The journey to La Paz, the highest city in the world!
27.05.2008 - 28.05.2008 -4 °C
On the drive back from the Salt Plains we planned our get-a-way from the insipid hellhole of Uyuni. We soon found out that there was a touch of civil unrest, a small disagreement with the governing authorities, if you will. This might have only been restricted to particular parts of the country but things were getting a little out of hand. Roads were being blocked and riots were breaking out throughout the remote areas of Bolivia. Clever little Conor had already booked his bus ticket to La Paz because he had a boner for a girl.
Conor awakes before the long drive back to Uyuni
The other 3 eejits had planned to go to Potosi for the infamous mine tour and to play with some dynamite. This was no longer an option and it seemed that everyone was heading for the big cities. Unfortunately we found that every bus out of town was full. Crowds of Bolivians in their silly little hats piled on to buses as they left Uyuni with scarce room for three travellers and their luxurious requirements. Naturally we were holding out for a super-coma bus but there wasn’t a chance of that happening.
Hot pizza in freezing cold conditions
After some dodgy offers for an overpriced private jeep to anywhere in Bolivia, we decided that we should try the train. There were two train companies that stopped here. The company we used on the journey to Uyuni was quite fast, relatively well run and treated its high-end customers as well as it possibly. The other train, Wagga or something, was known for being grotty, slow and late... we were told that sometimes it doesn’t even bother running... and boy, would it live up to its reputation.
We desperately didn’t want to sleep another night in the freezing cold so we decided to gamble on the notorious train that was due to arrive at 2am. Night fell fast, the cold set in quite early. We had a lot of time to kill and a serious lack of warm clothes. So we went with Takashi’s Castle (The Japanese guy that was on the salt plains tour) to get pizza at the warmest looking restaurant. This was an impossible task and after strolling around for an hour we gave up. The pizza was fine but the place was as cold as it was outside.
Mosquito repellents don't repel. They hide you. The spray blocks the mosquito's sensors so they don't know you're there. So spraying your windows is pointless because the mosquitoes may still fly in the window... they just won't sense the window.
Some of our fellow travellers had spotted us eating inside and presumed that we had found the only bit of warmth in the town. They were all sadly disappointed as they entered but before long we had quite a crowd so we all generated a bit body heat. The restaurant was closing and we needed to find somewhere new to hang about. We found our way to the train station. It was like finding an oasis. It was warm, served hot drinks and had a pool table...heaven! We met up with Daz and Andy again and almost enjoyed ourselves for a while.
Jack & Andy are happy out in the warm train station
The ticket booth opened at about 1am and while other backpackers were booking the cheapest tickets, we were asking for a heated cabin in 1st class... alas, this option did not exist. In fact, the train was even colder, it was dark and we had very little food, even Bear Grylls would struggle here. Then to add insult to injury the pizza from Uyuni came back to visit. The only salvation from the unbearable cold was the frequent trips to the toilet. Our bodies were trying to flush our insides out and get rid of any trace of the bastardly Bolivian badness that lay within us. Derek still says that the following 6 hours were the worst of his whole life and the others would be inclined to agree.
We tried to keep every inch of our bodies covered but the cold would penetrate any gap left between the multiple of layers of random clothing we had wrapped ourselves in. The bathroom (in first class) was a small room stainless room with a hole... no mirror, no flush, no taps, just a hole with the magical view of your semi frozen pee flowing down over the fluttering sleepers.
And of course don't forget the fact that everyone in Bolivia has excretion issues and a serious inability to aim, so the smell was unimaginably foul. Derek had to pooh in these facilities 14 times. By the end of the night Tilly had managed to put on every piece of clothing he had and yet he was still freezing. The trains had no lighting, even in the toilets, and it was pitch black for most the journey.
Bolivia is one of only two landlocked countries in South America (the other being Paraguay). But this is only since the War of the Pacific in 1884 in which they lost their coastline to Chile, who are a bunch of jerks.
When the sun finally rose we were approaching Oruro, an odd little city, where we had to find a bus to take us to La Paz. So we jumped in a taxi with Jorge and took off from the train station, but this wasn't just any taxi... it was a reversi taxi. As we pulled away from the train station, Jack leaned forward to check the time on the dash but in typical Bolivian fashion none of the dials worked let alone the clock. And after a double check Jack noticed something else strange about the dash.
It was probably because we were all little worse for ware after our nightmare journey but it took us a moment to cop on. Jorge had the dash in front of him but the steering wheel and the taxi driver were sitting in the passenger seat. The taxi driver told us about a businessman that had imported thousands of second hand cars from Australia only after which he realised that they drove on the other side of the road here. So he hired hundreds of local mechanics to switch the driver's side to the right of the cars, which bankrupted the poor businessman.
Hey muchacho, where the hell is the steering wheel??!!
The city was quite lively as we zipped through it. Motorcycles darted all around us as the streets were alive with shouting Bolivians. The shouting got louder and more direct when we got to the bus station. We found the most luxurious looking bus and bought our tickets. But after getting on the bus we were sadly disappointed. It was ridiculous... like something from the third world! Oh, hang on... this place is third world. The chairs reclined about 2 inches, you were guaranteed to be sharing some of your personal space with some livestock and then there were the salesman.
It seems that the buses have a little sales program. If you give the bus driver a small fee you're allowed to present a long, loud and tedious sales pitch. The salesmen were selling everything from herbal teas to briefcases and everything in between. They'd hand out samples to the passengers and if you managed to nod off they would wake you to make sure you didn't miss out on a bargain.
It was pretty hard to work out what they were actually selling and I would say that even the most fluent Spanish speaker would have trouble keeping up with fast lisping salesmen. Oh and just in case you had your earphones on they all had a little amplifier turned all the way up to 11.
Another Michael Palin moment as we pass through the Altiplano divide.
After those tools had finally finished we were treated to yet another screening of Game Plan featuring The Rock... in Spanish of course and the subtitles in Spanish too! So our attention was turned to the barren third world view out the window. The little towns we passed by were like something out of a Concern ad. The roads turned to dirt tracks and the animals on the bus started to loss control of their bladders... at least I hope it was the animals, although after Ian's "extreme poohing" I would not rule out any of the lads. The bus hadn't any toilets and this was a big issue for Derek, he was at near bursting point when we finally got to La Paz.
We arrived over the barren mountains to find the sprawling city of La Paz climbing the valleys. As we zigzagged into the city the sites seemed a little more familiar. Ads for Burger King, Mars and Indiana Jones lined the streets and the streets were not only paved but lined too. Now don't get me wrong, the slums were still there but it was the most hospitable place we had been since arriving in Bolivia. We're a fragile bunch really.
Our first views as we descend into La Paz.
Once we got off the bus we headed for the first Internet cafe we could find to locate the address for Loki, the hostel that Conor was staying in. The hostel was recommended by loads of people we had met and Derek was about to erupt. As we left the station there was a couple that were looking for the very same hostel as us, so we pointed them towards the Internet cafe. Once we had the address in hand we went to get a taxi.
When we got to Loki we were informed that they had just booked out the last couple of beds. And you guessed it... that couple from the Internet cafe were the last people to book beds, they had some how beaten our taxi to the hostel. By this time Derek was falling apart at the seams. He had to run to the bathroom at the Loki reception to get sick. We found another hostel just around the corner called The Wild Rover and it was a great little find.
The place was awesome and ended up being one of our favourite hostels of the whole trip. All the beds were huge deep queen size mattresses, which Jack and Derek spent the next 48 hours in, while they recovered (in separate beds!). At one point we did spot a Collingwood fan in our room, which might have been the point that Derek’s ‘pies obsession started.
"Alpen kills more people than it feeds" - One of the lads makes a bold statement.
"It was like morning wood but at nighttime", "That's just boner man" - The lads reminisce about Argentina during the long journey to La Paz.
"I didn't recognise you, all horizontal and that" - Andy upon meeting a semi conscious Tilly at the train station.