Earth. This video brought to mind a lot of memories of places I've seen and places I yearn to. The trains themselves are incredibly charming for a traveler (as opposed to a tourist). Old steam locomotives which burn wooden logs or heavy oil pull equally arcane cars across the grassy plains of Paraguay, over high deserts in Argentina, or through the scenic backdrop of Chile. The famed Patagonian Express has one locomotive, built in the United States in 1922. That was in 1999, so I'm not sure if it's still running. This is likely the one you've seen in movies, like The Big Blue (1988), with the wooden slat seats and stoves in each car to keep the passengers comfortable. Not all the trains are such nostalgic affairs, but I'd love to ride one of these living steampunk machines before they completely disappear. I've been on the railroad between Ollantaytambo and Machu Piccu. The engine is more modern and the cars more what tourists are used to. But that doesn't take away any of the fun. I like all trains, old and new. I recall the excursion from Ollantaytambo to Agua Caliente, from where we took another train to the next station to then board a bus reserved by WEX Club guide and founder David Childress. (The bus ride to the top was a white knuckle hoot). The train runs along the river and as you pull into the mountains, it just gets better.
The bus was in lieu of a 1300 foot ascension walk, which I wouldn't have minded but we had older folks in the group and several members of the group were already experiencing altitude difficulties. Fortunately for me, the thirty days prior to this particular trip I had spent on the job in Bogota, where I had my first bout with the axe in the skull that comes with altitude. A bottle of neosaldina and a month to acclimatize prepared me for Peru and Bolivia, so I was better off. Anyway, I enjoyed the rail experience enough to buy a souvenir PeruRail vest (As a photographer and filmmaker and sometime field security consultant, I find vests very useful). I plan to go on a major South American trip with my son and my nephew in 2013 and you can bet rail travel will be part of the plan. It will be their first trip to that continent, and much of what we see will be new to me as well (unless I return there on my own or on the job before then...). Whatever you've heard about rail travel good or bad, I always recommend trains as part of any travel itinerary. As I wrote nearly all of Secret of the Amazon Queen during the first four months I spent in South America (started it in the Philippines), I can see myself being inspired to write more adventures while experiencing the trains down there, whatever little remains of the experience by now. I'm looking forward to the next travel-by-train video...

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