4/28/10: La Paz, Bolivia
Yesterday’s post left off with the two of us slumbering happily in our cama seats, me curled up on the window side and covered with our new blanket that we bought in Sucre. Things were going wonderfully. I was dreaming about fruit salad. I was just about to take a bite (side note: have you ever noticed that you always wake up right before you’re about to eat something really delicious in your dreams?) when I woke up confusedly and noticed that the bus lights were on. I checked my iPod. 1:15am. Hmm, bus lights shouldn’t be on. Maybe we were having a toilet break?
Then I noticed that the driver was talking to a girl in the front in Spanish. I only caught the end: “but I have a flight in La Paz at 9 in the morning!”
Uh-oh. Probably not a toilet break.
At this point, everybody on the bus was awake. The driver explained that there was something wrong with our bus and that we would have to get off and get on another bus, which would take us to Oruro, where we would have to get off that bus and get on yet another bus, which would then take us to La Paz.
We got all of our stuff off the old bus and trudged outside into the cold Bolivian night. The bus we were getting on was right behind us. I walked up the stairs of the new bus. It was a regular bus with about 50 seats, and it was packed with locals. There weren’t any seats together, and I could only count a handful of seats that weren’t taken. This couldn’t be right. I went back down the stairs and then back up, hoping that this time, the situation would be different. It wasn’t. So I went back down the stairs.
Z: Kevin, there are only like two free seats on this bus!
K: Well, go up there and get the seats for us while I put our stuff away!
Zhou: panicker. Kevin: thinker.
It turns out that I had grossly underestimated the number of free seats, because all of the people on our old bus managed to find an empty seat on this second bus. I ended up in the third row from the back next to a grouchy man, and Kevin was about five rows in front of me. Then we were off. The light stayed on as a man walked through the aisle. I noticed that money was exchanging hands, and in my semi-delirious state I thought to myself, “Wow, they’re already giving us a refund! I wonder how much it is…” Then I noticed that everyone around me was getting money OUT. Stupid Zhou. That guy wasn’t giving us a refund, he was collecting our fares.
The one bright spot in all of this is that the grouchy man next to me didn’t like the fact that his seat wouldn’t recline, so he moved to the only empty seat at the very front of the bus, which meant Kevin could move back and sit with me. We both tried to sleep in our tiny upright seats, but the road, which had seemed so smooth and comfortable on our first bus, was now bumpy and filled with endless potholes. I eventually lay down with my head in Kevin’s lap and tried to sleep. I squeezed his hand tightly every time we went over a large bump. I’m not sure why I did that, and I don’t know how I thought it would be helpful; I guess I just figured if our rickety bus fell apart after hitting a particularly big pothole, it would be better to go down holding hands. I think I slept for an hour. It was awful. Poor Kevin didn’t sleep at all.
We got to Oruro around 4:30am. It was cold. And I mean really cold. Kevin and I had both put on our new hats, and I also had my new gloves and leg warmers on. We got off the bus and bought – yes, bought – tickets for our third bus to La Paz. It would leave at 5am. Luckily, this bus was a bit nicer than our second bus. Our seats actually reclined, and I managed to sleep through most of it, only waking up a few times to wonder vaguely what those ice blocks were attached to the ends of my legs and then realizing – oh, right – those were my feet. We arrived in La Paz at 9:00am.
A bunch of us from the first bus went to the El Dorado (our original bus company) ticket window to demand a refund. One of the better Spanish-speakers explained what had happened. The woman at the window gave us all 50 Bolivianos back, adamantly refusing to give us any more. We had paid 150 Bolivianos each for the first bus ticket, another 15 Bolivianos each for the two other buses, and we got a measly refund of 50 Bolivianos. This was not right. If Kevin and I hadn’t been so tired and hungry, and if we knew how to really speak Spanish, I think we might have tried to stay and argue for more money back. But instead we resigned ourselves to our fate and just vowed never to ride El Dorado ever again. Take that, El Dorado!
As luck would have it, today was one of the few times we hadn’t booked a hostel in advance. I won’t bore you with the details, but basically we ended up walking around La Paz for an hour and a half looking for a place to stay and discovering that every place seemed to be booked up. I was getting more and more frustrated with every stop, and I was as close to tears as possible without actually crying. We finally ended up going back to the second place we had looked at, a place that was just a 10-minute walk from the bus station.
We checked in, and I collapsed on the bed. And the hunger, the tiredness, the frustration, the dashed-cama-hopes – it turned out it was too much, and I just started to sob.
Z: I… haaate… hate… buses! (sniff sniff) And! (sniff) I… I… haa… hate… Bo… Bo… Bolivia. (gulp) I… hate… ev… every… everything!
K: You don’t hate everything. You don’t hate puppies, do you?
Z: I… hate… puppies! (sob) I… hate… ev… every… everything!
K: Take that back! You don’t hate puppies!
K: Why don’t we go get some ice cream?
With Kevin’s help (Kevin is unnaturally calm in such situations, I don’t understand how), I eventually pulled myself together. We went out and got some lunch, not having eaten for the last eighteen hours. After lunch we walked to the Plaza Murillo. I didn’t have ice cream, but I did have some jello.
Those are my crying eyes. And my “don't you even think about taking a bite of my jello” eyes.
They love feeding the pigeons.
After a nice long nap this afternoon, I felt sufficiently recovered to walk around La Paz a little bit. We did a bit of shopping and ate some dinner. And now that I can look back on the entire situation with refreshed and objective eyes, I can type this last sentence with confidence.
Worst night ever.
Pictures of the Day: Llama fetuses, which we did not buy, and a cute cloth “painting,” which we did buy.
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