Happy 4th of July! Days like today really make me wish I could have my cake and eat it, too. I would love to be in the U.S. right now, popping the top on a Bud Light, and chowing a hamburger and some home-made waffle-fries. And fireworks! I guess there`s always next year!
Right now we`re in Santa Cruz, Bolivia awaiting the departure of our 4:00 bus to Sucre and on to Potosì (the highest town in the world in the dead of winter… I`m sure that`ll be a story!) to hopefully tour the famous silver mines there. After, we plan to go to the Salar de Uyuni in the SW corner of Bolivia, said to be one of the most spectacular sights in South America. We were never planning on Uyuni, and have now put so much on our plate that we might have to take a flight and skip over the most boring 3 days of the Amazon where the river is 30 miles wide and you can`t see either shore. We`ll still get our Amazon experience, but we`re just going to skip the boring part. Assuming we can afford it. We haven`t actually checked prices, yet.
Anyway, yesterday morning we got up to nice, HOT showers at the hostel (YAY!) before donning our backpacks and jumping a local bus to the border at seven-thirty with Karen, a young British woman we met at the hostel. When we got to the border, we discovered they didn`t even open until 8, and so were thankful we didn`t go for the extremely hard-core option of getting up at 5:30 to be the first ones to the border and therefore the first ones in line to buy train tickets.ç
The Bolivian border crossing process is divided between several workers, so we had to wait an extra half an hour for the “stamp man” to show. Finally we were on our way to the train station in a rickety-station wagon. The drivers door kept coming open as we were going down the road, no seatbelts, and the interior looked like they`d pulled the car straight out of a junkyard a few days ago. An poor Pat got stuck in the backseat, both literally and figuratively. He couldn`t get out of the car!
The lines for train tickets weren`t quite of “Cuban” proportions, but we did have to stand there for quite awhile. We managed to get on the first, cheapest train, but it`s cheap because it doesn`t include meals or entertainment. So, Pat and I fell into our usual roles… he babysat the bags while I ran around finding food for the trip.
The train-ride itself was a good experience. I would recommend it, but I probably wouldn`t do it again. We bounced back and forth for almost 24 hours, which made for interesting sleeping. There were peddlers with food options at every stop, which came in handy at dinner-time. We got hooked up with an awesome chicken-rice-tomatoes-potatoes mixture. The train was full of Brazilians who are now on holiday (as I understand it – their July is like our December), and Brazilians tend to be really friendly, so we had a great time!
It`s really astouding how poor Bolivia is. I was thinking about it on the train, as peddlers were strolling the ailes hawking their fare. I bought a bag of six grapefruit for one Boliviano. To a Bolivian, that`s a dollar, of which you would have to have 300 or so to pay the rent. But to me, it`s about $.13. Essentially, a month`s rent here would be about $45 for an American/Canadian/European/Australian, etc. It`s just astouding to me that there are so many people in the world working just as hard or harder than people in industrialized, first-world nations, and getting far less for it. Just to afford a ticket to ride the train that brought us here, the average Bolivian would have to work three or four days. It`s really perspective-altering to see, again, how fortunate most my family, friends, and aquaintances are.
On a similar note… or maybe just another note, we are SO dirty! Because we have committed ourselves to such a fast pace of travelling. We won`t have time to do laundry until, at least, tomorrow. I have been wearing the same shirt, over and over, for about five days now. And my jeans used to be where I wiped my dirty hands. Now my jeans are so dirty, I fear wiping my hands on them would get my hands dirtier. Needless to say, we anxiously await the day (hopefully tomorrow) when we are forced to layover somewhere (because of availability of bus departures) and get to wash our clothes. On the upside, we have been getting to shower quite frequently, so we`ve yet to start smelling.
We had quite an interesting experience in the bus/train station today. When we arrived, we immediately sought out onward tickets, only to be turned away from every ticket window, save for three. Once we had finally gotten money out of the ATM to purchase the tickets, only one of the ticket windows had seats left to sell. However, everything was quite sketchy. Ever counter I approached that said they had tickets told ME that had tickets to Sucre, but other people would come up and ask while I was standing there, and the men behind the counter would turn them away. When I finally bought tickets and handed over my money, the guy at the counter wrote me out a ticket (the kind with a perforation, where half is usually taken upon entrance) with my name on one side and Pat`s on the other. Each side had a pre-printed number, one was 4465 and the other 04465, so essentially the same ticket, right? Also, when I asked to see where the seats were on the bus, someone elses name was written in the spaces he was selling me. I fired off several questions, most of which I couldn`t get a clear answer to, and finally crossed my fingers and went to report back to Pat. We decided to go to the information to ask if the ticket was real and find out if we were getting scammed. I explained to her that it seemed fishy to me to give us a perforated ticket with a different name on each half. She motioned for us to follow as she blasted off for our company`s ticket counter. We practically ran through the station after her, and then listened to her argue with the guy in rapid Spanish. Finally she told him, “give them TWO tickets.” The guy said okay, and she left. As soon as she was gone, he pushed our money back over the counter and told us there was no room for the likes of us. So, we still don`t know if we were going to get scammed or not. Shortly thereafter, one of the counters that turned me away previously miraculously had tickets, but were confused because they thought they saw us buy tickets from the other folks. After trying to explain the situation, they finally sold us two seats (also with someone`s name on them, but they said it was a reservation only good until 10 a.m.). Long story short, we still don`t know if we were sold bogus tickets. We`ll see in a few hours!
Since we`ve been travelling for so long, and still have another 14 hr. bus trip coming up in just a few hours, I am definitely starting to feel like a zombie. We didn`t intend to travel like this, but I am prone to taking on more than I can handle. Our theory is, we don`t know when we`ll have the chance to do this again, so we ought to see as much as we can now! Potosì, Uyuni… here we come!