Our trip to Bolivia has definitely had its ups and downs. The scenery has been beautiful but traveling has been far from comfortable. Our biggest pet peeve has been the lack of honesty among bus ticket sellers. It might sound silly but it is ridiculously hard to get the truth (note: The one exception is the woman who sold us tickets at the Condor company in Tupiza who really did tell the truth like she said. Thank you Condor woman!). It started with a lack of a bathroom and has included lies about price, type of bus, location of luggage and the more usual creative estimate of bus leaving or arrival times.
Things came to a head when I bought 2 bus tickets from Uyuni to Tupiza. You can take collective jeeps but since I heart they stuff up to 10 passengers in them I decided it was better to take the bus since we could put the musical instruments in the overhead shelves (and the train wasn't leaving that day).
When I walked into the office I was immediately approached by a ticket seller asking if I wanted a ticket to Tupiza. I said, "yes" and discussed the specifics. What type of bus (small)? The price (55 (which magically changed to 60 when I returned with the money)). Where would the luggage go? (on top), Would it be covered? (yes) When would the bus arrive in Tupiza? (1PM), etc. etc.
The next morning we boarded our bus. It was a bumpy ride ad we ended up putting the instruments on the floor. Both our seats were broken (mine wouldn't stay back, Rowshan's wouldn't go back at all) but then, I hadn't asked if the seats wouldn't be broken. We had gotten up around 4:45 AM (again) to catch a bus leaving at 5:30 and sleeping on this bus definitely wasn't an option. Around 8 the conductor came through and took our tickets. He muttered something about us needing to change buses and disappeared into the front compartment. I had noticed the person in front of me also had a ticket (taken) for Tupiza and asked him what was going on. He said we had to take a different bus because this one wasn't going. Everyone got off the bus at Atocha, a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. I looked for the other Tupiza bound passengers and found them in a bus ticket office of a different company. Our tickets were on the ticket sales woman's desk. Supposedly she was going to give us new tickets for a different bus. Instead she said it was a "bus largo" (long bus) from our original company and we didn't need tickets. We just had to show up at 10:30. In the meantime, we could have breakfast.
Our first stop was a bathroom. For 50 centimos, we were able to use the facilities complete with tanks broken off the back of the toilets (flush by bucket...not unusual) and pieces of shit decorating the floor. One of the men's toilets was too covered with excrement to use.
Then we looked for breakfast. Most places were closed but eventually we found some saltenas.
We took a walk around the town admiring the hospital which seemed to be located in a dump of sorts.
We sat for a while in the square which had sculptures of a male and female miner as well as a complete Cesna plane mounted behind them (What is this with planes here?!).
By wandering around and sitting in the square... as well as a futile search for a cup of tea (one place advertised tea but seemed to get angry at Rowshan when he had the nerve to ask for a cup), we managed to kill time until 10. While making a pass by the bus area, our fellow Tupiza bound passengers waved at us gesturing for us to get into a crowded jeep.
"But it was supposed to be a bus!" Rowshan said. The ticket seller said there was no bus and we'd go in the collective jeep. There were already 11 passengers. Our luggage was thrown on top and we squeezed in with the instruments uncomfortably piled between our legs.
Rowshan commented to the other passengers how the bus companies were full of liars and why couldn't they just tell the truth in the first place.
"This country needs a revolution!" he said. Then turning to me and saying in English, "Instead of trying to change the capital to Sucre they should try changing their bus system!"
Then the ticket sales woman tried to squeeze another passenger in. We were 5 on my side, squished butt cheek to butt cheek, shoulder to shoulder. On Rowshan's side there were just 4 so possibly they could squeeze a child in.
Rowshan responded in Spanish, "THERE IS NO SPACE!" and closed and locked the back door. The ticket woman responded by insisting not 1 person but 3 more people squeeze into the back.
Rowshan snapped. Hair wild and eyes slightly bloodshot from sun and salt exposure on the salt flats he yelled in Spanish "WE ARE NOT ANIMALS! THERE IS NO MORE SPACE!" The woman was shocked and replied that they needed to fit in 3 more passengers. Rowshan refused to open the door. The woman said "This vehicle will not leave until there are 3 more passengers inside."
Rowshan responded, "Where is the long bus? We paid for bus tickets not a jeep. Where is the bus?!" She repeated "There is no bus".
Now one broad generalization I can make about the Bolivian character is they are shy and quiet people. Though occasionally they rise up, revolt or protest, most of the time (in public) they are very quiet. I believe most had never encountered an enraged Azeri. (As Rowshan put it later, many of the social movements and revolutions in Iran were started by Azeris so what happened was "they struck a Turkish vein") There was a discussion and the driver offered that we could change places with the 2 people crammed in the passenger seat which would be a bit more comfortable for holding the instruments. We agreed but of course the 2 people in the front refused to give up their places and become sardines.
The woman once again demanded that Rowshan open the door. Rowshan yelled back that we were people not llamas and the woman brought a military policeman. The policeman tried to reason with Rowshan. "This is a small provincial town..." Rowshan explained that we bought tickets in Uyuni for bus seats to Tupiza and instead we'd been dumped halfway in this town and were being crammed 12 people in a space meant for no more than 8. He continued, "First they lied there and now here. They lie all the time!!!!" The other passengers backed him up saying, "Yes, we bought bus tickets and were taken only halfway" and "The bus is more comfortable" and "We can't fit 12 back here." The policeman disappeared. Eventually a compromise was made and 1 more person was added to the back making the total crammed into the back 10. It was still cramped and terribly uncomfortable, and got worse and worse as the ride progressed.
We started driving down a river bed and then onto something that was not quite a dirt road... more like tire tracks made by other 4wd vehicles while moving across the desert. The road wound up the mountains with sharp drops below it. One guy got sick a couple times. A woman next to Rowshan made a tent for herself under a blanket and chewed copious amounts of coca leaves.
Every time she opened the blanket, a rush of coca smelling air wafted out. As the road progressed the driver seemed to drive more crazily--squeezing past bus and truck with a cliff below and no space, passing on blind curves and speeding around the corners, blaring his horn and blasting bass heavy Bolivian pop the whole way.
We bounced so high we had to duck our heads down to avoid smashing them against the roof. About halfway to our destination, I opened my window wide so the air would blow in my face and closed my eyes to keep from becoming sick. The scenery had been beautiful but the ride was torture. After nearly headlong colliding with a truck while speeding around a blind corner, we approached the town. It was in a river valley with sharp red rocks surrounding it.
As we turned onto the bridge into town we nearly hit another vehicle.
One of the passengers asked Rowshan how everything went. Rowshan replied "The road was the worst, the driver was the worst and the ticket seller was the worst, but the scenery was beautiful."
We left the vehicle with as much speed as we could manage. The driver came to the back and shook Rowshan's hand in a gesture of peace and Rowshan made a more diplomatic response to "How did it go?" than he had made to the other passengers. We got our bags and then went to sit on a delightfully immobile bench in the shade of the bus station.