Tuesday 10th November 2015 –
I’d made the mistake of reading about the bus beforehand. Rookie error. I’d honestly only done it to find out information on pricing – the hostel said it would cost 400-500Bs, or £40-50, which I’d thought was a little steep for Bolivia. Information doesn’t exist in solitary confinement on the net though. Especially not this kind. It is combined with bad tales and supplanted with scaremongering, which wallows in an impressive level of whiny self pity. And no, it wasn’t my blog I came across.
So there it was. Apparently the bus journey I would undertake – at least 24 hours in length – had been the subject of people’s worst nightmares. A horrendous journey to be avoided at all costs. A potentially trip destroying journey of mandible mutilating proportions.
I’ve come to the conclusion though that my upbringing has saved me. Oh yes, there’s the usual lark – parents having done and taught this and that, whatever. I’m talking about one specific aspect. The family holiday when I was a younger lad, a tad more sprightly (less lazy) and more smiley (less opinionated), we used to go to France almost every year. Usually the Pyrenees, though the odd time the destination did indeed change. Nevertheless, it was always at least two days in the car.
Said car was usually crammed with things, sometimes another parent, perhaps a grandparent – mostly the usual holiday stuff. I guess like most holidays. The difference came on the way back.
Now, everyone likes to bring a few souvenirs back with them. Maybe t-shirts, perhaps some handicrafts – you know the sort. Not my dad. My dad liked to bring, I’m going to under exaggerate and say perhaps 50% of France’s annual wine production. Crates and crates of the stuff.
All well and good you might say. Everyone likes a nice red and who could begrudge a man his holiday presents. Well, we did. My brothers and I that is. We were the ones sat there, crates under our feet, on our knees and boxing us in from all sides. Often piled a couple high. That’s how I remember it anyway.
Which brings me back to my original point. When you have survived the terrors and rigours of such journeys as a callow youth, a bus has to be pretty special to get the “DIS IS DA WURST BUS EVA” treatment. The bus from Santa Cruz to Asunción just wasn’t.
Granted, it wasn’t all fun and games. Legroom was cutting it short for most pint sized Bolivians, and the ride quality was, I suspect, similar to riding a llama for the journey. Those expecting air con are having a laugh – you’re lucky if you get a seat that you can open a window next to. I wasn’t.
Entertainment value is in full flow though. If you’re not excited by the prospect of over a dozen drugs checks you might want to check the prices of flights – that’s what you’ll get here. Most are rather brief (read: pointless and moronic) surveys of the bus and scans of baggage. At maybe midday, well into Paraguay though, comes the big one. Everybody is lined up outside with their baggage for the dog. The Sniffer Dog, a large Alsatian trained to smell (not snort) any drugs in the vicinity. I say trained – the dog didn’t seem to care – the drug policeman kept having to redirect its attention every few seconds.
After several rounds of this, the bag searches commence. A full emptying of your belongings and inspection of anything remotely suspicious. From the back of the queue I see everyone go through the process – bags unceremoniously demolished – Paraguayan and extranjero alike. When my turn arrives, my angelically innocent face seems to work its magic though. The woman searching my bag is more gentle and careful, and after pulling some things out just asks if I have anything potentially dodgy. My answer of “Only malaria pills” was waved away, without even a glance at the 400 or so tucked in the rucksacks depths. Most confounding was my phone. Invisible in its ziplock bag of rice, the woman didn’t even open it. I could have stashed anything in that rice…
Aside from this, the journey was not particularly eventful. Long waits and middle of the night stops for exit and entry stamps were expected, and sleep had not particularly been. I gradually got to know my neighbours, particularly Adhemar, a Bolivian journalist, and his Paraguayan wife. And when, in the middle of the Chaco, the rain came down in torrents and started to leak through the overhead vents in great rivers, it was purely a source of amusement. For most of us anyway, not those who were asleep. No one here was under the impression that this was a quality bus.
Inevitably, the journey did not end so simply, or satisfactorily. After a whistle stop tour of Asunción from my helpful taxi driver, Rolando, I arrived at my hostel. I’d felt the rumblings for a couple of hours, but fortunately it kicked in after the bus. A poisoning of epic proportions. I would spend the night, and much of the following day, trying to stay awake in my particular seated position, just in reach of the sink, as the majority of my body’s contents was evacuated. One last present from Bolivia.