We arrived in Corumba last night with a recommendation from our Pantanal guide in hand. He said they ´re always waiting at the bus station, so we were quite surprised to arrive and find no one. After looking into onward tickets for the Bolivian train, the travel agent called the hostel for us, and they said they ´d come pick us up. In the meantime, we found out from bystanders that Brazil LOST to France in the world cup! No way! We really thought they ´d make it to the final four, but no luck! While we were awaiting our hostel escort ´s arrival, three young women from England, who had arrived on the same bus, had a woman from another hostel turn up to greet them. Then, another guy from another hostel showed up trying to get us to come to his place. We finally decided to go with the place our guide recommended since it was the same price as the hostel the London-women were going to.
BIG MISTAKE. It became quite obvious to us that our guide must have been looking out for his buddies. I don ´t mind simple and run-down, which is what this place was a first glance. But they had a kitchen, laundry service, our own room, and free internet. After dropping our bags in our room, we went to wait for the internet. We ate dinner (tomato and hot-sauce sandwhiches and peanuts in the shell) and read through our guide books while waiting for the computer to free up, but it never did! It seemed we were the only guests at the hostel, and the other eighteen people milling around either lived there or worked there. They kept doing some sort of hot-seat change out with the computer, all the while casting frequent glances in our direction. We felt quite unwelcome, and eventually gave up. Pat ´s hair is getting long, and the idea of me cutting his hair (something I have never done for a man using just scissors) has come up in conversation several times. So, last night we decided to go for it. It actually turned out quite well. A little short on top, and a tiny bit chunky in the bright sunlight, but on the whole, not bad for my first stab at it.
It took about an hour and a half between the kitchen scissors and the cuticle-clippers/sewing kit snippers to get it finished, and six of the hostel/tour workers sat around joking and laughing about it. The only other guest, a Japanese guy who ´s been travelling around the world for about two and a half years, made caipirinhas – the best I ´ve had so far! – while I was snipping away and offered us a glass. Really delicious!
After we finished the haircut was when the nastiness set in. After feeling so unwelcome, and being covered in little pieces of hair: ITCHY!, not to mention all the Pantanal mosquito bites and potential burrowing fleas (which made us very nervous about every single bite and itch – we ´ve yet to give eachother the once-over), all we wanted was a hot shower. Well, guess what. No hot water. So I passed on the shower, as Pat braved the freezing water to clean his new do. While I was lounging in the bedroom, I noticed a stain on the sheets that looked like an old blood stain. Not a big deal… not everyone in the world can afford to be replacing sheets all the time. However, when my hand slid across it, it was hard and crusty! Like it still hadn ´t been washed. EWWWWWWWW! Not to mention the sticky brown goo splattered on the outside of our door. Not to mention the rusting mirror. Not to mention the complete lack of toilet seat. Not to mention the weaved chairs with huge holes in them. Not to mention the general dirtiness of the place. I don ´t mind simple, basic, and run-down, as long as the people have enough pride to take care of the little that they do have. This place was nasty. So we broke out our fleece sleeping bags, but we feared they were flea infested from the Pantanal, so we grabbed a cleaner-looking sheet from one of the other beds in the room and tried not to move or touch anything. It was a really gross night.
After breakfast (included in the price -nasty coffee and the basic bread and butter), we packed up and high-tailed it to the other cheap hostel, which was much cleaner, slightly more friendly, and had several more tourists. We met a young woman from London who had a bed in our room-to-be, and ended up walking around town with her trying to find out information about tickets for the Bolivian train.
Our plan is to cross the border and take a train to Santa Cruz (in very high demand as it is basically the only form of transportation between here and Santa Cruz, Bolvia, except a pot-hole filled dirt road that runs near the tracks and takes and extra 12 hours). We have the option of buying tickets on this side of the border, but it ´s more expensive, as every agency charges a pretty significant commission (up to 50% of the ticket price!). Our other option is just to cross the border and stand in lines (said to be of “Cuban” proportions) to buy our tickets. While we don ´t want to miss getting on the train because it runs out of seats while we ´re in line, even more we don ´t want to get screwed out of an extra $30 (about two days worth of our budget!). So, after much deliberation, Karen (the young woman from London), Pat and I decided to go across early tomorrow to get in line for the train.
Because we ´re leaving early, we had to get our Brazilian exit stamps during the mere three hours that the office was open today. 20 minutes of standing in line, and 20 seconds of paperwork was all it took for us to be officially “no where.” All the guide books and locals say we won ´t have problems turning up in Bolivia a day after we ´ve “left” Brazil; I hope they ´re right! We ´ll cross and try to get the first train, which is much cheaper, but more popular because of the lower price. Since Bolivia has been shut-down transportation-wise for the weekend, it means really high demand for tomorrow ´s trains. If we can ´t get on the first, we ´ll buy the double-price tickets for the other train (much nicer with movies and meals and waiters, etc.) that evening. They had an election in Bolivia over the weekend, which could make for a very tumulous political situation. I just pray we don ´t get stuck there and end up spending the rest of our trip in some tiny, po-dunk Bolivian town. Please cross your fingers for us!
Our plan for the short term is to try to find some eats. This town has been shut down all day long (on account of it being Sunday). I hope our new hostel has hot water! Bolivia is said to be very third-world, so this might be our last hot shower for quite awhile!