“It will never be the same.” is my immediate thought now that I read news of Argentina’s new trains that connects Córdoba with Buenos Aires. More comfort in both: first and second class railway wagons, a modern coach with catering and bar, wagons with isolated compartments so the 6 customers can sleep all night long and wake up just before arriving at destination and a powerful new faster engine to pull it all. It’s all good and it is a step forward but it’s also the end of a whole generation of travellers. Let me introduce you to what was. Staying in Córdoba had been of the scale in our travel experiences and after a week we are ready to move forward. Where, why, how and how much is the holy foursome in the quest of long term travelling. But here we knew it would be the train… not only because it’s ridiculously cheap but because of curiosity as lots of roommates, travellers and hosts had warned us that the train to Buenos Aires is the very last option to take. I remember some of them telling me that they would rather go by feet than the train. And they might be wright if they wanted to get there faster. This route had two services a week which most of the time were sold-out. You had to be plenty time before in the overcrowded, hot and humid railway station to deposit your backpacks. After another bit of waiting the doors open and you can enter the wagons to find your seat in between the many pushing and pulling people who carried more hand luggages each than our two backpacks together. Rows of vinyl covered wooden benches for three at one side and for two at the other side of a small pass way got crammed by people at the most chaotically and ineffective way. Nevertheless after a while each individual would find his seat according his ticket and the scene calmed down as the ‘mate’ started to circulate. At first you could hear some cracking noises, then the scream of iron that got tortured and finally the train starts to move… and that’s it… it keeps starting to move, it would not speed up… ever!!! You could see some family members walking next to the train till the very end of the platform while waving to their beloved. Normally you would run and lose sight even before you reach the half. But here these people could have continued till destiny. A beautiful landscape passes by and you had all the time of the world to watch and observe each tiny detail. The inside design took you right back to the early days of railway history, so far back in time that the word design did not even existed yet and fire had just been mastered. Wooden benches of which the leaning can be swapped to either side so the voyager has a comfortable choice of direction and view offering as well very convenient change on longer rides to look for conversation partner or avoid them. The ventilation system were eight not turning iron fans at the ceiling which might have chopped of some heads in their better days. Reaching the slums of the city of Rosario, this transport converted into a bunker as each one of us had to slide down metal shields at the inside in front of the windows protecting us from stone throwing youngsters. Nonetheless was the ambient just great as passengers stand up and walk a bit to stretch legs and get in conversation with other rail users. Cards got dealt out, dices thrown, puzzles solved, guitars got played, some voices got tuned and a couple of old songs filled the belly of the worn out night train. Twenty hours took the ride of six hundred kilometers and 30 pesos did cost the ticket for an everlasting memory.
Image from the website: vacacionescordoba.com
*Get as fast as possible your tickets to be sure you have a seat.
*The lower the class the more ambient (Pullman = backpackers level: musicians, handcrafters, … and low-cost travellers who have lots of stories to share ;-) )
*Although the tickets got pricier: 90pesos (172pesos both ways) and for students 77pesos (146pesos both ways), it’s still cheaper than the 600-800pesos expensive Pullmans (but they are twice as fast… about 10 hours travel)
*Lots of passengers leave the train at Rosario, so if you’re fast you might find a bench for yourself to sleep stretched out. Not sure this is possible in the new trains.