Anything is possible in Bolivia
I’ve heard it a few times in my first week here: “Todo es possible en Bolivia!” Also known as: “Anything is possible in Bolivia!” How true it is, and the transportation is no exception. I’ve taken some rocky bus and train rides in my time, full of delays and manageable to horrendous conditions. However, my first bus ride in Bolivia might take the cake. I should say bus rides because one turned into three, and 14 hours turned into 30.
Where it begins – More often than not, travel is about hurry up and wait. My travel buddy and me are rushing to the bus terminal in La Paz to give ourselves enough time to pee before our bathroom-less bus ride to Tupiza. We frantically try and find our bus which doesn’t appear to be anywhere. We find out that the strikes in El Alto caused many delays and our bus hadn’t arrived yet from its last destination. So we wait about and hour and a half and at about 8:30pm, we are on our way.
At 5am, we are awoken and told that there is another totally unrelated strike and further down the road, it is blocked off. This is our last chance to pee (yes please!) and have some tea and bread at the roadside café before we get to the block. What will happen when we get there? No one knows, but there is much speculating.
We pull up a couple of hours later to find miles upon miles of trucks, vans and buses lined along this road in the middle of the desert. At this point, there is some chaos, as some of the passengers want the bus driver to take us back to La Paz. No one knows how long these apparently violent strikers will be blocking the road. It could be days. Once the driver enforces that he will be waiting here until it clears, some passengers disappear on a bus going back the way we came, while others suit up with all their luggage in tow to walk the three miles to the next town where they can hopefully pass. There is a group of Bolivian women, who are saying the block will be cleared by noon. How do they know this information? I don’t know, but I have the feeling they are wrong.
So, we wait. I’m happy enough to get some sleep on the bus since it was impossible to sleep on the freezing cold vessel during the night. (Note: You will need a heavy blanket for bus rides in the desert). Hours later, it is getting hot in the mid-day sun, I am getting hungry and my travel partner has disappeared on a walk into the desert. I tell myself she has gone to find a ride for us and not that she has been lost in the strike chaos.
At 2:30pm, like a knight in shining armor, she returns in a taxi van with a few other travellers and says the driver will take us to Potosi, a nearby town where we can then catch another bus to Tupiza. At this point, I’ll take anything over sitting and waiting and so we all hop in, pay the driver 50 bolivianos and are on our way. It feels like a miracle as we whizz past the hundreds of trucks stuck facing the other way. Until, only moments down the road, we turn off the main paved road and begin on, what I would call an “un-drivable road”. This is the alternate route to Potosi.
The guy in the front seat has to get out from time to time and remove large rocks and I’m praying that we don’t get a flat tire. We encounter a few of the locals on our way, each toothless and demanding pesos so that there’s “no trouble”. All of this is, of course, happening in Spanish so I’m getting the translated version. The driver has to ask these locals for directions. Perfect. There is a lot of laughter as we drive on, at the absurdity of the situation and then my travel partner tells me they’re laughing because there is a tribe out here who, how do you say? Like to eat people. This is where I double pray we don’t get a flat tire.
Eventually, the dirt road gets clearer and then turns onto a paved road and I’m feeling pretty good. We arrive in Potosi relatively unscathed and thankfully uneaten, where we wait a couple of hours for our bus to Tupiza. As we board our last bus of this very complicated journey, I feel relief and gratitude to the people who stepped up and got me to this point. Anything is possible in Bolivia, whether you like it or not.