i’ve had a hell of a time trying to get myself to update this blog over the last month. this is partially because I’m back. yeah, for anyone out there that still doesn’t know, i ended my trip and have been back in America for about a month now.

on November 17th, when i had just returned to rurre from the jungle, i got an email from my brother letting me know about a family emergency. as soon as i read it, i knew that i would be going home immediately. travel is one of the things that i love most in life, but for me, family comes first. and anyway, i had already been on the road for 14 months and seen 28 countries… missing out on just one or 2 more countries really wasn’t a big deal. i immediately called home and after talking to people, started trying to figure out how i could get back.

going back was easier said than done. i was in rurrenabaque, a tiny little jungle town in the middle of nowhere. to catch an international flight, i would have to get back to La Paz, the capital. the only road to La Paz was “the world’s most dangerous road”, and after having done that road once, there was no way in hell i would do it again. the other option was to fly in one of the tiny little planes that are run by the military. unfortunately, that airline doesn’t fly everyday, so our ticket was for the 19th, two days later.

the next day i woke up and was totally going crazy. i couldn’t stand being there any longer. i totally felt like my family needed me and i felt completely helpless being stuck here in the middle of nowhere. it was only one day till our flight on the 19th, but i felt like i just couldn’t wait any longer. also, there was another problem with waiting. the weather out there is completely unpredictable and flights get cancelled all the time. sometimes it takes people *weeks* to get out of rurrenabaque. what if the weather goes sour tomorrow and I’m stuck? what if there’s no way to get home for a long time? i decided that i couldn’t wait till the 19th. i had to do everything i could to get out of rurrenabaque that very day.

there’s one other tiny airline that operates out of rurre. it flies these super tiny 12 seater planes. the thought of flying into La Paz (world’s highest airport) in one of these planes was a bit freaky, but i decided to try anyway. we went to the airline office and it turned out that we were just a tiny bit short of the money needed to buy a ticket. CRAP! to make matters worse, rurre has no atms. we reserved two tickets, and then frantically started running around town figuring out how to get the remaining money. you can get credit card advances at the bank… but the bank was closed. i exchanged all the remaining dollars that i had. then i found a few Euro notes in my pack and exchanged those too. i *almost* had enough, but not quite. time was running out, and if we wanted to catch the flight, we would have to pay within one hour.

i was completely freaking out by this point. i *had* to get on the plane. should i try to sell something of mine? my mp3 player maybe? at the last second, i had a realization. i had been saving a bill from every country i had visited. most of these were worthless, but i had a 5 pound note from the UK! that’s almost 10 dollars. the problem is, no one exchanges for pounds in rurre. so, i started running up to random people around town and asking them if they were British so that i could trade them my 5 pound note. it was ridiculous. anyways, finally, with only minutes to spare, after frantically packing our stuff, we rush into the airline office to buy our tickets… and he tells us that they have been sold. WHAT?!?! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!? he calmly explains that tickets get sold to the first person who pays for them. but, what about the reservations, i ask?? well, apparently the reservations don’t mean anything. you can be the first reservation in line, and they’ll just sell your ticket to whoever pays for it. i was SO pissed. if the reservation doesn’t actually reserve anything, what the hell is the point?!!! after an intense screaming match, there was nothing we could do. i couldn’t believe it. after all that effort, we would still have to wait till the 19th. well, the only thing i could do now was to sit back and wait… and hope that it doesn’t rain.

the morning of the 19th, we walk out of the hotel and there are dark rain clouds everywhere. uh-oh. i started getting really nervous, but as long as it didnt rain within two hours when our flight takes off, we would be ok. of course, this is Bolivia and after getting to the airline office, we spent the next several hours sitting around waiting. and waiting. and waiting. finally we all piled into a van to go to the airport. upon arriving at the airport… it started to rain. tell me this isn’t happening. it started raining harder and harder. this “airport” is really just a long grassy field. if the field is wet and becomes slippery and muddy, no airplanes can take off. after an hour’s wait, we are told that we would try to take off from another airport about 45 minutes away. so, they take all of our luggage and throw it into an *uncovered* pick-up truck, to be driven through the pouring rain to the other airport. nice. as we drive to the second airport, we eventually get out of the rainy area and see the pick up truck with our luggage speeding down a dusty road with all of the luggage in back completely covered with water and dust.

at the second airport, we wait for yet another hour and then finally board our flight. the flight to La Paz was short, and soon i was in a taxi on the way to the hotel. it was mid day by the time i checked in, and now i had just a few hours to book my flight from Bolivia to the USA and also to try and rush around and buy souvenirs for everyone we know. it was a hectic several hours, especially since now that we were back at high altitude, doing anything at a fast speed would leave me out of breath. later that night, we had our last meal abroad at a fancy(ish) restaurant in our hotel. it was crazy to think that the next day i would be on a plane and flying back home…


photos from the pampas

taking photos on the pampas trip was actually pretty difficult. there was often not enough light to take decent photos. i never did get a good picture of the turtles doing their conga line since they were too damn fast. all the photos of the howler monkeys didnt come out good cause the sky was to bright behind them. the dolphins were too fast to photograph. etc etc. basically, a lot of the photos werent so good. but i did get a few good shots of capybaras and squirrel monkeys.

anyways, if you wanna see the photos, here are my photos of the pampas tour.


welcome to the jungle (part 3)


the previous night we had stayed up kinda late drinking and playing cards so at 4:45am when we were woken up to Satan screaming, i cant say that i was overjoyed. ok, maybe it wasn’t *really* Satan screaming, but it pretty much sounded like it. in the pampas there are these monkeys called Howler Monkeys. they’re named that because they are constantly howling really loud. but, their howling doesn’t really sound like howling. it sounds more like this crazy evil sounding super loud growling sound. it really does sound like something really really freaking evil is lurking in the trees. i still have no idea how such a tiny little monkey can make a sound like that.

anyways, we all sleepily staggered into the canoe and were off to go watch the sunrise. i have to admit, i think sunrises are way to overrated. i mean yeah, sure they’re cool, but a sunrise is a sunrise is a sunrise and i’ve seen way too many of them anyways. mainly though, if i’m awake at 5am in the morning, you can bet i’ll be in a total shite mood, sunrise or not. to watch the sun do cool tricks, i’d wayyy rather see a sun*set*… that way i dont have to be dragged outta bed at the crack of dawn. we sat and stared at the horizon, the sun rose, we turned around and walked back to the canoe. as soon as we got back to camp, we all fell asleep instantly.

later on, we all went to go fishing. of course, this is the crazy Bolivian wilderness, so we weren’t fishing for trout, salmon, or any other normal fish… we were fishing for piranhas. if you haven’t heard of them, piranhas are meat eating fish. instead of nibbling on worms and plants like other fish, these guys eat water they can find including cows and sometimes people. i’ve heard stories of boats capsizing on the Amazon river and the piranhas eating everyone that was onboard.

now, i’ve never really been a big fan of fishing. i’ve never been down with actually killing things myself, and the thought of yanking fish out of the water and watching them flop around and die never sounded all that appealing. we were told that today’s fishing would be catch and release which on one hand sounds nicer, but on the other hand it seems like you’re just torturing these fish for fun and then throwing them back in the water once you have jabbed a sharp metal object through them. so, i felt a bit uneasy with the hole thing, but hell, it’s not often you get to fish for piranhas, so i did it anyway.

we stop the boat and our guide hands out tiny little bits of raw meat that we put on hooks and lower into the river. almost immediately we see small fish zipping by, tearing off chunks of meat and swimming off. the piranhas were super fast. you’d drop in meat and they’d take a bunch of small bites in rapid succession and then be gone. the problem was that they’d usually bite the meat from the side, so they never really had a chance to get stuck on the hook. somehow though, a few minutes later, i was the first one to catch a fish.

look at the teeth on that sucker!

i’m still not positive, but i *think* that my hook may have gone through the piranha’s eye. after throwing it back in, i couldn’t help but keep thinking about the poor little one eyed fish, struggling to survive out there, and so while the other’s in our group kept trying to catch piranhas, i kinda only half-heartedly threw my hook in from time to time. not everyone was able to catch a piranha, but some people did get one. once again, i thought back to yesterday when we were swimming with dolphins… in a piranha infested river. yikes!! we ended up keeping some of the bigger ones to eat for lunch and even after being fried, the fish still looked menacing!!

after lunch, it was time to leave. it had been quite a crazy three days. from alligators to dolphins to piranhas to satanic monkeys to filthy stinking bogs. i really felt like we had gotten quite an experience. on the other hand, i had about a billion mosquito bites, all my clothes were drenched with sweat, and everything i owned was dusty and dirty. i have no idea how people can live out here in these conditions and going back to town to take a nice shower and hang out in a room with a fan sounded really nice. we all piled in the canoe for the last time and quickly went down the river for the last time. everyone laid down in the boat and watched the scenery go by. as usual, we saw lots of gators, turtles, and crazy huge birds.

as we rounded one of the bends in the river, we saw a large group of capybaras in the water. a capybara is this weird looking furry creature that is about the size of a large dog. it was cool to see them all just chilling in the water.

when we had almost gotten to the end of the river, it started raining. first lightly, and then heavily. the canoe was obviously uncovered so we had no choice but to sit there and get soaked. honestly though, after the sweltering heat of the last few days, the rain felt really nice. the problem though, was that when we got to the end of the river and piled into the van, the road was a muddy slushy mess. we started driving and pretty soon the van was swerving all over and fishtailing a bit. it was all kind of funny driving like that until the van suddenly slid very quickly toward the right side of the road. the middle of the road was much higher than either side, so not only were we sliding sideways, but we were also sliding downward and the van was at more and more of an angle till we were sure it was about to fall over sideways. we hit the bank of the road, and the van stopped. no one in the van moved. we were totally scared since we were so tilted and it seemed that any movement would cause the van to fall over. one by one, we slowly crept out of the van.

for a while, the van just sat there, completely stuck. when the driver would hit the gas, the wheels just spun in the mud. all of us meanwhile, as if we hadn’t been dirty enough, now had clumps of mud all over our shoes from walking around. eventually though, we got the van unstuck and made it back to rurrenabaque without any more problems. wow, what a crazy last 3 days it had been!! so in the end, despite no being able to say that “i went to the jungle!”, i’m still glad that i chose the pampas cause the pampas is way more hardcore and interesting than the jungle could have been!

we made it!


welcome to the jungle (part 2)


we were woken up early this morning to do our walk through the pampas. we were given huge rubber boots and after slathering up with a crapload of sunblock and insect repellant, we were ready to go. as we walked, the grass around us got taller and taller until eventually we were walking in grass up to our waist. depending on where we were, this grass could get even higher and sometimes we were walking through dense grass that was over our heads.

see how tall and dense the grass is? you can barely see our guide’s head!

although we were out there looking for all sorts of various wildlife, our main goal was to find an anaconda. anacondas are fairly common out in this area and the group that went on the hike yesterday had seen a 7 foot long anaconda. as walked along, i thought to myself how crazy this all was. i was out here walking through 7 foot high grass searching for deadly snakes. and yeah, tour groups were led through here all the time, so it’s not like we were exactly blazing new trails, but still… we were in the middle of god knows where, hours away from the nearest town, walking through greenery so tall that we could barely see several feet in front of us, and we were searching for anacondas. crazy…

me in my dorky boots

walking through the grass, we would come across long boggy streams and swampy areas that we had to slosh across. the heat and bugs were unbearable as usual. our guide would walk ahead from time to time and poke around under the water with his stick to try to find a snake. no luck. eventually, most of the group got sick of searching. people were tired and hot and cranky. finally, part of the group rested under a tree while the rest of us continued to look. 20 more minutes of searching and still no anaconda. we did find a medium sized alligator though!

we finally gave up and headed back to camp. to get back, we took a shorter path, that involved walking through some super deep muddy slushy nasty-smelling goo. now, to me, this is what i had actually expected from the pampas. when i hear the word “swamp”, i expect to be walking knee-deep in muck. anything less and it’s not really a full on swamp experience. after we got back to camp, we had a couple of hours to relax… which ended up being pretty much impossible to do. sitting outside, the mosquitoes would just eat you like crazy. they literally wouldn’t leave you alone for a second. so you go inside to get away from them and it’s so insanely hot that you can’t stand it. so you go back outside and deal with the mosquitoes again. ugh.

after we ate our lunch, one guy had a great idea to tie some chicken to a string and try to bait the alligator that hangs out below our camp. dude, this alligator is obviously well fed cause he was so damn lazy!! even when the chicken would drop right next to his head, he would often not notice it or not bother going for it. obviously, whether he ate or not didnt matter at all. every once in a while, the gator would get curious and start lumbering out of the water towards the chicken, but if the string was pulled and the chicken moved back a bit, the gator would quickly lose interest. aren’t these things supposed to be ferocious??

our next activity for the day was to go and try to swim with dolphins. there are sections of the river that are inhabited by this weird species of pink freshwater dolphin. we took the canoe out, and after going for a while, we spotted some dolphins. our guide would race the boat all around and the dolphins would swim after us, enjoying our wake, and poking their heads out of the water. eventually, the guide turned off the boat and we got to go swimming in the water. the dolphins were pretty shy. often times, we wouldn’t see them at all for a long time and then eventually one would poke its head out for a second and then dive back in the water. we kept trying to inch closer to them, but it was hard since they would just disappear and then reappear somewhere else. in a way, it was a bit scary actually. the water was really brown and murky and it was impossible to see anything below the surface. yeah sure, dolphins are supposed to be nice and friendly, but it’s a bit disconcerting when one would be swimming towards you, then dives underneath the water, and you would all of a sudden have no clue where this giant animal was or how close to you it might be. at one point, a dolphin popped out of the water just a couple feet away from me, splashed really hard, and then dove back down, totally freaking me out in the process. i kind of think it intentionally tried to mess with me. unfortunately, since these guys popped back into the water so fast, it was almost impossible to get a good photo of them.

you can see the dolphin poking part of his head out

after swimming for a long time, we headed back to camp. we got changed and headed out to this sunset bar that was down the river a bit. we hung out there for a while drinking beers and watching the sun go down. once it got dark, it was time for our night tour. everyone hopped in the canoe and used their flashlights to search for animals at night. it turned out that finding alligators is actually much easier at night than during the day. during the day, the gators are perfectly camouflaged with the tree roots and twigs that stick out of the water… they’re practically impossible to notice without the guides help. but at night, if you just slowly shine your flashlight along the water next to shore, you’ll see these tiny glowing red flashes of light. this is because alligator’s eyes glow red under the light. as we cruised down the river, we saw *tons* of these little glowy red lights. sometimes there would be gators literally every 5 or 6 yards. it was just insane how many of them there were. and if we saw this many, who knows how many we didn’t spot. cruising around the river during the day, we had no idea that there were so many gators around. i thought back to earlier this day when all of us were out there swimming in the river. the *gator infested* river. all of a sudden, our little swim with the dolphins didnt seem nearly as safe and chill as i had thought before!


welcome to the jungle (part 1)


rurrenabaque is a small town that is a jumping off point for various tours. the two main kind of tours that you can take are tours to either the jungle or the pampas. initially, i really wanted to go on a jungle tour. going to the jungle sounds really exotic and adventurous, while going to the pampas sounds like… well.. like… what the heck is a pampas anyways? it turned out that the pampas are marshy grasslands. kind of like a crazy swamp but with super tall grass. the really cool thing about the pampas tour is that you get to see a ton of different wildlife. to be honest, the jungle tour sounded pretty tame and boring compared to the pampas, so in the end we decided to tour the pampas instead.


after spending a day in rurrenabaque, we headed out on our tour. the 7 of us and our guide drove for several hours until we got to the river where we had to transfer all of our stuff into a long canoe with a motor. after a bunch of waiting around, our adventure was finally about to begin.

we cruised down the river and the guide would point stuff out to us. this was a good thing, since i pretty much never noticed anything until the guide pointed it out. he was incredibly good at spotting things. we saw tons of turtles sitting on logs. the crazy thing about the turtles was that they would usually stand in a long row, and each turtle would have its front legs on the turtle in front of it, like a little turtle conga line. i kept trying to take a photo of this, but each time, by the time i got my camera ready, the turtles would dive into the water and be gone. what the hell?! aren’t turtles supposed to be slow? we also saw all kinds of crazy birds. lots of them were several feet tall and looked really crazy.

every once in a while, as we went along, the guide would point towards the bank and yell out “alligator”. i would look in the direction he was pointing and see nothing. only after peering at the spot for what seemed like ages, i would finally spot two eyes and a long snout sticking out over the water. these gators blended into the background almost perfectly. at one point, we took the canoe close to this tree, and the guide started making all these chirping sounds. in a few seconds, a bunch of tiny little squirrel monkeys came running up through the trees. they ran all around and jumped from branch to branch. one of them was even carrying a baby on its back.

later, we pulled up to one of the many camps along the river. as our guide talked to some of the people in the camp, an alligator swam up to the camp and then slowly crawled on shore. as the gator started lumbering closer and closer to the camp, i started wondering what was going to happen. then someone came out and dumped a huge bucket of rice mixed with table scraps in front of it. it turns out that the owners of the camp feed the gator, so it always ends up hanging out near the camp. we all got out of the canoe and watched it eat. alligators aren’t really built for eating rice, so it had to kind of turn its head sideways, and then flick the rice into the air to catch it in its jaws. as it ate, we stood there, just 4 or 5 feet away watching. it was kind of crazy to be that close to this wild alligator, with no barrier or anything whatsoever to stop it from turning around and attacking us.

eventually, we got to our camp. we would be staying in a large room with a bunch of mosquito net covered beds in it. we had some time to kill before dinner, so we decided to look around. it turned out that our camp has our very own alligator as well. we were located on a very steep bank though, so this alligator just sits in the water below and doesn’t actually come out to camp. we peered down at it for a while, and it peered up at us, looking like it was hoping for a meal.

we quickly realized that much more dangerous than the alligator, were the mosquitoes. these things were *insane*. i have never witnessed a mosquito infestation this bad. even with tons of bug spray on, they still would land on you and suck your blood. everywhere you looked there were tons of them flying all over. for the rest of the next 3 days, every person we saw was covered in bug bites everywhere. it was practically unbearable. the next worst thing was the heat. it was about 1 or 2 million degrees out there. and incredibly humid also. so, all day long we had to put on tons of sun block and tons of bug spray. our skin was a sticky goopy mess from all of that and sweat mixed in too. ahh, the perils of the wild.


la paz and the world’s most dangerous road

it’s been a long time since i’ve updated this blog. due to circumstances outside of my control, i wasn’t able to update for 2 weeks. then, once i start falling behind, it’s always a bit difficult to go back and try to write about what happened a while ago. anyways, i’m gonna try and pick up where i left off…


our initial plan was to spend just a day in La Paz, and then head off towards the jungle, leaving the rest of La Paz till later. well, a day turned into 2, and then 3, and then 4. i just couldn’t get myself to leave. there’s just something about the atmosphere in La Paz that i just really love. i love the way the city looks, i love the way there are street markets everywhere you look, i like the eerie atmosphere of the witches market, and i just like the vibe of the place. i would definitely say that La Paz has become one of my favorite cities on this trip. sure, it doesn’t have the wild nightlife of some places, or the intensely laid back feeling of some other places, but there’s just something about it… something i cant quite put my finger on.

actually, i think i just really love Bolivia in general. there are some countries that you go to, and you just feel excited and in a good mood every time you walk out your hotel door. that’s how i feel in Bolivia. i think part of it is cause i am really fascinated by the people here. they’re really friendly.. but in an odd reserved kind of way. i dunno… i wish i could explain it.

anyways, we spent the 4 days in La Paz not doing all that much. we went to a bunch of restaurants which was really cool because the restaurants there, which are considered “nice” by Bolivian standards, are still dirt cheap. we ate random foods and juices from street stalls, we checked out all the random markets, and just generally wandered around town.

one of the cool things we checked out while there was coca museum. Bolivia grows more coca than any country in the world. the indigenous people here go around chewing the leaves for their mildly stimulating effect. i hadn’t realized just how important coca leaves are i their culture though. coca is treated almost like a god here, and is used in all sorts of ceremonies, marriages, etc. the people here have been using coca leaves for centuries and centuries. the museum had some really interesting insights on how Bolivians have been oppressed by outside forces because of their use of coca leaves.

the people of Bolivia used coca leaves, until the Spanish came in and told them that it was a sin against the church and outlawed it. but then, when the Spanish government realized that their Bolivian slaves work harder (in the mines etc) if they chew coca, they decided to legalize it once again. apparently, the leaves aren’t sinful if the Spanish government is earning tons of cash. centuries later, the US government steps in with its war on drugs. cocaine is made from coca leaves, and so the US decides to blame Bolivia for the cocaine problem. this is utter crap, since Bolivia has been harvesting coca leaves for centuries and there is virtually no cocaine problem in the country. on the other hand, the USA which is only a small percentage of the world population, consumes 50% of the world’s cocaine. so really, it’s the US and other countries insatiable demand for cocaine that is the problem, and not the Bolivian people’s traditions. so the US steps in and tries to ban coca leaf growing and use in Bolivia. they pay the Bolivian government to destroy tons of fields of coca plants. in the opinion of the government, all coca should be eradicated… well, except for the coca used Coca Cola… apparently, if you’re a multibillion dollar corporation, you should be exempt.

the other really cool thing that happened in La Paz was that we saw a huge parade. Bolivians really know how to march. around 8am or so, the parade started. it was going on right in front of our hotel, so we had a great view of it. people were dressed in bright and colorful costumes, there was tons of music and marching bands, and everyone seemed to have a great time. the crazy thing was that several hours later, the parade was still going. this thing just went on and on and on. it looked like there was no end in sight. hours later, it just kept going. finally, it started getting dark… and the parade was STILL not done. i just couldn’t believe it! eventually, maybe at 8pm or so, the parade finally ended. amazing. and then they went on to have all sorts of fireworks at night. way cool.

i could probably have stayed in La Paz longer, but after 4 days, we decided we had better move on. we hopped on a bus heading north to rurrenabaque, a small town in the middle of the jungle. the scary part though, was that to get there, we had to take “the world’s most dangerous road”. the stretch of road between La Paz (perched 3,000 meters above sea level) and coroico which is about 100 meters above sea level, is pretty famous. this road has more fatalities on it than any other road in the world… about 90 per year. if you think about it, that comes out to about 1 fatality every 4 days, not a very reassuring thought. it’s not that the road is all that steep, it’s mainly that it is super narrow, and people take it fairly fast.

so, we get on a minibus in the morning and head out. the beginning wasn’t too scary. we started to think that the reputation was all hype… but soon we realized that we were wrong. the road got narrower and narrower until our minibus just barely fit. we were going over gravel at this point, and not only that b the gravel was wet in a lot of places from random waterfalls that washed over the road. looking to our left, it was just a sheer cliff… a cliff so steep that i often just couldn’t see all the way to the bottom. looking over the edge was a pretty terrifying. the worst though, was that sometimes we would come upon other vehicles that were coming up the mountain. for most of the road, there wasn’t room for two cars to pass each other, so our minibus would go in reverse, and slowly reverse to a wider spot. going on this road *backwards* seemed basically suicidal, and then the van cut sideways, to get as absolutely close to the edge as possible to make room for the other bus to pass. we were literally inches away from the brink, and we stopped right next to a cross with flowers next to it… a marker of where another vehicle had plummeted off the edge. i was scared shitless.

luckily, we made it to coroico in one piece and didnt end up being one of this years 90 casualties. in coroico, we ate lunch (our choices were fried chicken, fried chicken, or fried chicken). and then sat around waiting for the next bus. being here was like being a world away from La Paz. La Paz, 3000 meters up, was cold and cloudy and the air was thin. here in coroico, we were all of a sudden in the jungle. it was hot, humid, and there was an insane amount of mosquitoes. actually, i couldn’t believe just how many mosquitoes there were, especially since usually mosquitoes dont come out till dusk. well, this was mild compared to the mosquito infestation that we would witness in a few days.

despite buying tickets, the next bus we took had no seats for us. we had to half stand for a couple hours, and only then did we get a seat way in the back. the rest of the trip was uneventful. we ate more fried chicken (it seems like in some places that is all that they sell), were hot, uncomfortable, and dusty, and tried to sleep. we finally arrived, totally exhausted, in rurrenabaque at 3am and walked through the pitch black town to our hotel. we had made it!


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.


bizarre last 24 hours… short version

last night we finally got out of uyuni. thank god. we took the night bus to la paz. sitting today with caryn at lunch, i was thinking about just how weird and random the last 24 hours had been. here’s the short synopsis of quotes:

  • “so this is the direct bus to la paz yes?”
  • “could this bus be any less comfortable?”
  • “wait, how many people just got their camera’s stolen?”
  • “i thought this was supposed to be a direct bus!!”
  • “but those people paid for their tickets and their packs are on the bus, you’re leaving them behind?!”
  • “you owe me $50 for my shoe you bastard!”
  • “i thought this was supposed to be our hotel room… what is this?!”
  • “what the hell are those things?! isnt that really freaky?”
  • “ummm, is that a large stack of dried llama foetuses??”
  • “just how much confetti do they have around here?”
  • “nice! i finally found a guy wearing a ski mask. i wonder how much this will cost?”

yeah… things can be weird while traveling in bolivia.