When school was out for the summer I started making plans to go to Tobite. Paul lined up the dates. My older brother, Neal, had returned to Bolivia that summer and my parents wanted him to go with me so I was not alone.
I put together a few things I wanted to take. I knew very little, and don’t know much more now, about mules except that they were stubborn and the bits I used on my horse were not good for their mouths. I had a hackamore that I acquired the year before in the US from a friend. A hackamore is similar to a bridal, but it does not have a bit. I had used it on my horse some, but he did not respond as well as a traditional bit so I quit using it. We loaded a military duffle bag with sleeping bags, jackets, changes of clothes, tack, and flashlights.
My dad needed to make a supply buying trip to Santa Cruz so we loaded up on our motorcycles for the journey. Motorcycles were our main form of transportation in those days. Since my bag couldn’t fit on the motorcycle with us we sent it with a local truck driver named Don Guillermo in his big Mercedes truck that was hauling vegetables to the city. Don Guillermo would often bring loads of supplies back from the city for us. My duffle bag was to be delivered to the mission guest house the next day. Neal was riding a motorcycle that belonged to another missionary that needed to be taken to the city. I rode double with dad on his Honda XL 600.
We made the 4 hour ride to the city without an issue on the Pan American highway. Most of the road was dirt until we emerged from the mountains and then the last hour or so of the ride was paved.
My alarm went off at 5 am the next morning. We had to get to the train station to purchase tickets. There were no computer systems so train tickets were only sold the day of the departure and the ticket window opened at 7 am. Neal and I walked a couple of blocks in the dark to a busier street. In a matter of a few minutes a taxi came by and I flagged him down.
After a 15 minute taxi ride we arrived at the bus station. A line was already forming in front of the gate. We joined the line while a few curious sideways glances could be seen. We stood out because we were clearly “gringos”. It was chili and I couldn’t help but shiver beneath a thinly insulated flannel shirt. My coat was in the duffle bag we had sent the day before. Neal had a warmer coat on, and I was jealous. It was good that we got up so early because the line grew rapidly as the sun rose. Seven o’clock seemed to take forever to arrive. Finally the gates were opened and we made our way to the ticket window. We bought our tickets and learned the train was to depart at 2 pm.
We returned to the guest house around 8 am and grabbed some breakfast. My duffle bag had not shown up yet and I began to get a little worried about not having the items we needed for the trip. Paul had asked us to take some food supplies with us so we went to a nearby grocery store and bought some provisions. We wanted to minimalize the burden on our hosts.
My duffle bag still had not arrived when we returned from the grocery store. Now I was really becoming worried. Dad was concerned too, so he took off on his motorcycle to see if he could retrieve it from Don Guillermo. Dad knew where he stayed while in the city and promised he would return with it or meet us at the station.
Dad did not return before we needed to leave for the train station. So Neal and I packed up the rest of our things and we caught a taxi to the station.
I was shocked at how many people were crowded into the station. The train was there waiting. Our tickets put us in the last car of train which had no caboose like you see in the movies. This was no luxury train. The windows were all open because there was no air conditioning or heat. The red vinyl seats were two person bench seats much like those found on school busses. There were no arm or head rests. In the front of the car there was a small room that served as a bathroom. We found our seats toward the back of the car on the left side. There was a shelf overhead that we put our two small bags on. I was so nervous I was almost sick. We had no sleeping bags or blankets, only a few clothes, and I didn’t have the few tack items I had packed. Every seat in the train car was soon filled and there were a few children making themselves comfortable on the floor.
I made my way to the door of the train car to watch for my dad. The train engineer blew the horn warning everyone the train would be departing shortly. I scanned the people on the platform looking desperately for my dad. At the front of the train the horn blew again, this time the blast was longer and I knew we were seconds from departing.
The train lurched forward and I hung onto the hand rail. Then I spotted my dad just coming out of the station onto the platform. I started yelling at him as loud as I could. Finally he heard me and ran up to the slowly moving train. He had two bags with him, but neither were my duffle. I grabbed the bags as he walked alongside the moving train and said “I couldn’t get your stuff, but I got you a couple of blankets to take. Have a good trip”.
The train started to pick up speed as it exited the station. I stood on the step holding the hand rail for a moment watching my dad on the platform. I made my way back to my seat and joined my brother. He had seen what happened and was glad I had gone to the steps to watch for dad. I crammed the two bags onto the shelf over our heads next to our other bags. With nothing else to do, we sat back and made ourselves as comfortable as possible.