bizarre last 24 hours… longer version

so, we finally left uyuni. we just couldn’t take it anymore and desperately wanted to get out. our next stop was La Paz, 12 hours away. we would have to take a night bus to get there which sucks, plus usually there is a transfer of buses in the middle of the night in Oruro. the last thing you want at 4am in the morning is to be woken up and told to switch buses. i was pretty sure that there weren’t any direct buses to La Paz that night, but luckily i found a bus company selling direct tickets with no transfer. sweet!

after saying our farewells to the Minuteman, we set off to board the bus. the bus slowly filled up till all the seats were full, and then even more people got on. when the bus set off, there were people standing in the aisle and others that were trying to sleep on the floor. i couldn’t believe that they would have to do that for 12 whole hours. the bus wasn’t very comfortable, and it was really difficult to sleep. plus it was insanely cold. it was too dark to really see outside, but we were going over some really bum py terrain and it sounded like we would take the bus across rivers since every once in awhile we heard splashing. the bus stopped every once in a while for bathroom stops (aka, everyone pile out and piss in a field).

eventually, we finally got to Oruro, the major stop on the way to La Paz. we had heard that theft is a very common problem in Bolivian buses. everyone’s stuff is stored either on top of the bus, or underneath, and often, when the bus stops, stuff goes missing. to prevent that, it’s best to jump off the bus and watch the baggage carefully to make sure no one goes through it. as soon as the bus stopped at the Oruro station, Caryn and i leapt up to rush off the bus and go watch our luggage. but, at the same moment, these guys got on the bus and kept yelling “la paz, la paz” over and over, so Caryn decided to stay with our “carry on”, while i ran out to watch the main backpacks. all of a sudden, several tourists came running off the bus looking like they were totally freaking out. it turns out, two small day packs were stolen from *inside* the bus.. basically right from under these people’s noses. the people’s cameras were in their bags.

so, there was this huge commotion as they searched for the police. right at that moment, another two travelers came up. they had just gotten their day-pack stolen a few hours ago when they arrived on a previous bus. so, it looks like there must be a thief, or group of thieves, that is boarding buses as they pull in, pretending that they are selling tickets to la paz, and robbing people. crazy. i was sooo glad that neither Caryn or my stuff got stolen. so, we stand around for a while, and people are trying to sort stuff out. finally the police arrive on the scene… but it was obvious that by that time it would be too late. it’s at this point that our driver comes up to us and tells us that we need to switch to another bus. nice… so much for their bullshit promise of being direct.

we get handed new tickets for the second bus, and then head over that way. these two girls are still dealing with the police, so they give their packs to some other people to put on the bus, and our drover promises them that the new bus will wait for them till they are done with the police. we get on the new bus, and within minutes he starts to pull out from the curb!! we all jump up and are yelling “stop stop!!” in Spanish. we tell him that there are still two people who are not on the bus, but their luggage is already in the bus. he says in Spanish “oh well, that’s your problem. this bus is leaving now”… and starts driving. we couldn’t believe it… what a fucking asshole. luckily, the bus then stops just outside the bus station to let more people on. the two tourists that helped carry on the packs don’t know what to do. they don’t really know the girls who are still at the station, but now they have their backpacks, with passports and everything!! they cant just let the bus leave. so, in the end, they get off as well, and take the packs with them. at the last second, just as the bus is about to leave again, the two girls who had their stuff stolen run up, but the bus starts to pull away. we all yell “Stop. stop. stop!!!” over and over, but the driver couldn’t give a crap less… he just drives away. i was so pissed.. how could he be such a dick to these two poor girls who just got robbed?!

i somehow manage to fall asleep, and when i wake up, we’re almost in la paz. la paz is the world’s highest capital city. it’s really high up in the mountains and looks pretty damn spectacular. mountains on all sides and it looks like the buildings of town are literally spilling diagonally off the hills. plus, the other cool thing about it is that almost the whole city is one huge street market. there are old Bolivian ladies basically lining every street selling every random thing under the sun. it really gives the town a lively and interesting air.

when we got off the bus, we got our packs out from under the bus and then noticed that one of Caryn’s sandals (which are strapped to the outside of her pack) was missing. we complained to the driver, who basically couldn’t give a shit less. he just staid if it’s not there, it’s not there. the sandals were actually really expensive (choco’s)… one hundred dollar sandals. Caryn told the driver that if they lost her sandal he needs to pay her 50 bucks, but he juts laughed and walked away. grrrr. the language barrier sucks because it makes it difficult to talk to people… but it also sucks cause in moments like these, where you are just furious and really desperately want to scream your head off at someone, it’s pointless cause they wont understand. sure, maybe it wasn’t necessarily the driver’s fault for the missing sandal, but he could have at least expressed some concern instead of not giving a shit… that and the fact that he couldn’t care less about leaving two people stranded in Oruro without their packs…. what a piece of shit.

we found a hotel, but unfortunately, they only had rooms with a shared bathroom. i went downstairs to ask if he might have any rooms with a private bathroom opening up after checkout time today. he thought ab out it for a bit, and then gave me a key to a new room. huh? i thought all the private bathroom rooms were full? so, i got up 5 flights of stairs to the top floor, put the key in the door, and then… what the hell?!? instead of seeing a small cramped bedroom inside the door, i see a living room… and then a dining room. huh? i walk inside, and realize that this is a full on apartment. there’s a large living room, dining room, kitchen, 2 bathrooms, 3 bedrooms and there are even maid’s quarters. i must be in the wrong place. i walk back outside… the room number appears to be correct. I’m almost worried about asking the hotel clerk about it cause what if he changes my room? in the end, we take it. and we end up having basically the whole fourth floor to ourselves, this huge 3 bedroom apartment, for just 15 bucks a night.

although we’re exhausted from the long bus ride, we decide to go grab some food before taking a nap. we walk through the streets of la paz, looking for this restaurant. all around us, old Bolivian ladies are selling sodas, cigarettes, shampoos, and… wait… umm… what the hell are those?? i peer across the street at what looks like a stack of tiny skulls. holy crap. wait a minute, where exactly are we? it turns out that we had accidentally stumbled upon the witches market.

there is a several block area in la paz called the witches market where they sell all sorts of weird stuff used for all sorts of different Bolivian superstitions. the ladies here sell all sorts of random amulets, statues, powders, potions, withered herbs and flowers, and most scary of all… dried out lama fetuses. apparently Bolivians believe that all new homes should have a lama fetus buried under them for good luck. this will prevent bad things from happening to the home. it was super eerie to be walking through this area, seeing all these bizarre corpses sitting in heaps. here and there you’d see an old lady waddle up, buy a potion, and waddle off to who knows where. on the ground there were lots of old mean telling fortunes using coca leaves. after only a few hours sleep, walking through this section of town was more than just a bit freaky.

stacks of the llamas

we finally got to the restaurant and sat down to eat. during breakfast i looked through a random magazine. i found an article that said that these lama fetuses are actually only used to bring luck for very small buildings. larger buildings apparently require a *human* sacrifice. wow. there actually was another really interesting article in the magazine. on November 9th of each year, the people of la paz celebrate “fiesta de las ñatitas”: the festival of skulls. for this festival, hundreds of people come to the cemetery and bring with them human skulls to be blessed by a priest. people also give gifts to these skulls, and there were photos of skulls wearing sunglasses, with cigarettes in their mouths, etc. absolutely crazy. we look at Caryn’s watch… it’s November 9th *today*. we decided that we absolutely have to see this ceremony. this could be the craziest thing ever. unfortunately, after doing some research online, it turns out that the holiday is actually on November *8th*, and the stupid article had the wrong date. we had missed it by one day. damn!!

after eating, Caryn went back to the room, and i went to go buy a bottle of water. i walked for a while up the street of our hotel, but all i could find were party supplies. so random. our hotel must be in the party supply section of town cause every single shop had humongous sacks filled with confetti.

as i continued looking for water, i saw a dude sitting on the curb wearing a ski-mask. the shoeshine boys in la paz wear ski masks so no one knows who they are. now, my shoes were still *insanely* dirty from the salt flats. i mean, they just looked like absolute crap. i looked at the guy, and he looked at me, then he looked down at my shoes…. even with the ski mask on, i could see his eyes light up. he frantically waved me over, and i finally got my shoes looking semi-decent. he did a really good job too… i didn’t know the shoes still had the possibility of looking OK!

now, with clean shoes, i went back to our palace of a hotel room to finally get some rest.


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