“So we should be back in Sucre by 10pm, thats about fourteen hours. How long should this have taken?” I pondered.
“If the were no protests and all went well, maybe six hours,” she replied.
“Welcome to Bolivia…”
Blockades aren’t unusual in Bolivia, in the three weeks I’ve been here there has been a blockade somewhere in the country nearly every single day protesting against something or another. I never expect for travel to go smoothly, but in Bolivia you have to expect you’re going to get stuck somewhere. In our case the blockade was preventing us from fulfilling our mission for the day, deliver ten beds, pillows, and some linens to a village about 80 km from the city. Sounds simple enough right? As we were about to find out it was anything but.
After the bus had been loaded with the beds we spent the better part of the next three hours driving a dusty dirty road the back way into the town because the protest had blocked off the paved road. Had the bus had a roof rack or had we the good sense to properly load the beds into the bus or even tie them town our ride may not have been punctuated with the beds bouncing around and hitting us in the head on every bump.
And then we got stuck
It’s not as though the river was running fast, or high, or really looked foreboding in any way. None of that stopped me however from feeling like we were about to need a line a reel to fish our bus out. Its apparently possible to cross this river, going the opposite direction, 20 feet further up stream, and by my estimation going a hell of a lot faster than we were, but we had none of those factors going for us. As it was, the bus dug its tires in to the pebble bottom a mere 25 feet from our shore and a good 50 from where we were headed.
Nada es seguro, todo es possible!
So we spun the tires till it was clear that trying the same thing again and again wasn’t going to work. Only when we managed to lift the vehicle up and fill in the hole it had dug could we get the bus to move, about 5 feet at a time, and re-lifting it every time it got stuck again. Thats how it went for two and a half hours as we inched towards the shore.
All I could think as we headed back the way we came was how we were going to accomplish our mission for the day if we couldn’t cross the river. Then we crossed a bridge, we’d taken a shortcut before and managed to add nearly three hours to our day. All I could do was laugh.
We pulled up to the village and the locals were on hand to start unloading the beds. What I thought was to be a quick turn around ended up being a formal presentation of these mattresses to the community with a number of the community leaders standing up to thank us. There was soup, muffins, and music, it was so much more than I had expected.
Normally many indigenous people are afraid a camera will take you soul or at least want payment for the privilege of a single photo. In this case it was expected that myself and another would record the event. Between the children jumping all over me to have their photos taken and the adults with their guards down I managed to get more good portraits in a single day than I had in the previous few months, a rare opportunity.
Is the battery dead?
The sun was dropping behind the mountains as were were loading into the bus to return home and all I could hear was a click each time the driver turned the key. Either the battery was dead or all the fussing about in the river caused an issue. Of course, just when it seemed like we were back on track. As it turned out this wasn’t the first or the last time this had happened and within a minute we’d piled out of the bus to give it a push start. A few quick rocks of the bus heared the engine catch and we were underway.
We made our last drop of some hiking supplies to another town, bought dinner because all we were told to bring was lunch, and finally started heading back to Sucre. But wait, no we didn’t. Just as the bus was pulling away we learned one of our other vehicles carrying hikers had blown not one but two tires on its way back to town, needed assistance, and dinner as they should have been home hours ago. We cleaned the local eater out of their last chicken and rice dished before once again getting underway.
Who the hell is that?
I could hear whispers amongst the group of girls as I approached, “where the hell did this guy come from?” Our bus had stopped a 200 meter short of the town square to pick up the driver and the guide at the vehicle, I ran on ahead to gather up the hikers. I’d thought I’d try to lift their spirits as help had arrived but it proved unnecessary, they were already laughing over the situation, which is about all you can do when your travelling. You’d have better luck guiding the path of the moon than trying to control most situations while on the road.
We presented them with the food we’d brought and they thought it was Christmas morning, not twenty minutes before they’d been rationing out the last of their peanuts. With their bellies full and everyone on board we got underway.
It was dark when we pulled back into Sucre, just after 10pm in fact. If you’d asked anyone at the beginning of the day what time we’d return they’d have surely said sometime before dark, but thats how it goes in these places. One of the girls gave me a Bolivian saying to me on the way back “nada es seguro, todo es possible,” which translates to ‘nothing is sure, and everything is possible.
I’ve learned over time that when traveling, one just has to have an open mind, hope for the best, and plan for the worst. I’m not suggesting to be negative about anything, but keep your expectation low and you’ll always end up surprised and delighted.