Travel advice from news.com.au:
‘We thought we were going to be robbed and killed’
By Kimberly Gillan
BOLIVIA is not a country known for luxuries, and getting around is famously difficult. Roads are peppered with potholes and bus windshields are invariably chipped and splintered, making long distance travel a safety gamble.
There’s no guarantee of a sweet ride in a taxi either — if you accidentally get into a ‘gypsy cab’ instead of a licenced one, you might find yourself robbed of everything on you.
So when my husband and I climbed aboard a “semi cama” bus (that’s South American for “best bus ever”) to make our way to the capital city, La Paz, we were feeling pretty chuffed with how things were going.
“Ha!” we laughed obnoxiously as we kicked back the reclining sofa-sized seats. “Doesn’t everyone say transport in Bolivia is a nightmare?”
We were pumped to get to La Paz, South America’s most famous party town. The hostels are known for loose all-nighters and after a few weeks subsisting on Bolivia’s national dish of gristly schnitzel, hard-boiled egg and white rice, we were keen to get to the cosmopolitan capital for some international cuisine and a chance to see if our livers were up to the La Paz challenge.
But about an hour before we were scheduled to arrive, the bus stopped and everyone disembarked so we followed suit, assuming we’d arrived and that La Paz wasn’t the hilly metropolis we’d anticipated.
“La Paz?” we asked the driver as we got off.
“No,” was the only word we understood before he closed the door and left us standing on the edge of a long, straight road. It seemed we’d been stopped by a group of protesters holding a measly placard blocking the highway.
We had no phone reception to check a map or ring the hostel we were due to stay at so in pathetic Spanglish, we asked a few people where the bus station was. They all pointed vaguely along the highway, so we heaved our packs onto our backs and started walking. To where, we weren’t exactly sure.
“Taxi? Taxi?” a man rushed up to us.
“No,” we replied firmly, calling upon the travel book warnings that the guy was likely a career crook who wanted to get his mitts on the smelly clothes we’d been rotating for the past six months.
For two hours, we traipsed along the dusty highway where groups sat on the road in circles, cooking food on small fires or watching kids play soccer. It was weird and eerie, not helped by the fact the kids kept pointing at us and laughing.
As the sun started to set, it became clear our feet weren’t getting us anywhere, so when another man came up saying “Taxi, taxi?” we nodded, muttering, “He’s got kind eyes” and hoping those same eyes wouldn’t be gleaming as we were relieved of our passports and kidneys.
We reluctantly followed him down a side street to his van that was filled with locals. “La Paz?” we asked but were met with more confused stares, so contented ourselves with looking out the window at the scary-looking locals warming themselves by bonfires in the middle of the streets, glad that we were at least going somewhere else.
As dusk turned to night, the desert disappeared and we found ourselves in the middle of epic traffic where we were told to get out onto a footpath so packed with people we had to hold hands so we weren’t separated. Relief came when we spied an office with the sign “turisma” (tourist in Spanish).
No English was spoken but they seemed to get the gist of our questions and with some impressive sign language we were instructed to jump in another mini van to be taken who knows where — a torture chamber, probably.
It careened through bedlam traffic on unrecognisable streets until, finally, we started to weave down a steep hill. “A valley!” my husband and I almost weeped as we recognised La Paz’s urban sprawl from pictures.
Yet again, we were unceremoniously kicked out of the bus and left standing on a dark, quiet street trying to find a map in our guidebook to work out if the hostel was anywhere near. When a taxi pulled up in front of us, we shrugged, showed him the hostel address and collapsed in the back seat figuring it was this guy’s lucky day — two knackered backpackers practically begging to be pillaged.
But 15 minutes later he stopped and we looked out the window. We were at the Loki hostel, seven hours late but in possession of our kidneys, our belongings and a new mantra: Always trust people with kind eyes.
Like in any corner of this wonderful world, there will be kind people who will help you. So, let your judgment decide not to take unnecessary risks and enjoy your travel!
We, Bolivians are mostly kind in nature and do enjoy being around visitors,specially when you don’t speak Spanish ;)