Tuesday, December 06, 2005

La Paz to Uyuni Bus Ride, Bolivia (2/15/04 - 2/16/04)

I'm trudging barefoot through freezing cold water up to my knees repeating to myself over and over "Why didn't I get back on the bus?"

It was midnight when I awoke wondering why we were no longer moving. I'm 4 rows back from the front of the bus, and all I can make out in my half-asleep haze are the brake lights of a bus in front of us. It appears that the bus is stopped, and I doze back off.

I wake up to a lot of yelling "Da le! Da le!" It's a half hour later and we haven't moved from the spot we were in when I dozed off. Once I come to, I learn that the bus in front of us got stuck in the silt as it was trying to cross a shallow river. Our bus was trying to help pull it out of the river. To no avail. An hour later and all of the stranded bus's passengers are on either side of the river bank trying to warm their feet in fires that they've started in the brush. We were supposed to stop for a pee break 2.5 hours ago, so a third of the bus (including most of my group) are in the brush relieving themselves and/or milling about when a third bus pulls up behind ours.

A few minutes later, and the people working the 3rd bus are in the water trying to see if their bus can slide by the one that's stuck in the river. I see the writing on the wall and head to our bus, but the bus driver has closed the door exclaiming that he needs to move our bus out of the way in order to let the 3rd bus pass.

You can probably guess what happens next. The third bus makes it through. We all rush to hop back on our bus when we here the engine revving, but the attendant still has the door close, exclaiming through the window "Our bus is super heavy, we won't make it through with everyone and the luggage on!" So I'm thinking to myself it would have been nice to have had a choice in the matter! But once I dry off my feet and get my shoes back on I'm a little calmer. I guess the truth of the matter is that we self selected by not getting back on the bus as soon as we did our business.

So we left La Paz on the Bolivian version of a broke down Greyhound bus (reclining seats, but no bathroom) at 5:00PM (we were told we'd board at 4:00PM, even though the sign in the window said 3:30PM), and it was supposed to be a 10 hour ride. Eighteen hours later - of butts in faces, people sleeping in aisles, women squatting behind knee high bushes to do their business, THE BUMPIEST ride ever (they really need to pave that “road”) and the THICK body odor of 60 people crammed into a bus with 50 seats - we finally arrived in Uyuni.

I'm still happy to be here! All said and done, it was still better than most of the “chicken busses” I took while traveling from Panama to Mexico 4 years ago. It's all part of the fun and excitement of traveling in a developing nation. I'll write again when we return from the Salt plains.


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