Overnight Bolivian Bus
March 19, 2007
Oh my God.
Let me repeat…
Oh my God.
I thought last night/this morning was never going to end. Seriously, I will appreciate every bus ride from this point forward. I don’t
think anything can get worse from what I just experienced.
Maybe I sound like a complete wuss. But I thought I was quite accepting of what the world’s bus systems had to offer. Of course,
that was before coming to Bolivia…
We got on the bus and headed directly to the very last row where our seats were. One thing was clear – we weren’t on Andesmar
(the great Argentinean bus company) any more! Considering all of the buses I have been on, this was the first one where I had a
prediction that I was possibly going to lose my you-know-what at some point during the night. After we got underway, Lindsey’s
words were “Good night and good luck.” God knows we were definitely going to need it…
Normally putting bags in the overhead spaces on a bus makes a lot of sense. Not on a Bolivian bus. Though I didn’t quite realize this
until a bottle of my vinegar fell onto Marc. Luckily it landed on his lap and not his head. While it might have been in his best interest
to be knocked out for this ride, I don’t know if he really would have wanted to be treated at a Bolivian facility. We figured the
insurance company probably wouldn’t take the claim as it would make sense that riding on a Bolivian bus would be considered a
type of extreme sport.
The bus was jam-packed with people. This silly gringo thought that since we got the last seats on the bus it meant that they sell the
same number of tickets for the number of seats in the bus. Nope. I think tickets only apply to gringos. Locals can squeeze their way
in the aisles and make their overnight home there. Being claustrophobic in these situations just plain sucks. I always feel like I need
an escape route and I was not seeing one. I would face this challenge as I tried to go to the bathroom at Stop #1. Nobody in the aisle
was budging. I ended up having no choice but to climb up on the armrests of the aisles and walk to the front of the bus while
hanging onto the rails on the top where the baggage storage. I was finally at the front just in time for the driver to say “Vamos.” I
then asked if I could go to the bathroom. He gave me a very quick “No.” All that work for nothing…and I still needed to pee. It was
time to climb back up on the armrests and make my way to the back of the bus.
Forget about getting sleep on this bus – we were literally flying out of our seats. There were seriously times where we must have
gotten at least 1-foot of air before having our butts slam right back into the seats. I’m guessing it was probably best that everything
was pitch-black and we couldn’t see the roads that we were driving on. Forget about the ‘probably’…it was definitely best that we
couldn’t see this stuff.
An hour or so later, our bus stopped. For a long time. We were all just sitting there and then the bus eventually turned off. Not
really a sound you want to hear. I started getting panicky. The only thing bringing some ease to my mind was that I was traveling
with other people. If I needed someone to talk me through it, I had that luxury. Of course, everybody was sleeping and I didn’t
want to wake them up just yet for my anxiety…but I knew I could if I needed to.
Finally I couldn’t take it any longer and I needed to get off to get air and to go to the bathroom. Nobody in the aisle was budging. I
had to relive the moment of climbing down on the armrests - this time with Lindsey in tow. But the door to the driver was shut and
locked. The driver wouldn’t open it. Lindsey and I were now standing on the armrests this entire time trying to beg them to open it
with as many ‘por favors’ as I could muster. Finally Emily called out and said ‘mi amiga esta enferma’. This was the ticket.
Eventually they opened the door. We went outside and squatted underneath the starry skies. We also got to see that the problem
with our bus was a flat tire that a guy was fixing. Thankfully, it was fixed just as we were done with our business. Within minutes,
we were on our way…
Was there anything that could make this bus ride worse?
Never ask yourself that because the answer is always ‘yes’…
There is nothing like a 4:00am bus change just when you managed to get to sleep. Seemed like we were in luck as this bus wasn’t
full and the motor had started and we were moving. But then we stopped. The door opened and a mass influx of Bolivians poured on
through. Now Emily and I were forced to go to the back of the bus in gringo-land. And this time the experience came complete with
a Bolivian neighbor in the aisle who took a firm stance that my armrest was now her armrest. She was bigger than me. I let her
At some point a man was passing out ‘gringo tickets’ to the gringos that went from the first bus to the second bus. Since Emily and I
were sitting furthest back, we were the ones that took the fall when the guy pointed out that there were more gringos on this bus
than there were on the last bus. Impossible as there is no way a gringo would have just been waiting at the bus station in the town
we had just stopped at. He was trying to say we would have to pay more. We were telling him that we weren’t going to (as we had
already paid the full-fare). This went back and forth. Eventually he went away.
I got a couple hours of sleep this morning and was awoken by the sun. Thank God! I thought morning was never going to arrive.
Now a guy was in the aisle giving us a presentation on ‘Biologia’. He was speaking slowly so I could understand that he was telling us
about the altitude we were about to encounter, that smoking isn’t a good idea, that beef has a lot of protein, and then he started his
spiel on ginseng. He was talking about all of the positive qualities that would be beneficial to us in this higher altitude. Then he
passed around a box of ginseng. I admit that I could use a little help with my memory (as that was one of the advantages he pointed
out) but I wasn’t going to ingest anything from the Bolivian bus worker. I know it sounds mean. But I think it is just best to not take
And of course there would be another snag before we would actually arrive in La Paz. Now a lady was collecting the ticket stubs
that were passed out last night by the guy. But Emily and I didn’t have ticket stubs. Nor did three other people. Emily was able to
relay that we had already paid, we weren’t going to pay more and that the man from earlier didn’t have ticket stubs to give us.
Then the woman called the bus company and kept saying “Cinco gringitos no tienen boletos” over and over again. Eventually, she
La Paz was appearing from out of the window. This ‘adventure’ would almost be over. I was doubting I would ever see the day.
Getting out of a bus never felt so good.