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Solo Claire

La Quiaca, Mugging, Journey to Uyuni

BOLIVIA | Friday, 23 January 2009 | Views [1149] | Comments [1]

We crossed over together to Bolivia to buy bus tickets and then the lads headed straight off to La Paz and I stayed for the night in La Quiaca on the Argentine side. I have never seen such a badly managed frontier. There were crowds of people swarming in each direction without the guards
bothering to stop them. The guard on the Bolivian side told me that I didn't need an exit stamp as I was returning to Bolivia the next day and had a visa for 90 days. There was a hugh queue for the Argentinian side's customs and it was divided into sections that seemed to be pretty similar. After queueing for ages, a guard came up and took all the foreigners passports, brought them into an office and stamped them. I could have had anyone's passport. They were searching bags there too but luckily my bags were in storage in La Quiaca so I could just walk through. The others had to join an even longer queue to get their bags searched. I presume they were looking for Coca leaves as they are legal in Bolivia but not in Argentina but it seemed pointless as they were letting other people wander about as they will and in northern Argentina you can get the leaves in any market.  I've tried them but they do nothing for me. I still get hungry and tired and don't get altitude sickness anyway. I'm sure I have tasted some twigs or something in Ireland that had a similar bitter taste and were meant to do something but I can't remember when or what they are.

Woke up at 5.00 am to get across the border and catch my bus. On the way to the frontier - it was about 10 blocks from the hospejade that I was staying in - I met a guy who asked me the time. He thanked me, walked on and then turned and asked was I looking for the frontier. When I said yes he told me that the frontier I was headed towards was only for during the day and that the night one was one block over. He hesitated (Which is the thing that made me believe him, well that and the fact that it was badly run anyway and that it was dark and I couldn´t see anyone coming towards me) and said he would show me.

The minute I turned the corner I knew I was being mugged. There was a guy there with a cap on that said Policia and he started pretending to check his accomplice´s documents and money for false notes. When he started asking for mine I said I was going back to the other frontier but as I left the ´police´guy grabbed my small backpack. I stayed walking off only to remember that I had put my creditcard in it - ironically for safekeeping! I was hesitating internally about what to do but stayed walking towards the street of the real frontier. Another guy passed me and I asked him where the frontier was and he replied - at this hour over there. So between him and the fact that they had my credit card I decided to go back. BAD MOVE! Before They searched my small backpack, took my emergency dollars and luckily didn't find my credit card and then my small handbag. I have never been so frustrated in my life because I was completely helpless once I had decided to go back. I saw him take money from my wallet but decided not to say anything to him about it cos I felt that if thats all that happened I got off lightly. However, I never saw him take my phone.

It´s probably just as well I didn´t see him take it because I don´t know how I would have reacted as I hadn´t uploaded any photos since Mendoza. As it is there was no violence towards me except for the grabbing of my bag. He tried to pat me down but I backed away and showed him that I wasn´t wearing a money belt. Went to the police who didn´t even bother to ask me where it happened or what they looked like. They told me that there were never any robberies there, blamed it on Bolivians, and then proceeded to give me a typed statement that was obviously a cut and paste job as it said that I was English, from London and didnt mention the money that was taken so I had to get them to do it all over again!

During this time I was annoyed cos I had a bus ticket booked that I wouldn't make which meant that I wouldnt make the connection either. Luckily when I went  to Bolivia, it turned out that they are an hour behind Argentina so I was just in time. I was annoyed that no one had mentioned it to me. The Argentinians I was travelling with must not have known because they were rushing for a bus that they would have had plenty of time to catch with the difference.  But the people selling the tickets never mentioned it. And a Mexican that I shared the room with in La Quiaca knew that I was catching a bus at 7 in Bolivia so I was getting up at 5. Had I known, then it would have been light when I was leaving and possibly the mugging wouldn't have happened.

I had an allocated seat but the woman in it was about 70 so I didn't really feel that I could get her to stand. Then in Tupiza, 3 hours later, I was transferred not to the bus I had expected but a jeep - along with 9 other passengers. It is the first time while travelling that I have not been able to sleep. Not only was the space so limited that we had to put one foot each side of the person´s opposite to get a bit of comfort but the road was quite easily the bumpiest, rockiest main road that I had ever been on. We had left our lunch stop about ten minutes when we got a puncture.

It was changed and then about half an hour further we got another one.  We sat by the roadside until another jeep came by that lent us their spare. Unfortunately it was a bit flat so we had to wait and ask all the other vehicles passing whether they had a pump. Eventually, there
was a car which had a bike pump. Bastards taking my camera - a very funny sight seeing people pumping a large jeep tyre with a small bike pump. We went on and the car followed us and we had to stop again to pump it up further. We travelled the last 25k at less than 10k an hour. We finally arrived into Uyuni two hours later than I had expected but 5 hours later than an Aussie couple had been told.

Booked my trip to the salt plains and rang home. Was staying in a hostel in which you can only have one shower per night's booking and can only take 7 minutes. They lock the showers to make sure that no one has a sneaky one! The next day, still slightly dirty, I ran about this excuse for a town, from stall to stall trying to find a digital camera. Eventually I found one but they had no memory card for it so had to repeat my search. Afterwards, I went to the bank and there was an English guy there with cuts all over his head, arm and leg up to his knee. He caught my eye and asked had I been to the Salt plains and proceeded to tell me that a driver had upturned his minibus while showboating and it had landed on him and his friends (I´m not sure if they were in another jeep or what) but that he was injured, his mate had broken an arm and his mate´s fianceé was killed. Not really what I wanted to hear just before going. He kept saying to be careful with who you book it but couldn't remember the full name of his company. So 'something Viaje' are a bad company to go with. 



Oh Claire, poor you after being mugged. Hope you are ok now. Did you head to the Salt Plains? I hear Joanne is off to Brazil tonight. have fun!!!


  Siobhan Hynes Feb 12, 2009 12:41 AM

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