The Actual Diary of Johannes Bruun

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Johannes Bruun was a Danish immigrant who traveled by ship, train and other means and finally settled in Santa Cruz, Bolivia in 1908. At the time Santa Cruz was little more than a tiny frontier town with a population of about 4000. Like many immigrants who settled in the area, he worked hard and methodically, thus laying the foundation for his future family (which today is fairly large). Among his many other activities, he constructed the towers on the Cathedral in the Santa Cruz main plaza, Plaza 24 de Septiembre.

Johannes Bruun describes in detail how hard it was to travel by ship and overland through Oruro, Cochabamba, Samaipata and other places. Many of the Europeans who migrated to the Santa Cruz area came with nothing but the clothes on their back, as Johannes Bruun did. However, they were hard workers, methodical, and resourceful and many of them became very successful cattle ranchers and business men. Johannes Bruun's son, Arril Bruun (born in Santa Cruz in 1941) also shares with us the history of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Diary of a Danish Immigrant

Translation of the travel Journal from Denmark to Valparaiso, Chile in South America, via England by Steam Ship, and by Horse from Oruro to Santa Cruz in Bolivia.

Ringsted 1906

February 23, 1907

The start was not too good. When we arrived to Esbjerg, we had trouble getting our luggage on to the Ship. We were also puzzled as to whether or not we should continue, since the tickers that we should use from Liverpool to Valparaiso had not arrived. At any rate, we decided to go on, even though we had to pay for first class ticet, otherwise we could not go on. I certainly hope that we do not get any more of that kind of trouble.

February 24, 4 am in the hammock.

That was really good; we got first class tickets I had really a comfortable night. 12 pm Finally we arrived to England It was a fairly windy journey. There were only 3 or 4 men of all the 1300 passengers who did not get seasick I was one of then,.. I was proud. Thorleifson, Sofus and Hans all had to make a "sacrifice" to the "god of the sea" While writing this, they are anchoring the ship. It now all comes down to whether or not we can make it, as we can not speak any English.

8 pm. Well ...the arrival was a little confusing! First we came ashore and got all of our luggage dragged along, but then we had to get on board again since the train did not Ieave until 6 am. the next day. Fortunately, we met an elderly Danish gentelman, who had been living in London for more than 20 years. He helped us get thru Customs clearing. All in all, he was a very nice person. He was so kind that he promised to help us to buy our railroad tickets for Liverpool the next morning.

February 25

Our depature went Pretty good. The nice elderly man helped us as he prmised. However everything is expensive here and we don't have that much money. I wonder what this should all come down to.. no tickets and with limited money.

At 10 am the train stopped at railroad station. Here we were offred as much coffee as we could possible drink and as many open sandwiches we could eat. The train stop only lasted ten minutes, so we had to hurry up filling our empty stomachs. The food was pretty good, if only the food will be this good from on the journey from Liverpool to Valparaiso, then the trip will be no big deal.

At 2 am we arrived in Liverpool Here our troubles started right away. We had to find a hotel, off course as cheap as possible since we were nearly running out of money. We were running around like crasy. It was really good that we had Mr. Henriksen with us; Otherwise it would have been twice as bad. Finally we got occommodation at an emigrant hotel at a very low price. At the steamship office there was still no news about our tickets. The whole situation Iooks very critical..!

At 5 am we sent a telegram to Copenhagen.

Liverpool Harbor 1906

February 25

10 am- still no answer from Copenhagen... though, it should be here soon. It is some strange horse-drawn carriages they have here in Liverpool. The carriages have two wheels like a gig, but the are much bigger and can contain much more cargo than a large Danish horse-drawn carriage. The horses are very large and strong, one horse can drag one carriage alone. If the cargo is too big for one horse, then one more horse is added in front of the other horse. It really has to be an enormous load for them not being able to pull it.

The air is terrible in Liverpool; the air is very heavy and full of carbon monoxide pollution. All people are so filthy. In Liverpool there seem to be much poverty, all people, men, women and children are walking around in ragged clothes. You can not walk the streets for two minutes before one or two youngsters wants to polish your shoes. They throw themselves at your feet if you have dirty shoes, they will not leave you alone, until you permit them to polish your shoes. If you finally succeed getting rid of the intruding shoe polisher then you only have to walk ten more steps, then another shoe polisher is crawling in front of you, insisting to polish your shoes.

Likewise there is a lot of trading going on in the streets Trading with all kind of goods, flowers, toys for children, newspapers and paper with nice smelling, all of it for a penny, the same as "7 ore" in Danish kroners.

Liverpool City 1906

5 pm - We have still not received our tickets. We have received an answer from Denmark. The Consul asked us to contact Paris. So once again we had to wire, but this time to Paris. Now we are waiting for an answer, but that will probably not arrive until tomorrow. Now we are able to find our way around in Liverpool.

Feb. 26 - It was a boring night. I almost did not get any sleep. At 10 am, still no answer, but happily at I I am the order arrived for our tickets and we have to board tomorrow morning at 11:00 am.

Feb.27 - We got up at 6:30 in the morning to prepare our suitcases and to eat breakfast. After taking our suitcases to the ship, we left Liverpool at one in the afternoon. The ship name was Orita, under British flag, as England dominated all of South America.

There are few passengers, there will be more at the ports of France and Spain. The ship is very dirty. If it gets to full capacity there would be 1000 people aboard. Right now there are only 50 people.

March 1 - If only the food were just a little better and if it were a little cleaner, the journey would have been quite cozy.

March 2 - Now we are close to the harbor. If the fog would lift oft we could get ashore. You cannot see your hand in front of you, it is so foggy. After having been in the open water for approximately 10 hours, we finally arrived at the port. A mixed crowd of people arrived at the port of St. Vincent. (This port is at the Cape of St. Vincent in Portugal which would have been the last stop in Europe, before crossing the Atlantic).

The Port of St. Vincent. Portugal.

March 21 - In spite of the fact that I have had much time, I have not written because I did not feel like it. Also we have had some problems with many new passengers, but now all of that has passed. St Vincent was very interesting, a very small port with hills all around it, but with no vegetation. Part of the hills seemed like a profile of a face looking upward. There was a lot to buy in the town from Negro boys. things such as postcards, fruit, bread and fried fish. Mr. Torlufbros (Thorleifson!) traded an overcoat for 60 oranges. There was a Negro who only had 2 toes on each foot, so he was somewhat different and interesting.

We arrived at Rio de Janeiro in the afternoon. Entering the port was very beautiful. Around all of the city are the mountains covered with palm trees and other trees.

Everything is green. In the middle of the city are hills, perforated with tunnels so that cars and trolleys can pass. But it seems to me that the climate is bad, because there are heavy clouds hanging over the villages. The air above the clouds seems quite clear, but there is an oppressive heat all day long.

We stayed one day in Rio and on the following day went to Santos, another beautiful port. The ship arrived at the harbor so that we could get off and be on land for a little visit. Almost all the houses were one floor and the shops had no windows, only a large opening that served as a window and a door. A man was stopped on the street with a cow that had a bell around his neck and a calf at its side. The man was milking the cow and selling the milk in small glasses. After eating, we climbed a hill that was in the middle of the city. It took three hours to climb the hill. There was a stairway most of the way and near the road were small places where you could buy sugar cane juice. At the top was a small church where one could enter and say a prayer. At the top was a beautiful view, so it was well worth it to climb to the top.

Rio de Janeiro at the turn of the century.

After about 7 hours, we where ready to continue our trip to Montevideo. Now the ship is very busy loading and unloading the cargo and the people. Two Russian passengers, getting off of the ship, had fallen into the water. One of them, an old man, had a leg injury and was treated by a doctor on board. In Montevideo, some other passengers got on board, but not too many, so we feel more comfortable now.

March 25 - Finally we arrived in Buenos. (There is nothing written about Buenos Aires, except an intrusion written in Spanish which says: "the boy and the girl are children of my sister... Also there is nothing written of the trip from Buenos Aires via the Falkland Islands to Valparaiso, nor the trip from Valparaiso to Oruro. At a later date he wrote about the trip from Oruro to Cochabamba to Semaipata to Santa Cruz. Nevertheless, we have two postcards that Johannes wrote to his brother, Arrild, in Denmark, one from Valparaiso and one from Oruro. See fotos).

April 12, 1908 (Having left Denmark one year and two months ago) We arrived in Samaipata and are very tired. Things are not as expensive here, even though it is the custom to make the Gringos or Europeans pay double to the Bolivian vendors.

April 17 - We are still very tired and my companion walks through the neighborhood with a rifle, even though there are only wild doves and at times a wild rabbit to be seen. But this is not anything.

April 28 - Surely we are going to stay here a few more days, as the road is very bad because it has been raining for three days. But today the sun came out and the weather says we should continue our journey because we are running out of money.

April 29 - It is clearing up now, so let's see if we can leave from here tomorrow.

May 5 - Samaipata - We have stayed here 24 days due to the fact that the horse of one of my companions has a wound on his back. This has given me a desire to write more, since it has been a long time that have not written in my book. (He has written more in his book now about the trip from Oruro to Cochabamba to Samaipata.)

On March 17 we left Oruro and arrived in Cochabamba six days later. We stayed in Cochabamba six days in planning to travel to Santa Cruz, a trip which would last 15 days and more within the country. The trip to Samaipata went more or less well, and now there is only four more days to arrive at Santa Cruz. The roads here are not like in Denmark and it rains every day. We pass through torrential rivers and very narrow roads, climbing mountains, crossing over ditches, sliding down the roads, at times so rough that we had to be so careful so that we would not slip and fall. The horses had to be very careful coming down, but climbing up was not so difficult. Some parts were so difficult that the horses could not pass.

The worse part was the first six days of the trip from Cochabamba. After going half an hour in the morning, we had to get off the horse and walk side by side. Sometimes we walked an hour and a half and then an hour on horseback. We arrived at a river and from there we had the pleasure of riding in the water for ten minutes. After that another three hours by foot. Up and down, up and down, it was a very hard trip.

My companion was better than I, as he was accustomed to the mountains, because he had been in Switzerland, but his horse did not want to go. He stopped all the time, and I liked this as I was completely fatigued. Finally, it occurred to me to tie a rope to the horse, so that the horse would pull me. In this way I walked behind the horse, pulled by the rope. Finally, we arrived at the top of the hill and the road going down was smooth, so that I got on my horse.

After an hour, we arrived at a little house, where we spent the night. All of this lasted 12 hours and the distance was only 25 kilometers, a distance, on a good road would be three hours. It was a terrible trip, the rain had drenched us, and we were full of dust and mud. It seemed that we had come from a garbage dump.

May 10 (Continuing the journey now from Samaipata) We left very early and the road is almost impassable. The horses are buried in the muddy clay. It reaches to the thighs of the horses, sliding and slipping without moving forward. The worst is that it seems that it is going to rain more. This surely is a trip with many obstacles. We are four days from Santa Cruz., even though it seems it will take a lot longer until we arrive. There are many mosquitos and we are struggling with them.

May 12 - We are committed to continue our journey, rain or no rain, but the road is full of holes and mud. We are going as far as we can. I have a little moment to rest in order to write in my book. A herd of donkeys, carrying their loads, is passing. Since the road is so narrow, nothing more than one animal can pass. We need to wait and the horses are buried up to their knees. The road continues to go down. It is an hour since we passed the high part and those who have come from below tell us that it is still one hour until we will reach the bottom. We are very fed up with this strip, but we have to continue so that we can arrive at a house where we can spend the night. Finally we arrive at the bottom!

May 13 - today we have advanced a little, going up and down, with the mud up to the horses' knees. We have taken off our shoes because it is easier to walk without them. It has taken us four hours to climb to the top, and, luckily there is a little house where we can rest. We are completely exhausted.

May 14 - Today we have gone a good stretch, 4 leagues (20 kilometers) going down and 5 leagues (25 kilometers) on a level road, a very difficult trip. In the morning we drank coffee, and, with only that in our stomachs, we traveled for 10 hours. During all of this time, we could not find anything to buy or any place to get any food.

May 15 - Today we traveled very little and we are happy with just a little bit. Today we have had our first decent meal during this very long trip. It was at a farmer's ranch, and this farmer was very civilized.

Santa Cruz at the turn of the century.


(This translation from Danish to Spanish was done by a Danish man with the last name of Christensen, who lives in Santa Cruz. The words and phrases in parenthesis are comments of Arril Bruun. Edited By Bjarne Jørgenen).

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