Reminiscences of my 60 years in South America
Trevor Stephenson 1915 -2015
Arranged by Tony Morrison

São Paulo to Lima is about 3,400 kms in a straight line. The route crosses huge rivers, wild forests and the high Andes mountains. Trevor was lucky to get a flight one way but had to return overland - in the 1950's it was a extraordinary journey.


Schoolboy to Apprentice 1931-1936
Maranham 1936-41
Parnahyba 1937 -1943
Homeward Bound 1938
Tropical Troubles 1942
Para 1938/1939 1943 /1945
Amazonian Interlude 1941
Manaus 1941-1942
War time diary 1942
Back to Brazil 1943
Iquitos 1945-1946
Brazil for the second time 1947
On a coffee fazenda 1952 -1953
São Paulo Alpargatas 1953 - 1957
Crossing the Continent 1956
Lima 1957 -1963
Working for myself 1964-1990
Crossing the Continent - 1956
" you will be chopped up alive"

September 1956 - A free flight

I was living and working in São Paulo, Brasil with Alpargatas. One day I was reading the local newspaper when I came across an announcement from the Brasilian Air Force [FAB] that their next fortnightly flight to Lima, Peru with diplomatic mail and baggage would be leaving Rio de Janeiro airport on 9th October. It added that those wishing to visit Lima should send in their application as soon as possible as places were strictly limited. I knew no one in either the Air Force or the Government who could vouch for me and besides I was a foreigner so I reckoned I stood no chance whatsoever of being chosen. But being an eternal optimist I sent in my application anyway.

To my great surprise and delight, ten days later I received instructions to check in at the FAB counter at the Santos Dumont airport in Rio de Janeiro between 3 am and 4 am on 9th October. I was allowed to take with me a small bag of personal effects weighing not more than 5 kilos.

The first thing I had to do was to ask the firm to allow me fifteen days leave of absence which fortunately they agreed to. Then the Chief Accountant called me. Pointing to a Friden Calculating Machine, about the size of an old computer monitor, which had just been received, he told me that it had taken them almost 5 months to receive the machine due to having to first request an import licence, then obtain foreign exchange, place the order with their US Agent who then had to await a suitable ship for Santos. At Santos the machine was cleared through Customs, then transported to the factory in São Paulo.

A quick deal

In all it had cost them US$1500.00 "I have an offer to make you. If you can buy a similar machine in Peru, bring it back with you in your baggage to Brazil and deliver it to me in my office, the firm will pay you US$1500.00. regardless of how much it costs you". Oblivious of the fact that I was only allowed 5 kilos baggage, I jumped at the offer for the money would cover all my expenses. The firm then had a special canvas carrying bag made for the machine

On the last day, when the office closed, instead of going home, I went to the Estação de Luz and caught the train for Rio de Janeiro. There I booked into a small hotel off Avenida Rio Branco, a fantastic avenue going from the centre of Rio to the airport.[Santos Dumont] Instructing the night watchman that I wished to be called at 3 am exactly, I went to bed.

I awoke suddenly. It was pitch dark. I switched on the light to see how much time I still had before having to get up. Heavens! It was 4,20 am. Hurriedly I got dressed, ran down stairs, pausing only to shout at the night watchman that he was a blithering idiot and that it was already 4.30 am and rushed out into the deserted Avenida Rio Branco. Not a single taxi was to be seen. Walking as fast as I could, I reached the Santos Dumont airport at a quarter to five. The place was in darkness. Then I saw a light at the end of the Reception area. I raced towards it. There was an air force officer at the counter.

An informal check-in

"I'm sorry I'm late but my taxi didn't arrive and I had to walk." Saying nothing, he took my passport, ticked my name off on a sheet of paper, stamped the passport, then, looking out of the window, shouted "Your plane is ready to take off. Run. You may still catch it."

I ran outside. There was the plane. The propeller was already spinning. I ran towards it waving my arm and shouting "Stop....Stop" Fortunately the pilot must have seen me for the door opened, a ladder came down and I clambered aboard. The co-pilot closed the door saying "Sit down and buckle up". The centre of the plane was covered with canvas sacks of mail. There were no seats, only a metal bench running along each side of the plane. I sat down and fastened my seat belt. Within minutes we were air borne. It was exactly 5 am. I looked around. One passenger was a lady of about 28. There was a old gentleman of perhaps 60. In those days I considered 60 as old! There was a young lad of 16 or 17, six middle aged men and myself. Ten passengers in all.

No one spoke until we landed at 7.30 am at Bauru, a town in the middle of the State of São Paulo. The crew, that is the pilot and co-pilot, without saying a word to us passengers, got out and walked towards the airport building. For a moment, no one spoke. Then the lady said "It seems the crew have gone to get breakfast. Let's go too." We all got off the plane and went to the small airport building where we had a cup of black coffee and a rather stale roll of bread. Suddenly one of the men exclaimed "Look the crew are getting back into the plane. We'd better follow quick." We all rushed back to the plane and clambered aboard. The co-pilot shut the door. The propeller was already spinning. The plane moved off towards the runway. Then the lady called out "Hi! We're one missing. It's the young boy, Stop... Stop." The co-pilot turned his head saying "If he hasn't the good sense to be aboard when we leave, that's his fault. We don't stop for anyone." I could see the lad's bag, presumably with his passport and money, on his seat. I wondered what would happen to him now.

A happy landing
Our next port of call was Campo Grande. around midday This time we followed the crew to the airport building. Imagine our surprise to see the young lad standing inside, a big grin on his face. "How are you?" "What happened?" "How did you get here?" Of course we were all eager to know what had happened. He told us that he had been to the toilet. When he came out he was shocked to find everyone had gone and the plane just moving away. Then just after our plane took off, a Panair do Brasil plane landed. Three passengers and the captain disembarked. The captain came over to him asking whether he was waiting for someone. When he explained what had happened the captain told him that he was also going to Campo Grande. "My two engine plane is faster than that single engine Air Force plane. Get yourself aboard and I'll get you to your plane" Cutting short his stay in Bauru, the Panair plane set off at full speed arriving at Campo Grande five minutes before the FAB plane landed. We were all amazed at the young lad's initiative and good fortune.

Next stop - Santa Cruz de la Sierra — Bolivia

When we landed at Santa Cruz in Bolivia, we all took great care to leave the plane on the heels of the flight crew but to our surprise, instead of proceeding to the airport building, the crew walked towards a waiting station wagon. They got in, the jeep moved off and was soon lost in the distance. We went into the airport building but it was deserted. There was no one from either Customs or Immigration. No one. Eventually we found an old watchman whom we asked where the crew had gone and when they would return. He replied "The crew usually spend the night with their Bolivian air force buddies and leave again at day break." We were worried. Someone asked where there was a telephone so we could call a taxi. "The only phone is in the office and the door is locked," the watchman told us. We seemed to be stuck. There was little furniture and we had visions of having to sleep on the floor when suddenly we heard the sound of a motor. We rushed outside. It was an ancient farm lorry coming towards the airport. We waved our arms frantically until the driver stopped. "Can you give us a lift into town?" He replied "I'm not going to town. I'm going home." Then one of the passengers produced a dollar note and waved it in his hand. The driver hesitated, then said " Hop in." We clambered into the back of the lorry letting the woman ride in front with the driver. The lorry left us at a Hotel. Whether it was the best hotel or not didn't worry us. It was a hotel and it had beds.

The hotel manager came and we told him we wanted a bed for the night. "I've got just 5 rooms with either twin or double beds. Take your pick?" We started to pair off when the woman passenger said "I need a room to myself. I`m not going to sleep in a room with another man". The manager shrugged his shoulders. "That is up to you. Take it or leave it. It is all I've got" In the end the young lad offered to give up his bed and sleep on a couch in the foyer.

Determined not to miss the plane, we were up at 3 am and after some coffee and some rolls, we went in two taxis, thoughtfully arranged the night before by the hotel, to the airport. The crew arrived about 5 am. Apart from a curt "Bom dia" they ignored us. Soon we were on our way. Then came a stop at Cochabamba.

No oxygen over the Andes

Before leaving Cochabamba the crew donned oxygen masks. The plane started climbing. It began to get difficult to breathe. One of the passengers called out "Where are our oxygen masks?" The co-pilot answered "This is not a passenger plane. It is a Military Aircraft flying diplomatic mail and baggage to our Embassies in South America. We do not supply oxygen masks for baggage. The woman and the older passenger suddenly passed out followed by the remaining passengers including myself. When I came too, we were descending and shortly afterwards we landed at Limatambo Airport in Lima. Apart from a splitting headache, I didn't feel any worse. Some of the other passengers looked a bit groggy. As we had arrived on a Military Plane and had little or no baggage we passed rapidly through Customs and Immigration. Before we knew what had happened we had arrived in Lima. It was 10 October.

Lima - and export problems

I spent the first two days revisiting the sights of Lima which I had seen previously when I passed through Lima in 1946 on my way to Iquitos. Then I decided that I had better look for the Friden Calculating Machine. In a shop in the centre of Lima selling office equipment, I found just the machine I was looking for. It's price was US$500.00 so I bought it on the spot. When the salesman started to write out the receipt, he asked "What name do I put?" "Oh. São Paulo Alpargatas S.A." I told him. He hesitated. Then told me that if I was going to take the machine out of the country, I would need to have an Export Licence. Without the Export Licence, when I came to leave Peru the machine would be confiscated and I would be fined. As a non resident foreigner, I would also be put in jail and later deported. "And how do I obtain an Export Licence?" I asked. He explained in great detail. It sounded most confusing. I decided to leave the matter till later.

The days passed quickly and as the Peruvian Consul General in São Paulo had marked on my passport that my return passage had been reserved by the FAB, I decided that I had better visit the Brazilian Consulate and find out when my return flight would be. Imagine my surprise, not to say horror, to discover that though my name was on the waiting list, I could expect to be called sometime in the middle of November !

Something had to be done and fast.

Braniff had a weekly plane to Sao Paulo but unfortunately there was no room until 5th November. At the Phoenix Club -[the British businessman's club]. I got hold of a National Geographic map of South America. It was a small map but it showed a wiggly line from Arequipa to Santos which might, just might, be a railway line in which case I thought I might be able to go by train all the way from Arequipa to São Paulo. I asked at the British Embassy. They were very doubtful and would not recommend it. Also they were of the opinion that no through railway line actually existed. In any case there was only one train a week from Santa Cruz to Santos. I asked an old friend of mine. " Don't attempt it", he told me. "There are bandits and Indians on the border between Bolivia and Brazil. You will be chopped up alive". What could I do? . I would have to risk it.

Strange passengers

I left Lima at 1 pm on Saturday, 19 October by a service of motor cars which only go when there are 5 passengers. When I purchased my ticket, the clerk recommended that I sit in the motor car straight away. I chose the seat at the back on the right hand side. Shortly afterwards, a businessman came and sat on the left hand side. Then two youths took the seat in front beside the driver. There was a wait and then a large, burly man poked his head inside the motor car and curtly said to me `"Move over, that`s my seat." "No, I replied, `I got here first". He shouted "`I said move over. Now move!`" I wasn`t going to travel in the middle so I told him that I was a very bad traveller in motor cars and was frequently car sick. I choose the right hand seat for then I can open the window, lean out and be sick. If I sit in the middle I might be sick over whoever was sitting next to me. To stress I was serious I heaved as though I would be sick then and there. This seemed to convince the man who sat down in the middle.

After leaving Chorrillos, [a suburb village south of the centre] we went along a narrow road just wide enough for two buses to pass. There were steep sand dunes on the left hand, the ocean on the right. I decided now to show the burly man that I wasn`t fooling. I opened the window, leaned out and make horrible noises. Then I sat back wiping my mouth. That seemed to do the trick and I had no further problem with the man. We went on and on, passed the small fishing village of San Bartolo, then further on came the town of Mala followed by the towns of Canete and Chincha. Later came Pisco, then Ica. Night had fallen when we pulled into Nasca to stretch our legs, go to the toilet and have a coffee and something to eat. Leaving Nasca the low hum from the tyres of the motor car on the road and the darkness lulled me to sleep. When I awoke, we were nearing Arequipa.

It was Sunday morning and the driver left me the Hotel de Turistas. After a shave and shower, I had breakfast, which included a lovely drink of Papayita -made from PawPaw. Then I took a tram into the centre of Arequipa, visited a couple of old churches, then walked to the railway station. Here I learnt that there was a train for La Paz via Puno leaving at 7.30 am Monday morning.

The 'white city'

Arequipa is known as the 'white city' because so many of its buildings are made of a white or pinkish volcanic rock beautifully carved. The city is at 7500 feet and was founded on 15 August 1540 by Pedro Anzurez de Campo de Redondo upon orders from Francisco Pizarro. It was originally named Villa Hermosa de la Asunción but the name didn't stick so it reverted to its Inca name Are' Quepay.

I begin my train journey

The train was comfortable and I enjoyed watching the scenery drift past as we slowly climbed higher and higher. We stopped at various small Indian villages where the local inhabitants crowded around the train offering all sorts of fruits and tourist wares. At one stop around midday, an Indian woman, with numerous highly coloured skirts, was selling roast lamb on the bone. She had it strapped to her waist under her many skirts. When an interested party came along, she pulled it out from under her skirts, the interested diners one took a big bite and cut it off with a sharp knife. The old woman then replaced the rest under her skirts. Somehow I didn't exactly relish having a go myself!

At Sumbay, 13,532 feet, a whole lot of Indians climbed aboard to the already crowded train together with their possessions tied up in gaily coloured bundles. Lunch was served on the train for first class passengers, very reasonable but difficult to eat owing to the altitude which affects one's breathing. At 2.20 pm we reached the highest point, Crucero Alto at 14,488 feet. As the train had stopped, I thought I would get out and stretch my legs. The air was cold and crisp. When I tried to board the train again, I found the effort almost too much. I climbed back up the steps on my hands and knees and collapsed gasping for breath into my seat.

From here the train began to descend, breathing became easier and the passengers once more sat up and conversation started. The bare mountains gave way to fertile plains. We passed Lake Lagunillas with its deep blue water and the small island in the middle. Then at 4.35 p.m. we arrived at Juliaca, an important railway junction. Quite a large town with electric light, an old church and an attractive square. Here we had to wait for the arrival of the train from Cuzco so I got out and wandered around the square. A small girl tugged at my coat signalling for me to follow her. She took me to a small house. Her mother came to the door, smiled and in Spanish mixed with Quechua, gave me to understand that she was expecting me. She excused herself, then returned with a lovely vicuña skin rug. I asked her how much. She seemed surprised but answered "Forty Dollars, as we arranged when you came last week." Quickly, I handed over the US$40 and carried the lovely vicuña rug, which was inside a cotton bag, back to the train.

A quick witted swap

We reached Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca late afternoon and I started walking from the train to the Ollanta, a steamship built in England in 1929, which was berthed alongside the quay. A porter grabbed my bag with the Calculator and the vicuna rug and telling me to hurry, carried them to the quay side where the Customs and Immigrations were waiting. Remembering what the shop keeper had told me when I bought the Calculator, I wondered what would happen next. Then I noticed a tall distinguished looking gentleman with some 8 or 9 suitcases and a couple of young men fussing around him. "Who is that person?", I asked the porter. "He is the Greek Ambassador going to La Paz to take up his new posting" When no one was looking, I carefully put the bag containing the Calculator alongside the line of the Ambassador's baggage. I stood a short way away. When the Authorities arrived, they quickly cleared the Ambassador's baggage, came to me and cleared my small bag and the cotton bag containing the vicuña rug and moved on. Whereupon I immediately removed the bag with the Calculator saying to the Ambassador's clerk "I believe that this is mine". I then proceeded to board the steamer and find my cabin.

I had a cabin to myself. Shortly afterwards we set sail. It was already dark so after dinner I turned in. Awake next morning around 5.30 am, I went on deck to see the sun rise and the shore line of Lake Titicaca. Then came the Bolivian port oi Guaqui where we docked. Shortly after breakfast the passengers disembarked and went immediately to the train which then proceeded to La Paz .

Our carriage was full of Indians with runny noses, chickens, pigs, babies in bundles on their backs and all their household belongings. A Bolivian Immigration official was aboard the train and he came round checking and stamping passports.

The land of the Sun

On the journey to La Paz, we passed a number of ruins. There was the village of Tiahuanaco followed by the famous ruined Gateway to the Sun. It is 13 feet long by 11 feet high. At the top is a frieze with a figure said to be of the God Viracocha. Some 20 miles from La Paz in the middle of a bleak, wind swept plain, was Viacha. Then the train began to climb higher and higher till we came to El Alto overlooking the city of La Paz. People say that it is the only place where planes take off down hill! Our steam locomotive was changed and we slowly descended to La Paz itself.

Arriving in La Paz I took a taxi asking the driver to take me to a good but reasonably priced hotel. He looked me up and down, then mentioned 'Grande Hotel'. I wondered whether he might have taken me for a millionaire. The driver set me down in front of a large building which was looking distinctly shabby. Inside, the reception area was devoid of even the most basic furniture. I requested a room for the night. "Sorry, Sir, but we no longer rent rooms. However, we can let you have a bed." I accepted. On the first floor was a large room containing 5 beds. Beside each bed was a small chair. There was no other furniture. Two of the chairs had clothes on them. Choosing a bed near to the door, I put the Calculator bag on the chair together with my small suitcase and vicuna rug and went out into the street. I would look for a better hotel but meanwhile I needed to change some money and get something to eat.

A fistful of Pesos

At the bank I asked for change for US$100 The cashier peered over the counter, looked puzzled, then said "How are you going to carry the money?" "Why, in my pocket," I replied. " How long are you going to stay in Bolivia?" "Only a few days", I answered. "Well I suggest you change US$20 which will be quite enough" When he handed over the money I realised why he had suggested I only change US$20. The exchange rate was something like 12,000 Pesos to the Dollar and the highest denomination note was 100 Pesos. Most of the notes I received were of 10 or 20 pesos.

I found a café in the main street where they served chicken roasted on a table grill. Afterwards I wandered about looking for another hotel. I found one which seemed a bit better than the Grande so I booked myself in for the following day. Next morning I changed to this hotel. My room was on the first floor and had a bathroom attached. However, there was a notice to say that due to circumstances beyond the control of the Management, there was only cold water.

I spent the day looking into the shops, which had little or no merchandise, and visiting churches. I also checked on train times for Cochabamba, my next stopping place. Next morning, after a cold wash, seeing a notice that breakfast was served in the roof restaurant on the 8th floor, I waited for the lift. After about 10 minutes another guest coming down the stairs asked me what I was waiting for.. I told him I was waiting to take the lift to the 8th floor for breakfast. He laughed` "Not only is there no lift but there is no breakfast either but you can get a bite at a café nearby." So that was that!

Onwards to Oruro, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz de la Sierra

The train journey was uneventful. We called at Oruro where I purchased a pair of knitted vicuña gloves or so the old Indian woman told me but I suspect that they were lower value alpaca. We arrived at Cochabamba, a very pleasant town, nice scenery and good climate. The hotel was comfortable. That evening I got talking to an old American who, hearing that I had come from Lima, told me that before the war he had been instrumental in adding another storey to the Hotel Bolivar in the Plaza San Martín in Lima. I remembered that one can see a line of different colour above the first floor of the hotel.

I asked the hotel Manager what time buses left for Santa Cruz. He seemed horrified and informed me that the bus company, who originally had some 20 buses, now had only 5 left as the drivers seemed to take the mountain curves far too fast and end up at the bottom of the ravines. He strongly recommended that I fly to Puerto Suárez where, he said, I could pick up the train for São Paulo. I decided to take his advice. Accordingly the next morning I took the Lloyd Boliviano plane which called at Santa Cruz before landing at Puerto Suárez.

Puerto Suárez was a small sleepy frontier town. "When does the next train leave for Brazil?" I asked. "Oh the train left last week and the next one still hasn't arrived back from São Paulo". I asked for the nearest hotel but was told that none existed. I then asked for a pension house but again, it seemed, there were none. A passer-by suggested I sling a hammock between two palm trees in the square. Not very helpful and I didn't have a hammock anyway. Then shortly afterwards two men approached me. They said they were running a load of contraband to Brazil that evening and would take me along if I wished. There didn't seem much else I could so I accepted their offer.

Contrabandista....."Get Down"

That evening about 8 pm a lorry drew up in front of the bench where I was sitting. The two men who had spoken to me that afternoon, told me to hop in the back of the lorry and make myself hidden amongst the boxes and bales of contraband. We set off travelling along a dirt road through the forest. Suddenly the lorry skidded to a halt. I heard voices in Portuguese. A torch light was shone on my face. "Get down" a voice called. On the ground I found a Brazilian soldier pointing a rifle towards me.

"Where do you think you're going?" the soldier asked. I explained that I was trying to get to São Paulo to join my firm, São Paulo Alpargatas. Hearing that, he lowered his rifle, a broad smile crossed his face and he said "Brim Coringa" and "Alpargatas Roda". "OK. You OK" He had referred to items made by the factory. Then the driver came over and asked what money I had. I told him I only had US$120 so he told me to give him US$20. I heard him handing money over to the sergeant and offering to bring something back on his return trip. I got back into the lorry. The lorry started up and shortly afterwards we arrived in Corumba. Here we stopped and the driver said "This is as far as I can take you. When you check into the hotel say you have come from somewhere in Brazil, Campo Grande for example, but don't say from Bolivia." I was tired of travelling by now so next morning I took the Panair do Brasil plane direct to São Paulo. The next morning I presented myself at the office and handed over the Friden calculator. The Manager thanked me, then gave me a cheque for US$1500.00. "Did you have any trouble bringing the machine into the country?" "No. No trouble at all. It passed as baggage", I replied

A cheque for 1500 US dollars.... But that is not the end of the story.

It was several weeks later that it suddenly occurred to me that I had no entry visa in my passport and ipso facto I was illegally in the country and liable to be expelled, thrown into jail or shot. In South America the Authorities take a dim view of illegal immigrants. They don't receive food, lodging and social benefits like in the UK.

I lived in a house very close to São Paulo airport. The Braniff planes arriving from Lima usually served pisco sours on the plane and frequently there was some left over. I had a Customs friend at Congonhas airport who used to let me have the left-over pisco sour when there was more than enough for him. I told him of my problem. After a bit of thought he suggested that I went to a place called Ponta Pora "It is a small place on the frontier with Paraguay. In fact the main street is actually the frontier. One side is in Brazil, the other in Paraguay. All you have to do is to walk along on the Paraguayan side of the road until you come opposite the Brazilian Consulate. Then cross the road, enter the Consulate, say you have just arrived and want to officially enter Brazil and there you are!" It all sounded so easy.

The firm were very understanding and arranged for me to do a sales trip to the town of Dourados from where I could get a bus to Ponta Pora. Accordingly, I took a plane to Dourados, did what I had to do and then proceeded on to Ponta Pora. I discovered that the town on the Paraguayan side of the street was called Juan Cabellero.

As recommended, I walked along on the Paraguayan side looking at the shops filled with contraband whisky, cigarettes etc until I saw the Brazilian consular shield on the opposite side of the road. . Crossing over, I walked into the Consulate, introduced myself to the Consul explaining, in the most convincing tone I could muster, that I had just arrived from Paraguay and wished to re-enter Brazil in order to return to my job in Sao Paulo.

I handed over my passport. The Consul had his arm raised with the rubber stamp all ready to stamp my passport when he suddenly stopped. Apologetically, he told me that my visa had expired. "What do I do now? ", I asked. "Very simple", he explained, "Just take the next plane back to Asunción, get the Brazilian Embassy there to extend your visa, come back here and all will be OK"

My face fell. What to do now! I couldn't return to Asunción as I had not been there in the first place. I told him that apart from the cost of the passage, this would mean spending even more days away from my family, that the only way that I could tell them I was delayed would be by national telegram which might take days to arrive and that my baby daughter would be crying out for her papa each night.

"Can nothing be done?" I asked. The Consul scratched his head, thought for a moment, then said "Go over to the Paraguayan side and bring me back a packet of American cigarettes. Maybe I will have thought of something by the time you get back."

How did you get here without a Paraguayan entry stamp?......

I did as he suggested. Upon my return, the Consul had a smile on his face. "You are very lucky. I find that I have not sent off my returns for last week. Therefore, you arrived here last Friday." He stamped my passport and handed it back to me. Then, as a kind of after thought, he said "Tell me, how did you manage to arrive here with no Paraguayan entry stamp, you have an entry stamp for Bolivia but apparently you have not left Bolivia?"

"Does it matter?" I asked him. "No", he replied, "but I am a little curious."
"Shall we say that I got lost and am now safe." He smiled and opened the door for me. "Good bye and good luck" and he waved his arm. I was FREE

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