It should have been a straight-forward overnight journey on a comfortable modern bus on a sealed asphalt highway (unlike many, of Bolivia’s main roads) … But it ended up being another crazy bus trip.

It started off well when I was in the Santa Cruz bus terminal, and the guy at the ticket kiosk assured me that the bus was indeed ‘con bano = with toilet’. Excellent news.

To kill the 3 hour wait until the bus departed, I consumed beer.

Full of piss … some hours later I watched the bus arrive – late. To my dismay there was NO TOILET. And it didn’t resemble the new-looking bus that the pictures touted.

But fortunately, or unfortunately but fortunately for me the bus got a puncture within 10 minutes of departure and so I had my first piss-stop against a wall amid the shanty suburbs.

And fortunately again because I got a badly needed second piss as we waited an hour to get the wheel sorted.

Maybe less than 2 hours later we’ll stopped again to see along the road from the rear of the bus a long diesel trail.

And I took another piss – now the middle of the night; icy, there we waited some hours while the drivers tried to block the leak with plastic sheet, banging amid the rear engine compartment, utilizing this gringo’s torch, for vision.

Meantime back on the bus people were sleeping  – or trying to, cos one guy was snoring like a fuckin’ bulldozer.

And unfortunately for me, he was seated directly in front of me, his seat fully reclined and mouth in my face. FUCK !!!

I had two choices: sit and agonise. Or stand outside and shiver, as men bashed the engine … for a good hour I wanted to strangle the fucker in front of me; I was so exhausted.

Was wondering if my water-bottle could plug his gabbling gob.

And then I realised I had earplugs not in pack but with me in my fleece pocket – and they helped for a half hour or so.

Another bus of the same company had stopped and offered us spare gas.

But then it was delays at an army checkpoint for an hour – drug searches – and now morning and freezing on the bleak Altiplano, the bus broke-down again.

There’d been no meal stop  – but plenty of stoppages.

Fellow passengers were getting riotous – one woman really bombarding the drivers.

Somehow, we got going again but at a crawl – loaded trucks were passing us whilst travelling uphill but at least we were moving.

Approaching a stalled line-up of vehicles around 9am was ominous … A blockade.

Meaning there’s a local political problem so vehicles and objects are sprawled across the road with protesters in attendance and that no vehicle may pass in either direction (for the day, or many days) … the road’s cut and so we have to walk to Cochabamba … 15 – 20 km away.

I trudged away along a highway devoid of vehicles but crammed with refugee-like figures struggling with belongings in the cold, crisp air.  Snow on the surrounding peaks but sunny.

Luckily, for me the past few weeks I’d travelled very light (just cameras and day-pack, leaving the bulk of my gear in La Paz while I did an Amazonian round-trip).

There were a few cars on the move, cutting into side roads, avoiding the next blockade (there were about 5 road blocks spread towards the city in intervals of about 5 km). I tried but soon gave up flagging down the few packed passing vehicles.

Then someone stopped, unsolicited. What a mind-fuck. It’s the monster snorer ! (and his wife).

How they’d gotten a car I don’t know but they took me about 5 km before turning off before the next roadblock. Ironic encounter: I really wanted him to die, some hours earlier.

It was a long walk, without food for 24 hours, without sleep, and chilly, passing through other blockades and witnessing violence as male protesters punctured the tyres of an unlucky taxi strike-breaker, and beat dents in the vehicle.

Eventually, I got to the outskirts of the city proper, where services were running normally, and hopped into a minibus to arrive in the plaza and from there got a cheap hotel and a long shivering session while fully dressed in bed. A few hours later I was fine.

Nothing like the unpredictability of travel to sharpen the senses …

Travels in Bolivia – 2002

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