Thursday, February 3, 2011

Underthinking the Bolivian Bus trip

So the other day I casually mentioned that I almost got shot by the Bolivian navy when I was talking about the Winter X games. This perked at least one underthinkers interest so I thought I better expand upon the story. So this near shooting took place on my bus journey from La Paz to Copacabana in Bolivia.

Unfortunately not to be confused with Copacabana Brazil
The underthinking of this Journey started right off the bat. Despite being only 2 hours trip from La Paz, and being on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and being a common tourist route between Bolivia and Peru, none of the bus companies running out of the main bus terminal travelled to Copacabana.

And there is at least 50 Bus companies running out of this station
Instead you have to get a taxi up to a small market by the town cemetery up one of the hills, and catch a local bus to Copacabana. Bearing in mind that in La Paz you should never get to far up the hill, towards El Alto, because that's where the crime is.

It also doesn't help when your taxi driver looks like this.
But luckily I was safe and I hoped onto the local bus, and I was on my way. I meet two Half Chilean/Half German boys on the trip. They weren't related at all, they just happened to meet each other in Chile doing their service which seems like an amazing co-incidence but no matter.
Now I don't know what it is about Bolivian bus drivers but they seem to like off-roading. Here is a picture of the road we were driving on....

Note the gravel, the potholes, and the narrowness
Fine you say Bolivia probably doesn't have good roads, it has poor infrastructure and no coast line, leave them alone, Azzy! So I took a photo out my window, immediately after the above photo.

Note the perfectly fine ashphalt road out my side window
So either there is a driving-on-the-good-roads tax I was unaware of, or the bus driver just got bored and liked to mix up the trip by driving in what appeared to me a farmers lane beside the road. But what ever as long as where I get where it says on the ticket I am not so worried. Although on this trip this wasn't always so certain.
Now the trip from La Paz to Copacabana has two main routes, the first makes the trip 2 hours longer, and means you have to cross the Bolivian-Peruvian Border twice, which is not an insignificant inconvience. The 2nd route is far shorter but requires a ferry crossing at Ancoamaya.
This is fine, in fact its perfect it saves me time, and inconvient border crossing I am all for it. Except apparently we didn't pay for the ferry crossing in our ticket, because they load up the big ferry with the bus which at present is holding all our bags, and then it leaves the shore.

Note that I am taking this picture of MY bus .
That's right the bus with your bags takes off over the lake, whilst you stand on the shore, waving at it, and taking photos of it. And cursing the fact you left your insurance details in your bag on the bus, because you are going to need to buy clothes.
You see you hoped off the bus, and the driver leaves on the ferry without so much as a gesture to how to get across the lake. I was starting to remove my shoes to swim across the lake when my german companions pointed to a little shed where the locals seemed to be wandering towards. Turns out you go over to the shed and buy a ticket to cross the river in a small boat. Yes you have to buy a ticket to get back to your luggage, someone is making some money from this...

Frank Sanchez owner of Bolivian Bus Inc and Ancoamaya Ferries Ltd
Aside from the obvious problem with this arrangement, the little man that runs the little boat company won't leave his spot until his boat fills up. The bus holds 30 odd people, these little boats hold 26 people, so by the time we had realised what was going on, there was only 3 of us that required to cross the lake.

Note my bus in the left hand side, and the lack of people sitting beside me.

There were no more buses arriving and no other people looking close to wanting to cross the river so after 15 mins of waiting we managed to convince the boat driver we needed to get across the lake.
When we arrived on the other side the Bus Driver was standing on the jetty jumping up and down and yelling "Andele Andele - Arriba, Arriba", which roughly translates to "Hurry the F*** up you are holding up the Bus

Our Bus Driver.
So now we get to the part of the story where I almost get shot. I know you have all been hanging out for it. So it turns out just as we arrived at the Jetty was also the time that the Bolivian navy lowers the Bolivian flag everyday, and apparently they take their ceremonies just as serious as Americans. So as we were running to the Bus. We hear this loud "PARE, PARE" which translates to "Stop moving otherwise I will shoot you in the head". We turn to spot one of the Bolivian navy's finest pointing a gun at us. 

They may not have boats, but they have guns.
So i get that it was a ceremonial thing, but I am not sure why it was necessary to pull a gun on us for running during a flag lowering ceremony. Did they think we were going to steal the flag? or maybe they thought that we might be using this break in their busy patrolling to sneak past them with all our drugs. 

The ever-vigilant Bolivian Navy

I mean if the only reason they were upset is that we didn't observe the ceremony of the flag raising, surely a disappointed look followed by muttering something about "Gringo" (translation " Foreign F***wit that doesn't respect anything")

"I am not mad, I am just disappointed"
would be more appropriate than pulling a gun on someone

"I told you we were F***ing lowering the flag"


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