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Tales from a Rolling Stone

Getting Hassled

BOLIVIA | Friday, 24 October 2008 | Views [490]

After a week in La Paz, it was finally time to move on south through Bolivia before turning right back around and going north through Peru.  

My first stop was Potosi, the centuries old mining town - also, consequently the highest city in the world at 4000m above sea level. 

Needless to say, watching me try to run was pretty comical, a pretty comical 10 minutes anyway.

Although the altitude may not seem relevant for the most part, it has actually done much to shape the culture in Potosi as chewing coca is highly popular.  (One thing I learned at the Museo de Coca in La Paz was that coca used to be worth more than silver in the mines.  The miners were given it to chew while working so they could work longer hours without food.)  In any case, I decided it worth it to check out the mines the city was so famous for. 

Tip: when touring mines, DO NOT go with the cheapest company. 

Let´s just say I learned the hard way and was glad I got out alive.  Tight corridors, dynamite, esbestos, trolleys bombing down the railroad tracks with no brakes.  Need I say more?

(At the end of the day I learned a lot and was very glad to have experienced it.  Very thankful for my life, however.)

In any case, after a few days of hanging out in Potosi it was on to a three day trip through the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats).  I think the pictures speak for themselves so I won´t elaborate, but it was pretty fantastic.  Just an endless expanse of salt... the trick photos people were doing were hilarious as well, we weren´t nearly as creative.

From there I went on what I think is the worst bus ride I´ve been on to date.  Per usual, I went and bought my bus ticket.  It was very clearly marked to where I was going, mind you.  In any case, I boarded the bus and was immediately displeased with the fact that my seat didn´t recline.  When you´re taking a 10 hour bus through the night you pray to God that you have a nice seat.  No nice seat, no sleep.  Anywho, after accepting the fact that I was going to have to try to sleep at a 90 degree angle, the gentleman occupying the seat next to me sat down.  Old man, drunk.  Fantastic.  This was getting better and better.  After slurring a few indistinguishable words in Spanish (or Quechua perhaps?), I was pleasantly surprised when the man shared his blanket with me.  We were driving through the desert so the prospect of not freezing my ass off all night was nice.  Maybe I would sleep. For a few hours I did some reading, and finally decided it was at least time to attempt a short slumber; however, the second I closed my eyes I felt a hand run down my arm.  I glared up at the old man and he turned straight ahead playing dumb.  Right asshole, as if anyone else touched me.  Anyway, this must have happened a half a dozen more times - I´d close my eyes, and he´d caress my arm.  I´d ask him to stop and give him a glare of death, and then wouldn´t be able to fall asleep in anticipation of the next grope.  It wasn´t threatening or anything, rather a nervous drunk twitch I suspect, but regardless, I didn´t sleep nonetheless.

At 330am, cold and pissed off that I´d been awake all night, we made a stop.  Typical of the cheap buses I tend to take.  An hour later we were still stopped - not typical of the buses I tended to take.  We were in Potosi and my ticket was for Sucre.  Although I knew Potosi was enroute to Sucre, the fact that we´d been stopped for an hour and everyone had gotten off of the bus albeit three people sleeping was not comforting.  Finally I asked the bus driver when the bus was going to Sucre.  He mumbled something and handed me a $20 Bolivianos (about 40% of my fare).  It was 4am so I had nothing better to do than go back to sleep until morning.

At 6:30 I finally woke up after three hours of sleep to find the bus terminal open.  I went to the company to ask why I wasn´t in Sucre, and they answered by saying the bus just ended up stopping in Potosi and staying there.  No reason, it just was. 

After making a fuss in broken Spanish, they finally put me in a cab I had to pay for, and by noon I was in Sucre.

A miserable experience, but pretty entertaining in retrospect.

From Sucre I took two days of buses back to Peru, paying a tad more for a bit more comfort and security that I´d actually make it to my destination.  Lucky for me, the Danish couple from my Salar de Uyuni trip was on my bus to Peru.  Not only did this give me people to talk to, but came in very handy as we made it to the Peruvian border...

So the Peruvian border.  We arrived and easily went through Bolivian migration.  It was probably about 150 feet to the Peruvian migration; however, as the group of gringos walked down the street, we were stopped by Peruvian authorities.  They wanted to check our bags.  Ana, my Danish friend quickly told me that if I had any money to hide it.  Quickly, I found a bathroom and strapped on my money belt with appx. $75 US dollars in it. They took us in one by one, and thinking they were searching our bags for stuff like fruit and weapons (like other times at customs), they immediately went for my purse and into my wallet.  They asked where my money was, I said it was all on my card.  They had me empty my pockets.  Nothing aside for a padlock.  Finally, I was released with all of my belongings and money in hand.  Not a scary experience, but hardly a comforting one.

Unfortunately, that´s just how it is in other parts of the world.

As for now, I am currently in Nazca, Peru.  After arriving at 5am with nowhere to stay - per usual -  a guy saw me walking aimlessly down the street and convinced me to stay at his hostel, where for $7/night I get my own room, bathroom, and cable TV. 

I watched Law and Order SVU until 6am.

In any case, meeting up with some new friends and heading north through the rest of Peru, and then onto Ecuador and Colombia.

Will write more soon.




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