Tuesday 5th February 2002

La Paz to Oruro by bus

There were some problems with the “bloqueos”, campesinos who were blocking the main highways with stones, and it looked as if our trip might turn out to be a long one.  Gustav Eiffel’s wonderful former railway station, now serving as a bus station, has recently had a good coat of paint and was at its best.  There was the usual hustle and bustle but few buses were leaving.

Nobody was advertising Oruro and the girl at the information booth said the road was blocked.   Then the man at Jumbo Buses started shouting, “Oruro, Oruro, Oruro” and a few people sauntered over and bought tickets in a desultory fashion.  This wasn't good enough for my companions who wandered all around the station looking for another bus because Jumbo do not have a good reputation, their buses break down a lot and get flat tires often.  However, there seemed to be no option so we paid the $3 each and got on the bus.

People arriving after us said “buenos dias” to us and when it became evident that the departure was for real there was a series of people coming through to take advantage.  An Aymara lady was selling puffed corn, a young lad newspapers (he would let you read the front page without buying), another with magazines in sealed plastic covers and one man came around giving out religious texts.  The deal is that you can read the text but if you wish to keep it you have to pay for it as he came around after a suitable interval to collect the unwanted texts.  A little old lady gave us a religious sermon, prepare to meet thy doom sort of thing, which seemed quite appropriate.  Finally the man in a uniform with a badge came around to clip our bus terminal tickets ($.40).

At last the driver arrived, started and revved up the engine at which sign a number of last minute passengers scrambled on, all smiling and laughing and apologizing for the delay.  Then we were off.

This bus had a three man crew of a driver, an assistant who was in charge of the money and who looked out for prospective passengers and a little boy who opened and closed the door.  I took this as a good sign because one bus I rode had a crew of five (one to drive, one to guide the driver around the potholes and three to change the tires when they went flat – which they did frequently).  Once around the bus terminal, scooping up additional riders, and we made for the open road.

The La Paz traffic policewomen are now wearing boots.  They had just started to use women the first time I was here but they were then going about their duties in high heels.

The road out of La Paz climbs up the side of the hill to El Alto and I was able to enjoy the incredible surreal or bizarre scenery in which the city finds itself.   At El Alto we stopped at the Jumbo Bus office to pick up more passengers so that we left there with a full bus.  A woman got on and gave us a lecture on why we should buy the two books she was trying to sell.

We stopped for gas.

There was a continual procession of people selling all kinds of goodies, empanadas, bread, chocolate, ice cream, etc.  They got on at one toll booth and off at the next. A small boy sang, or tried to sing, some songs but he wasn’t appreciated very much.

We slowed for a small village.  Everyone stood up thinking that the bolqueos were at work.  However, it was a fiesta and the main road was being used by the dancers.  In all there were four bands and cholitas in traditional costume, in this case with red skirts, advancing slowly.  The bus went onto the shoulder to let them pass.

The sun was shining brightly and most people were dozing, except the man behind me who hung out of the window at each toll booth shouting to the peddlars for salteñas, gum, water etc.  The assistant found a video cassette which he rewound by hand to the delight of the passengers.  He then played the David Duchovny movie “Evolution” which is pretty silly but everyone enjoyed it.

We then encountered the work of the bloqueos.  The video was stopped and the Assistant instructed people to get out and help the police who were clearing the road of the many stones that were put down.  At a signal from the police we all clambered back on the bus congratulating each other.  At the next village there were a lot of campesinos hanging around.

The rest of the trip was uneventful although slow because the road had not been completely cleared of rocks.

On arrival at Oruro, our first priority was lunch as it was getting late.  A taxi quickly took us to a good restaurant where I had pejerrey, a white fish, low in fat, that only lives in Lakes Titicaca and Poopo.  Excellent.

Oruro is a high town and it always seems to be cold.  The hotel room was not bad and seemed clean but the bed had four heavy blankets as well as a futon.  There is always a lot of activity on the street here but it was raining intermittently and the thin air was quite uncomfortable.  Two little girls of about five were singing, or rather screeching, some songs on the street.  I gave them some small change and they both clapped their hands and screeched even louder.

Having only been in La Paz for a couple of days, I found the altitude difficult and drank a lot of coca tea.  I don’t know if it really does any good but at least it is liquid.