July 31, 2010
We got up, repacked so we could only take our small packs for the weekend, took care of the bill and headed to the center of town where Mario dropped off some laundry. We were so close to the agency that we decided to drop by and make sure that they knew what we were doing. We had already told them but I wanted to be clear about it.
Evelyn, the lady who spends most of her time in the office while Helen and Basilio run the tours, welcomed us. We reminded her about the 6.00pm meeting on Monday and told her we were going to the bus terminal. It turned out that no buses were leaving from there because of the road blockage but they did leave from a place beyond the blockage just outside of town. We said bye, took a taxi and left. Evelyn had told us it shouldn’t come to more than Bs5 and we thought it was for the whole taxi and not per person. We were a bit surprised when he asked for Bs15 but had no choice and took it. It later turned out that we had struck a real good deal with the guy.
The taxi took us way out of town and at some point I wondered what was happening and where was he taking us. We got off at the end of the blockage when the driver couldn’t go any further. We first bumped into private cars offering to take passengers to Sucre or Bs40pp before we bumped into the bus that charged only Bs15. We sat down and got ready departure when Mario suddenly remembered that he had forgotten his camera battery at the hostel. By then we had already found out details about the strike. We had thought it would only last two day (the Thursday and the Friday) and that it was all over. It wasn’t however. Apparently, the roads had only been open for a few hours until noon that day and would be closed again, this time indefinitely. We had no idea, whether we would be able to come back on Monday if we left now. Mario decided he wanted to get his battery and one thing led to another. Before we knew it we were walking to the taxi point having made up our minds to get all our stuff and leave town until the strike had passed.
Back where the blockage began there was no taxis and about 10 people waiting. A car soon appeared and we quickly secured a place before anybody else could get it. We shared it with four other people, two of whom sat in the trunk holding the door. A lady that had wanted a taxi gave up on it upon hearing the charged price of Bs10 pp. Normally, taxis charged Bs5, but now they’d upped it to double that amount because of the strike. You see what I mean when I said we had gotten a really good deal with that first taxi driver who had only charged us Bs7.50pp.
Back in the crowded taxi…we only got a couple of kilometers away from our departure point when the taxi driver said that the road is blocked and he couldn’t get any further. We all protested that we will not be paying the fully asked price of Bs10 since he didn’t get us into town although some people still paid and left. Mario gave him a Bs10 note for both of us and we left. There was a steady stream of cars, and minibuses to our left, either trying to get back into town or leave and people were running all over the place. We stood on the road trying to figure out our next move. We didn’t quite understand what was happening but we figured we could wither get another taxi or a bus to the center of town. Mario hailed a taxi; we agreed on a price and asked him to take us to the hostal and back.
After a long while we finally made our way back to the hostal. We grabbed our bags, the battery and once again we were in the taxi. He made his way back to one of two town exits and people were already blocking it although it was only 11.30am. The driver said he couldn’t get through. We told him to try the other exit, the one that we had first used to get out but he was reluctant, saying it was already closed. We kept insisting and eventually he took it. It took a while to get to the outskirts of town while we were making slow progress through the congested town but once we were on the road there was hardly a living soul. We were back to the bus stop in no time. We did understand why the taxi driver was so reluctant though. This exit was a lot further from town than the one that everything and everybody was seem to be taking. I guess people were trying to save money by going through the shortest route if possible. In this case though it was a bit silly, since everybody was going through there and it was the worst of places.
We got off the taxi and as soon as we had our bags out of the trunk a couple of local boys ran up to us with their metal carts offering to carry our bags for us for a small fee ($0.25). I think they meant it per person but when Mario joked with them by saying he would pay that for both of them they quickly agreed without any bargaining. They sure didn’t know how to do business. They took our bags to the bus area where there was no bus. We gave them $0.50 each and enjoyed their reaction when they saw the money. They couldn’t quite believe their luck.
A bus came in a few minutes and we got on it. In the last hour and a half the price of the regular bus tickets had also gone up. They were now charging Bs17 instead of the original Bs15. ‘Everybody is trying to get a piece of the action’ Mario had said. Back on the bus we weren’t very happy to have to leave town like that, not having fulfilled our commitment to Basilio. Yes, we were coming back…but still. Under the circumstances though it was the best thing to do. We couldn’t spend much longer in Potosi, just waiting around for the strike to finish.
On the bus to Sucre we decided to head straight to Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city. We were both sick of the cold and the desert and were craving a warmer, moist climate and some trees. Being close to the jungle, Santa Cruz sounded like an excellent option. Nevermind that when we got there it was cold, cloudy and windy. Apparently, some cold front had come in that same morning and they were expecting it to disappear in a couple of days. Let’s hope so!
The trip to Sucre took about three hours. Once we were at the bus terminal, Mario left me on baggage duty and went looking for onward transport. Luckily there was a bus leaving in 40mins. When he told me the ride took 18h I didn’t believe him at first. For some reason I didn’t think it would take more than 10h. Well, nothing I can do about it…we were just hoping it would be a decent bus ride. We quickly got some lunch and boarded the bus.
I got on trying to find our assigned seats while Mario was taking care of the bags. I walked to the back of the bus where we were supposed to sit only to find out that a couple was already sitting there. I told them these were our seats but they said it didn’t matter and that we should just take some others. I shrugged and sat closer to the front of the bus. All was good until two young men came and claimed their seats from me. I told them what had happened but they wouldn’t have it. I told them I couldn’t go anywhere until that couple was sitting in my seats so we all just stood there sort of arguing until the person responsible for the seat allocation came and attempted to sort it out. Nobody seemed to be going anywhere and eventually the two boys just took another pair of seats and seemed to have settled down. By then Mario had already come up and we could finally sit down and relax.
The first couple of hours took us through some amazing views. Ever since Potosi we were going down in altitude and this was still the case. The road weaved through the steep mountains, revealing spectacular hills crushing into deep precipice. After a while I got a bit dizzy because of all the curves and must have dozed off because when I woke up we had switched the paved road for a bumpy dirt one. For the next I-don’t-know-how-many-hours we remained on the dusty road. The sun went down and soon nothing could be seen outside. It was pitch black and Mario finally had to put his head back into the cabin after having spent a couple of hours sticking it out of the window with the wind messing up his hair.
It was 7.00pm and I was getting impatient. The man who had sold us the tickets had said that we will be stopping for dinner after 3h and I had decided to wait until then to go to the bathroom. I was getting a bit desperate. And by the time we finally stopped (8.30pm) I could hardly hold it. We had a quick rather disgusting dinner, brushed our teeth and back on the bus, we settled for the next 12hours. We slept through most of it, it was pretty comfortable. The seats reclined, it wasn’t too cold or too hot and we were happy.
I woke up with the first daylight only to see a grey sky. The scenery had changed tremendously. We had left the dusty, desert rocks for lush green hills. We were in the jungle again. We were due to arrive at 10.00am and for the next couple of hours we went through many small settlements that looked wealthier than similar place in the west of the country, in Potosi for example. Here people seemed to have more money. Colorful, brick houses and lush, well maintained front gardens have replaced the scruffy adobe houses of the west. We still saw them, but they were a lot rarer here. The sun and the warmth we craved so much were nowhere to be seen and felt though.
We arrived at the bus terminal, got into a taxi and headed to the hostal. We had chosen one that seemed to offer en-suite rooms but just before we got there we decided to change it for a nearby hostal that had a lush patio, hammocks and pet toucans. That meant the driver had to turn around the block. We had agreed on Bs15 (everything is a lot more expensive in Santa Cruz) but because of that turn he wanted to charge us an extra Bs5. Mario wasn’t having it though. At first he spoke to the driver nicely, telling him that an extra Bs5 was too much for just this one turn, but the driver said that it was the custom around here and that others would charge us a lot more. They went back and forth for a while until Mario got tired of him, shoved the agreed Bs15, got his bags from the back seat and we went inside the hostal.
We were happy with the garden and we soon saw the toucan (now only one since his buddy had died some time ago) hopping about. He couldn’t fly since they had chopped his wings off. How else are you going to keep a wild bird around? He was extremely friendly and before I knew it, Mario had him propped on his arm.
We got settled in a small room after wondering whether we shouldn’t stay in the dorm since they didn’t have a room with a double bed available but we still thought it better to have our own space even if it meant separate beds. We cleaned up and went out for lunch.
For the last two days we have been walking around a lot, exploring town as well as going to the cinema (we saw two cartoons – Despicable Me, and Shrek 4 as well as Karate Kid) every night. It is not as cheap as Potosi, and we have been paying considerably more but it is still cheaper compared to western standards. We have been very impressed with the city – a very modern, pleasant place, offering good living opportunities. There is a very Brazilian feel to it, which is not all that surprising so close to the border.
We are thinking about going to a nearby town and use it as a base to explore the national park that’s near there. Hope the weather picks up and we get to do some swimming and sun bathing.