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Full Circle

Day 179: Arica to La Paz

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Michael Palin - Full CircleCold and tired we may be but our adventures are not over yet. The approach to La Paz is dramatic. The city is built in an enormous canyon into which we descend in a series of corkscrew spirals. The glittering lights of the city below promise excitement and glamour but the closer view is depressing. The line is unfenced and neglected. At times the track disappears from sight beneath sand, dirt and stones. Packs of bony dogs prowl ahead of us, picking at the scattered piles of rubbish. Two drunks are caught in the headlamps walking along the line, balancing shakily on the rail and laughing at us. Perhaps the final indignity, as we wind our way down into the city, is finding two tall iron gates closed against us. The drivers, whose patience has been saintly, grab torches and climb down yet again. Eventually a lady in red shawl and a billowing pink dress emerges from a shed, takes out a key and carefully unlocks the gates. The drivers remount only to find that, while they were out, a passing drunk has climbed into the train. He's mistaken us for his bus home and is quite confused. The driver ejects him and we edge forward through the gates, which the lady in the pink dress locks after us, only to find ourselves in the middle of a city street. The driver hoots back at cars, themselves indignant at finding the train from Chile in the middle of their traffic jam. It is a wondrous, surreal finale to a journey which comes to an end a few minutes later at a deserted, unexpectedly handsome station, fourteen hours after leaving Arica.

We've covered the distance at an average speed of 16.4 miles an hour. But no one's complaining. There were many times during this momentous day when I thought we'd be lucky to get here at all.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 179
  • Country/sea: Bolivia
  • Place: La Paz
  • Book page no: 239

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