The little train that couldn’t ...
We are on the afternoon train, returning to Talca from Constitucion in southern Chile. This train is a local legend, operating for more than 100 years along the Maule River valley linking isolated pueblos that lack any road system beyond a few dirt tracks.
Most of the 60 passengers are locals returning home, having sold their produce and bought supplies in the market. A few day-trippers are along for the four-hour adventure to Talca. The train winds along the narrow gauge track beside the river. Although there are small stations, the train stops wherever it needs to set down or pick up passengers. The station of Gonzales Bastia is our halfway point where the train from Talca is waiting to pass us. As we approach, the train driver answers his phone. He speaks in a hushed voice. Passengers are restless. They want to get off and meet friends from the other train but the doors remain firmly closed. Eventually he rises and addresses the passengers. “Lo siento,” he begins, “I’m sorry ...” It seems there is a problem with the other train and he must help.
“How long?” a passenger inquires. “I don’t know,” he replies, “but maybe 10 or 15 minutes.” There is a cafe at this station, the only one on the route and he suggests a drink or a snack while we wait.
Initially, the atmosphere is congenial and optimistic. Passengers wander up to the cafe returning with drinks and biscuits. Boys kick a ball. Little girls play with dolls. After 30 minutes, everyone is becoming anxious. No one has any information. Many have solutions. One man believes there is a problem with the hydraulics. The driver looks forlorn. He insists he must await instructions from head office. It is out of his hands; he can make no decision.
It is now 7pm, and getting very cold and dark. People are dressed for the daytime. Kids are becoming ratty and tired. A young woman is frantically trying to call family in Talca but there is no mobile signal. Her father, leaning on his walking frame, is clearly distressed. The situation is deteriorating rapidly. No one is taking responsibility. We face a 4C night in light clothes worn for a sunny day.
I ask at the cafe if we can call a taxi. The men drinking at the bar are astonished and claim it would be too ex- pensive. I hang around nearby and overhear talk of a Jeep. I beckon to the woman who is with her father and we discuss how we can get out in this Jeep.
We negotiate a ride for her family and us. There will be 30km on a dirt road over a mountain pass, then 15km on a highway to a small town. It seems there will be other transport options from there to Talca. We consider the price to be a bargain at the equivalent of $60. The Jeep is fired up, we load in Dad and his daughter and we all sail off into the night feeling only a shred of pity for those left behind with the train.
The ride is bumpy and dusty but we are warm and relieved. Along the highway, we catch a minibus that drops us near our hotel where the front-desk receptionist scolds us with the local adage, “Always take that train in the morning when it is well rested. It is tired in the afternoon.”
Still, by pushing for the Jeep solution, we have escaped a night on the platform at Bastias Gonzales and hence we decide the moral of this tale has to be that the meek do not inherit the Jeep.