Two buses and a short walk and we were there, Bolivia. It was Sunday so we were advised by the police officer we could enter Bolivia but to come back on Monday to complete our immigration formalities. Settled in our $60 boliviano room ($12) and we (including our new friend, Ramiro) headed off for a few beers and our first taste of Bolivia. Monday rolled around and it was back to the border. Rach didnt bring her yellow fever card so it was back to the room for take two, we wouldnt want someone with yellow fever entering Bolivia now would we.
Next step, get the train to the first city, Santa Cruz. Easy enough, yes, if it weren’t South America. After waiting 2 – 3 hours for the office to open we were told by a baggage guy it’s not open today but we could buy our tickets from him when the train arrives. Dodgy, yes, but what could be do. On our return, the guy asked for our money, produced a ticket and proceeded to tell us that he need our passports, alarm! Told not to wait in the queue with everybody else and to surrender our passports, this was not the start we had hoped for. Assured that the police needed to check them we handed them over and proceed to watch them be passed around from one offical to another. Shown to our seats minus our passports, we were advised the train master would return them shortly. After hearing this I tracked them down and demanded them back. ‘Sit down, Sir. We will bring them to you. It’s fine’. Our friend, the bagage man turn up again 10 minutes later to ask for a tip, 20 Bolivianos ($4) later and we had our passports back.
A few days in Santa Cruz, and a local warning of dengue and we were ready to head for the hills. Samaipata, a small town with lush forest and a nice colonial square, sounds nice we thought. Take a collectivo (shared taxi) to Samaipata. It’s easy, we were told. Two days, three attempts, a spear welding local were all part of the experience – A group of local tax collectors had been laid off and had rallied a group to block the road for five kilometres. Always take, take, take from the tax man, even when he’s been fired.
A nice few days relaxing in the moutains, a bike ride down a hill and back up. All in all very pleasant. Only the lady who hired the bikes told us that it will take you 40mins to get to the waterfall, but she forget to mention that the hill started at 1800m and went down to 0m, it didnt make for a fun return trip.
Next stop, Sucre and our first Bolivian bus. Go to the edge of town, wait by the checkpoint and flag down your bus as it goes by. Being a little cautious we got there an hour early. That hour past, a few more gringos joined us, one with a taranga (like a ukalele, strange man) but no bus. A few more hours and it arrived in a rush, ‘ get on right now this is your bus’, the man yelled before we knew it we were at the back of the worst bus I have ever seen heading for Sucre. At3.00am, we stop look around, there are no men left on the bus, after a quick assessment of the situation we realised they were all outside pushing a truck off the road. After I joined them and a few attempts we had pushed the truck to within an inch of a 1000m plus cliff edge, the driver was very happy.
Pretty old buildings, beggers and markets, Sucree. We decided to head to the famous Tarabuco markets an hour north or town, feeling confident in our abilities we decided to get the local bus and not pay the whooping 30bs ($6) tour price. It was the right move, as we boarded the bus, a cheer went up for Tarabuco and we were off. Sadly the markets didn’t share the same upbeat vibe as the bus, beggers everywhere and people selling every little bit of crap, ‘writstband amigo, wristband’, ‘no gracias’ ‘wristband amigo’ and so on. Alpaca and llama as far as the eye could see, it overwhelmed us to the point of needing a drink. Luckily an Austrailian girl (Kerry) already had this idea and invited us to share her bottle of wine, ‘shoppings not for me, I prefer to enjoy a drink in the sun’, we knew she was our kind of girl. She informed us that the previous night she bought a bottle of whisky but needed some people to drink it with. She was to become a feature of our Bolivia experience.
Next up Potosi, 2600mts in Sucre up to 4060mts in Potosi. This town is famous for arcaic mining in the local moutain, which you can take tours of. Rach was worried about the height but it was me that was struck by terrible headaches, stink! After our first night, I was is in so much destress, we headed to the local pharmacy. Luckily in South America, most main streets go pharmacy, photocopy shop, other shop, pharmacy. Rach asked for a altitude pill (name we got from the Lonely Planet) and the lady advised she didn’t have that one but produced another type to take maybe three times a day, oh well I needed some relief. It worked long enough for us to get to the mines for a tour.
What an experience, boys mainly working with only a head lamp hauling rock in Indiana Jones style mining carts. We were told they were the original carts brought by the Spanish 200 years earlier. Surprisingly, they all seemed pretty happy, smiling as we offered them coca and soft drink. One group even had music playing as they prepared to dynamite a wall (Dynamite was available for purchase at the start of the tour for 20bs.). If you’re interested look at the doco ‘The Devils Miners’, the doco team used the tour company we used.
With my head spinning, we hopped on a bus to Tupiza. With the sound of Tarija, Tarija, Tarija ringing in our ears, Bolivian advertising consists of yelling louder than your competition.
Author Stephen Bird